Thursday, December 20, 2012

Movies with Christmas Punctuation

Christmas......five days to go, time to mention it now, I guess.

Let's see.... I'm not a fan of straight ahead Christmas movies, but always enjoy the odd Christmassy scene in a movie with an altogether different theme. Christmas in novels and films is often used as a kind of thematic punctuation, or as a way of encouraging emotional response from the audience, as well as for the more obvious reasons. A quick rummage in my overflowing memory bank brought a trio of films to the surface. I've watched all of these several times over the years:

Little Women - the famous book's opening line is, "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug." Opening line of the movie varies according to the adaptation in question, but all mention that it's Christmas time.

Falling In Love - Opening scene and closing scene: characters played by Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro meet accidentally when, Christmas shopping, they accidentally pick up each other's packages; doing so sends their lives on a quite unexpected trajectory.

Ben Hur - The Nativity scene, and visit of the Magi. Around that same time, in the same country, was born another child whose story is told by the movie, his name: Judah Ben Hur.

There's a fourth, but it's a dark one:
The Victors - a surprisingly little-remembered war movie - the best one ever made in my view. It was directed by Carl Foreman, shot in black and white. There's an unforgettable scene showing a truckload of GIs being taken to witness execution of a GI deserter in a broad, empty snow-covered field in France. Background music is Frank Sinatra singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". After shots have been fired we hear a chorus of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing". There is no dialogue in this scene at all. The image and irony here are something I've never forgotten.

Those are my own most memorable films punctuated by a Christmas scene. There must be many more. (Anyone?)


mike said...

Well, Twilight, for the terrorist minded, there's "Die Hard" and "Die Hard II". One of my favorites is "A Christmas Story". For the Terry Pratchett fans, there's made for TV "Hogfather", but the book is really good. Are you getting the popcorn and peanut brittle ready for some home video Christmas entertainment?

mike (again) said...

Here's a website for exactly those Christmas-within-the-not-Xmas-main-plot that you ask for:

Twilight said...

mike ~ I've never forgiven Bruce Willis for going ultra-macho in Die Hard and several movies since. He's better than that! I did see Die Hard, the original, but hadn't recalled the Christmas scene, probably in an effort to forget the whole thing. :-) Didn't see the sequel.

Haven't seen Hogfather - sounds interesting!

That website lists an awful lot of movies, Mike, I doubt many of them have Christmas scenes - The Road? I Am Legend? Brazil?
Hmmmm. Really? I shall have to start taking notes whenever we watch a movie in future!

We'll be diving into DVDs of seasons 2 and 3 of The 4400 and the last (7th) season of The West Wing over Christmas, with a glass or two of the hard stuff (for me) and some vino for himself, popcorn & peanut brittle not so much - maybe some chocolate truffles. :-)

How about you?

I'm hoping the movie Les Miserables will reach either our local cinema (doubtful) or at least one within easy reach of here over the holiday - I've waited for years to see a full version of the musical adaptation, never was able to catch it on stage.

mike (again) said...

No special plans for Xmas here, Twilight...I don't care much for the capitalistic version...prefer the pagan version of celebrating the solstice, rebirth of the sun...longer days again stuff. No Saturnalia rituals, though (darn!). I'll make my favorite gingerbread cookies made with real chopped ginger, lots of butter, and lemon icing...I'll use my own homegrown Meyer lemons. I'll give some away as my excuse to make them, then eat all the remaining!

Then, there's always the end-of-days Mayan calendar that may keep everyone busy either way, with or without the actual end-of-days! I admit, I would like a higher vibration to suddenly enter our realm...wake to a colorful purple, red, and golden sky, lots of comets whizzing overhead, and the pronouncement that the Blue Meanies have been defeated!

I would like to see the "Life of Pi", specially in 3D...I read the book and enjoyed it and I hear the movie is wonderful...Ang Lee is a fine producer.

