Five Classic Christmas Movies in Five Genres

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Five Classic Christmas Movies features:


The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

Director: George More O’Ferrall


Based on a stage play by Wynyard Browne, The Holly and the Ivy revolves around local parson Martin Gregory (Ralph Richardson), his adult children (Celia Johnson, Denholm Elliott and Margaret Leighton) and two elder sisters, reuniting in post-war Norfolk for the traditional family Christmas. Here the family’s dysfunctionality is apparent as each child brings their issues to the table. But, one thing they do share is resentment of Martin, who appears to care more about his parishioners than his family.

Taking the story from stage to screen, director George More O’Ferrall keeps locations tight while maintaining the story’s theatrical roots. Here the family unit faces a range of problems, from caring for an elderly parent to alcoholism and grief. In fact, for a film with a relatively short runtime, it’s crammed with social issues that sometimes feel too dark for a festive celebration. However, despite its deep underlying social themes, The Holly and the Ivy is a genuinely heartwarming Christmas delight as each family member realises that their judgement of Martin may have been wrong.


Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Director: Peter Godfrey


Festive romantic comedies don’t come much better than Christmas In Connecticut. Here we have a classic story of deception, love and pretence from Peter Godfrey. Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is an unmarried food writer from New York who writes articles under a fictitious persona. Homemakers adore Elizabeth for her apparent idyllic lifestyle with her husband and their newborn baby on a Connecticut farm. However, the trouble is it’s all a sham! Trouble soon comes knocking when her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) – unaware of the fraud – asks her to host a Christmas party for a returning war hero, with Elizabeth borrowing the neighbour’s baby and enlisting her chef uncle (S.Z Sakall) to keep up the pretence.


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The film joyously delves into the ridiculous, a trait that only adds to its charm. Here, Elizabeth cannot do the most basic chores around the house, allowing for moments of sublime situational comedy. However, thankfully the film only uses this as a source of humour, never descending into a 1940s moral commentary on the role of single women and the need for a man. Here the screwball comedy elevates the absurdity of the plot to new heights, as gender roles are swapped, and a returning war hero becomes a childminder.


Beyond Tomorrow (1940)

Director: A. Edward Sutherland


Christmas movies are often associated with the fantasy genre due to the magical stories they tell. Frank Capra’s ​It’s a Wonderful Life is a prime example of this template; however, Beyond Tomorrow is a forerunner of Capra’s classic and possibly the least known film on this list. Here Three rich old men, George, Allan and Michael (Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith and Charles Winninger), recruit their Christmas dinner guests by randomly throwing three wallets on the street holding their address and some money. Whoever brings them back are welcome to dinner, which is how Jean (Jean Parker) and James (Richard Carlson) meet, in a film that moves its focus from the older men to blossoming romance before taking a sombre turn in its third act.

Given the short description above, the film’s three-act structure may seem too convoluted for its runtime. Here the narrative could easily have formed three separate films. However, the disparate stories are held together by a tragic plot twist. Here the film’s final message plays with themes similar to Dicken’s A Christmas Carol in both tone and structure. However, Beyond Tomorrow also falls into the trap of becoming too moralistic and preachy in its finale.


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Cover Up (1949)

Director: Alfred E. Green


Cover Up is anything but a light-hearted Christmas outing. Instead, we have a murder mystery noir in a small Midwestern town during the Christmas holidays. Cover Up is a B-film take on Wilder’s classic ​Double Indemnity. Here insurance agent Sam Donovan (Dennis O’Keefe) investigates the apparent suicide of a client. But while the evidence clearly points toward murder, the townsfolk wholeheartedly believe it to be suicide.

The Capra-esque portrayal of a small post-war town is a nice touch, elevating the movie’s festive mood despite its murderous content. Meanwhile, the romantic subplot works quite well in counteracting the darkness. However, while exciting, the finale is also questionable; a strange tinsel wrapped noir package.


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3 Godfathers (1948)

Director: John Ford


The Western is rarely associated with the Christmas sub-genre, but with 3 Godfathers, John Ford dovetails the classic Christmas tale with the heat of Arizona. The story is based on the 1913 novelette by Peter B. Kyne with the three wise men transplanted into the wild west. Here, three rustlers, Robert (John Wayne), William (Harry Carey Jr.) and Pedro (Pedro Armendáriz), flee into the desert after robbing a bank only to find themselves helping a woman in labour. However, when the woman dies, she asks the men to protect her newborn boy and carry him to the safety of New Jerusalem.

3 Godfathers combines the classic Western with moments of comedy and sentimentality only found in the Christmas movie genre. Here we have three rugged cowboys who have no idea how to care for the newborn. The Biblical allegory works well while also presenting Ford with the opportunity to explore in-jokes related to the wise men motif.