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**Find an overview of all our Christmas movie recommendations from 1960-2010 right here. **
What would you say is the rule that constitutes a movie as a genuine Christmas Movie? Just because it takes place at Christmas doesn’t count. ‘Die Hard’ takes place at Christmas, but be honest, when you first came out of the theatre during that film’s initial run, did you really have Christmas on your mind? If the film hadn’t closed with Vaughn Monroe singing “Let it Snow!” over the end credits you’d have forgotten there was ever a Christmas tree in the Nakatomi building in the first place.
And don’t try ‘Brazil’ either. Only an obsessive nincompoop would argue that, and I’ve met one. What grinch would seriously gather the family around a cozy TV screen on Christmas Day with everyone wearing their party hats, full of good cheer and hungry for more, then pop ‘Brazil’ into the DVD?
Here are the rules, and they’re simple. 1) Taking place at Christmas is certainly important, granted, but the main one is, 2) it has to be Christmas themed. ‘Scrooge’ qualifies, ‘One Magic Christmas’ qualifies, and so does ‘Holiday in Handcuffs,’ though who would want to see that has to be someone smoking something stronger than just a seasonal cigar. Unfortunately, the seventies never established rules. For that matter, there wasn’t any kind of serious Christmas movie industry at all.
What happened was the seventies established the TV Movie, and the biggest successes were the Christmas ones. Most were brutal on the sentimental tear ducts and can still be seen running endlessly with commercials on satellite from mid-November to the New Year, but there is one small screener worthy of inclusion in our seventies recommendations, along with one horror, a science fiction drama, a foreign language drama and a musical. An odd decade indeed.
Despite the title, this Japanese oddity has nothing to do with the song or with Elvis, for that matter. It’s all about UFOs.
It’s Christmas in Japan. There’s something in the sky and it’s not Santa. UFOs have appeared and something strange is happening to the locals whenever they look up and witness the flying space craft above; their blood turns blue.
The real theme of ‘Blue Christmas’ is not so much seasonal, it’s about prejudice. Japanese society turns against anyone who saw the UFOs by rounding up all the blues and placing them into concentration camps where they’re treated cruelly. Prejudice abounds, though in the middle of this wintery crisis there’s a kind of Romeo and Juliet story happening; one has the blue blood, the other, regular red. They’re in love and they’re color blind.
Unfortunately for science fiction fans, the UFOs themselves are only on screen for a brief time. This is more melodrama than anything else and one that I would recommend watching before the holiday spirit fully arrives. You may not have as much goodwill towards your fellow man once the film is done. But at least it does take place at Christmas.
Oh, why don’t you go find a wall socket and stick your tongue in it, that’ll give you a charge.
From a blue Christmas to a black one, this low-budget horror thriller was a game changer in a couple of ways. First, it’s considered a pioneer of the slasher films and laid the groundwork for John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween,’ and second, it was directed by Bob Clark. He’s the guy who would later make ‘A Christmas Story,’ and that’s the film where Christmas really became a big screen event, but that would take another decade.
It’s Christmas, there’s snow on the ground and a group of young girls in a sorority are in fear because there’s someone calling and making threatening calls. Then one of the girls disappears. Then a young girl is killed in a nearby park. Then the calls return, and when the police put a tap on the line, the trace takes them where they never expected to go; somewhere within the sorority house.
There’s a cult following for ‘Black Christmas’ and if you’re among those who’ve never seen it, grab a copy and keep a couple of things in mind while watching. Actor Keir Dullea was famous for being the star child astronaut in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey. ’ In ‘Black Christmas,’ even though his character is a major player and is seen throughout, he only spent one week of filming. Director Clark cut things in such a way as to suggest he was there for the full shoot. Plus, true to the illusion of film, the snow outside was fake, but it is said to have contained a chemical that did a remarkable job on the grass it was supposed to be covering; it made it greener.
If? That word can be found on dry river beds and trails overgrown by weeds.
This is the TV movie that rarely gets an airing yet it’s probably among the seasonal best that ever sprang from seventies television. As the title suggests, this is loosely based on the Dickens classic so the story is pretty much known, but the difference here is the American angle. Scrooge is now Benedict Slade and he’s played by Henry Winkler, better known as TV’s The Fonz.