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Me neither - we do the minimum: a get-together with husband's family on Christmas Eve; then on Christmas Day, if weather is decent, a trip to the wildlife reserve and drive up Mount Scott about half an hour away, taking some some cheese sandwiches as our Christmas dinner. :-)
If weather's crappy (as seems likely this year) we'll be listening to LPs and CDs or watching DVDs.

Mayan Schmayan.....Yeah those Blue Meanies sorely need defeating, but we'll have to get onto the job ourselves I fear, can't rely on any kind of shift - except one further to the right if things go on this way. ;-)

I haven't seen Life of Pi yet, thought we'd wait for the DVD, along with DVD of Cloud Atlas.
I saw Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain and the Woodstock one and Ice Storm Brokeback's the only one I remember with any clarity though - good movie.

Kaleymorris said...

My favorite Christmas punctuation come in "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves." Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham is hilarious in this movie and I love it when, in a fit of foiled pique, he shouts, "And cancel Christmas!"

Twilight said...

kaleymorris ~~ LOL! thanks for that. The movie has a bunch of daft dialogue, as I recall.
Alan Rickman was the best thing in it.

I laughed at the scene when Robin arrives on land at the famous White Cliffs of Dover and says something about dining in Nottingham that evening - 200 or so miles to the north - that'd take some serious Olympic level power walking, even then they'd not make it!

Anonymous said...


I remember "The Victors", a real favorite of mine. The scene you describewas I believe the execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovak and there was a made for TV movie called "The execution of Eddie Slovak" starring a young Martin Sheen. BTW, I loved the scenes in "The Victors" with George Peppard and Melina Mercouri. They were spectacular together and the music during those few scenes was terrific.

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~ Hi! I'm glad someone else has seen this movie - i think you're the first I've "met" - ever!

I haven't seen that TV film - will look for a recording of it.

George Peppard was a favourite of mine - yes great chemistry in the movie between his and Melina.

I mentioned "The Victors" in a post a couple of years ago and said this:

It's ironic that a movie like Hurt Locker can win an Oscar in 2010, while, in the early 1960s The Victors was more or less blacklisted. It had certain sections cut out of it after preliminary screenings - sections never to be seen again......presumably because they were too anti-war, or "anti-American". I've noticed a few less than complimentary reviews still available on-line, written by then contemporary US film critics.

I saw the movie back in 1963, in England. I've never forgotten it. My husband had neither seen nor heard of it, so not long ago I went about trying to find a VHS or DVD recording of the movie. I found one, probably a bootleg, and the shortened version. Even in its less than ideal quality the film impressed my husband enough to be keen to find a recording of the full-length original somewhere. No luck so far.

It's inevitable that British and Europeans have different perspectives from Americans on World War 2, or had, in the 1960s, when it was still fresh in many memories. People in the USA have never had bombs raining down upon their cities, night after night. In what one sour critic described as "a mawkish scene" towards the end of the movie, when George Peppard's character is waiting for a 'bus in a northern English back street, in the rain, a kindly family invites him into their home to get dry and have a cup of tea (naturally!) Peppard chats with the family and asks a youngster about his Dad, who is away in the army. "What does your Dad say about the war", he asks. "He says he doesn't like it." A simple, unaffected, underplayed exchange, but it said so much.

(It's here )

I've yet find a full length version of the movie on tape or DVD.

Twilight said...

Correction: I think Wisewebwoman said she had seen the cut version when I posted about it 2 years ago.
:-) So Anonymous is the 2nd person I've met, ever, who's seen "The Victors".

Anonymous said...


