Sunday, December 23, 2018

Book Review: Christmas in the Movies

Anyone looking for a last-minute Christmas gift would make an excellent choice picking up a copy of the new book CHRISTMAS IN THE MOVIES: 30 CLASSICS TO CELEBRATE THE SEASON by Jeremy Arnold.

This is a beautiful, high-quality book sure to delight not only serious classic film lovers but more casual film fans who cherish the annual tradition of watching Christmas movies.

Film historian Arnold knows his stuff, and the book is a wonderfully balanced mixture of the familiar (including brief plot descriptions) and new information, thanks in part to his research at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library.

I was fascinated, for example, to learn that Katharine Hepburn, who played Jo in the 1933 version of LITTLE WOMEN, was offered the role of Aunt March in the 1994 version of the film. When Hepburn declined, the part went to Mary Wickes, who also known for the Christmas films THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942) and WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954).

I found the inclusion of lesser-known Christmas films such as I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944), TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950), and THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952) particularly welcome and hope the book will help these movies find new audiences. Shirley Temple and Spring Byington are pictured at the right in I'LL BE SEEING YOU, a very special film which also stars Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten.

I particularly loved Arnold's description of a film I'd never heard of, MIRACLE ON MAIN STREET (1939), starring Margo and Walter Abel. It was filmed in two versions, with the English-language version released by Columbia Pictures and the Spanish-language version, which also starred Margo, released by 20th Century-Fox. I've been wanting to learn more about the '30s Spanish-language films released by Fox since seeing INSURE YOUR WIFE! (1935) at Cinecon last September, and I'm now anxious to see MIRACLE ON MAIN STREET -- in both editions!

The book discusses 30 films, with just over a third of the titles from 1960 or beyond. Since I happen to dislike THE APARTMENT (1960), I would have been happy to see that or a later movie like ELF (2003) ditched in favor of more classic-era films, starting with the wonderful IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947), but such discussions are also part of the fun of a book such as this.

CHRISTMAS IN THE MOVIES also brings up the eternal debate about whether DIE HARD (1988), seen at left, is a Christmas movie by including it in the book. (For the record, I first watched it on Christmas Day three years ago!) As a matter of fact, just a couple days ago at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, DIE HARD screenwriter Steven DeSouza came to a screening with a posterboard comparing DIE HARD and WHITE CHRISTMAS, making the case for DIE HARD being the more Christmas-y film!

Best of all, almost every page of CHRISTMAS IN THE MOVIES is filled with beautiful photographs, many of which were new to me. Although the book is compact in size, for this reason it makes a beautiful coffee table book to set out for guests to page through while waiting for Christmas dinner!

CHRISTMAS IN THE MOVIES was published by Running Press in partnership with Turner Classic Movies. It's 208 pages including the index and bibliography. This beautifully produced book is a relatively small square hardcover with glossy pages. The selection and quality of the photographs is top notch.

Thanks to Jeremy Arnold, TCM, and Running Press for providing a review copy of this book.


Blogger Terence Towles Canote said...

I have to agree with you about ditching a later movie like Elf in favour of including It Happened on Fifth Avenue (one of my favourite holiday movies), but I have to disagree about The Apartment. It is my second favourite movie of all time and my favourite holiday movie! For me, at least, it HAS to be only list of Christmas movies. While I haven't read the book, I have seen the list, and my list would be a little bit different. I adore Meet Me in St. Louis (it is one of my all time favourites), but I have never thought of it as a Christmas movie any more than I think of it as a Halloween movie. And I have never thought of any version of Little Women as a Christmas movie! I think I would have included The Lemon Drop Kid and the 1970 musical version of Scrooge instead of them. Anyway, I will have to get Christmas in the Movies for next holiday season.

12:35 PM  
Blogger mel said...

Further to your and Terence's comments about The Apartment, Laura, it occurred to me that a discussion of our dislikes on your blog might provoke a lively debate by your readers...

11:05 PM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, I really enjoyed your good review of CHRISTMAS IN THE MOVIES. I, hands down, love Christmas Movies and I know that I would enjoy this book. There are so many good to great Christmas Movies for our viewing.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR! to you and your family.

Also, I hope your Father is doing better.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your feedback, Terry! It's interesting how different films mean "Christmas" to different people -- the warm Christmas scenes in both MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and LITTLE WOMEN make them perfect holiday viewing for me. THE LEMON DROP KID is one I hadn't thought of that wasn't discussed! I hope you'll get a chance to read the book.

Mel, that could indeed be an interesting discussion -- perhaps too lively? LOLLL. But honestly, I always enjoy hearing people's different takes when presented in a friendly way. Even those of us whose tastes are usually in sync have films where we part company.

Walter, if you love Christmas movies I think you will really enjoy this beautiful little book. And thank you for all your good wishes, very much appreciated!

Best wishes,

10:44 PM  
Blogger dandy dan said...

You don't like The Apartment? Well, no one's perfect...

6:18 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Nice Wilder-inspired comment, Dan! :)

It would be a boring world if we all liked the exact same things, right?

Best wishes,

11:23 PM  

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