Instead of Victorian London, this is New England during the Depression. Slade is visited by the ghosts to help him change his miserly ways. The faces of the ghosts should look familiar to Slade; they resemble three of those the old miser ruined due to unpaid bills.
Henry Winkler was covered under thick makeup, but even though you could hardly recognize him, there were still audience members who had difficulty accepting the actor as anything but the leather clad Fonz.
Fortunately today you can rediscover ‘An American Christmas Carol’ on the film’s own terms. Winkler’s happier days of TV fame are behind him and he no longer carries the baggage of the fifties juke-box biker. Plus, The Fonz is on record as saying that this was one of the most fun things he ever did on TV.
Ironically, on the Christmas Eve when the ghosts visit Slade, he happens to be in his house reading a copy of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Talk about foreboding. That’s like going on a cruise while reading a copy of ‘A Night To Remember’ and suddenly noticing there’s an iceberg in the way. You sort of know what you’re in for.
Monsieur Antoine, what’s happening?
Here’s proof that what happens in Canada stays in Canada. ‘Mon oncle Antoine’ is heralded as one of the best films ever to emerge out of the Great White North. The Toronto Film Festival has even named the movie one of the greatest Canadian films of all time. So how come no one outside of Canada has heard of it?
Perhaps that’s not exactly true. Movie buffs with a taste for French language films know of it. Even the good folks at Criterion, the Rolls Royce of DVD restorals, know about it. They released a 2-disc set in 2008. But generally when you think of Christmas movies, this one rarely springs to mind.
As seen through the eyes of a fifteen year old boy, it’s Christmas in an asbestos-mining town in Quebec during the forties and there’s a strike affecting everyone. The strike was a real one. It happened in 1949 and lasted four months. The film is touching, warming and occasionally exceptionally sad, but it really is a small masterpiece, and if you need an extra endorsement consider this: the movie appeared on renowned film critic Roger Ebert’s Greatest Movie list. That’s good enough for me.
Fifteen shillings a week, a wife and five children… and he still talks of a Merry Christmas!
If you look at everything seasonal released during the seventies, this musical version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ (find similar films to ‘A Christmas Carol’ here) is the only big screen production that celebrated the season in the way we would want most Christmas themed movies to be. Bright, brash, tuneful and – excuse me while I wipe something from the corner of my eye – a total holiday joy, and even though you may have caught a TV showing, who cares, watch it again, but make sure it’s a recent DVD. It was always underrated, and the good news for Londoners is there are no strange sounding Hollywood accents pretending to be cockney. Here they’re all the real thing.
The film was made hot on the success of that other big screen Dickens musical, ‘Oliver!” In fact, without ‘Oliver!’ there might never have been a ‘Scrooge.’ It was filmed on many of the sound stages used in the ’68 musical and many of those same sets were dusted and brought out of storage.
The point of catching it on DVD is that this way you’re guaranteed of seeing and hearing the whole thing as it was first released, including the Overture and the Exit music. TV showings tend to trim things a little and some stations are known to cut the whole Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come sequence where Scrooge falls down his grave and lands in purgatory. That’s usually a way to cram in a few extra commercials. The DVD restores everything back the way it should be.
Among the things cut by the makers themselves was the song to be sung by Alec Guinness who played Jacob Marley. That was probably a good thing. The wires and harness required to make his character appear to float was a problem for the elderly actor. He was rushed to surgery due to a double-hernia. After that I presume he was good for the high notes for awhile but everything else must have been a challenge.
If Christmas to you is one of those midwinter seasons you endure rather than enjoy while having a few days off from work, these seventies seasonal films are definitely yours. Other than the two that reference Dickens, the above recommendations with all their oddball bleakness and eccentricities must be right up your alley.
If the family around you is just too jolly and won’t keep the noise down, threaten them with a second showing of Japan’s ‘Blue Christmas.’ That should keep them quiet until at least the next showing of Morecambe and Wise.
Please let us know which Christmas movies you will watch this holiday season. Are there any I have missed? Tell us in the comment section below.
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