I saw "The Victors" on late night US television and like you never forgot it and tried to find a VHS or DVD. Read Carl Foremans' WIKIPEDIA description and you will see why a the film received very limited distribution. "Blacklisted" was an appropriate choice of words. The uncut version is 187 minutes, the cut 148. Check out Amazon, they have a UK PAL DVD format. This does me in San Francisco no good but I have a scratchy LP of the soundtrack. As a teenage girl, watching all those European women with a capital W, I felt very plain and wanted to grow up and be just like Melina and Romy and Jeanne and Elke and Rosanna....Try to see Carl Foremans' "The Men" with Marlon Brando, same rationale but in a hospital for wounded vets after the war.
BTW, I also agree with your critique of "Falling in Love". I think the Xmas scenes are very romantic. For sheer fun, the Christmas time scenes in "Bell,Book and Candle" with Kim Novak, James Stewart,a young Jack Lemmon and a charming Elsa Lancaster.

Twilight said...

Anonymous #2 ~ Hmmm - yes, thanks - read the Wiki page again and remembered the sorry tale of Foreman's blacklisting, and the way he was treated and let down by that other much admired director Stanley Kramer (disappointing -must try not to think too much about that!)

The uncut version of "The Victors" just doesn't seem to exist in tape or DVD form. The version I saw at the cinema in the UK in 1963 must have been the uncut version, I guess - but it's too far back in the mists of time for me to recall and identify the missing pieces. Saw it again on TV in the UK many years later, but that was almost certainly the cut version, as is the CD I bought online, and the one on sale now a Amazon. But at least Amazon has some version of it now, they didn't when I searched a few years ago.

Will look for a DVD of "The Men", written by Foreman.

"Bell book and Candle" - I must have seen that, but long ago - now I want to see it again! Thanks for the addition to our non-Christmas movie Christmassy scene list.

Anonymous said...


Elia Kazan, a director I much admired could also be put on the Stanley Kubrick list. He even named names. His excuse was he wanted to work but he could have directed on Broadway during that time as the NY theater world paid no attention to blacklisting.

I forgot to mention your remarks about Americans not understanding the horrors of war and the reasons for not accepting films with an anti war approach. A french friend of mine ate nothing but rutabagas for month on end during the war;my mother complained that she could only buy 2 pair of shoes a year. All the while going out dancing several times a week. It wasn't until VietNam was brought into our living rooms during the nightly news that we began to comprehend the evils of war. Although recent hisory has us backtracking a bit.

Please continue with your movie colums, you have a wonderful sense of film history and an eye for the intelligent movie goer. My favorite period in British films were the "kitchen sink" movies of thr late 50s and into the 60s.i.e. Taste of Honey, Room at the Top, Look back in Anger, etc.

Twilight said...

Anonymous #3 ~ Oops! I think you meant to type Stanley Kramer (we mustn't sully the wonderful Stanley Kubrick's name.) I don't think he was involved at the time of blacklisting, being some 14 years younger than Foreman, Kramer and nearly 20 years younger than Kazan). He moved to UK to get away from Hollywood, probably some very bad memories for him there.

Yes, my husband tells me that all he remembers from World War 2 days in the US is some rationing, and being taught to hide under his desk at school in case of bombing (highly unlikely in deepest Kansas, but I guess one couldn't be sure as things were then). My own memories include being rushed to the air raid shelter at night and listening to bombs dropping nearby, being told by parent that it was only the boy next door playing with his guns.

Anyway, that's long ago. I'm sure the draft and Vietnam war brought the horrors closer to home for people here.

Why - thank you for the kind comment about my posts on movies. I enjoy preparing them, I love movies! The movie industry is one product of which the USA can be justly proud (apart from what went on during that blacklisting era of course). Some of today's movies leave a lot to be desired, others will become classics and join the best of those from the past though.

What I enjoy most is finding an old tape or DVD of a forgotten or mainly un-heralded and un-pimped movie then finding something special about it - that happens often.

Ah, the "kitchen sink" dramas, yes. I enjoyed them mainly because the actors were no longer required to use those prissy upper class English accents. Local accents were rightly given a place, acting became less wooden - far more natural - and has remained that way ever since. They marked a kind of water shed.