Capturing the Christmas spirit on film

November 25, 1994|By Doug Nye | Doug Nye,Knight-Ridder News Service

Not too long ago, the Christmas season officially began today, the day after Thanksgiving.

In recent years, that's all changed. The start-up gets earlier and earlier.

There are two ways to look at this can't-wait attitude toward silver bells and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

A cynic just figures it's all commercial and that everyone is trying to cash in on the holiday festivities more than ever. An unabashed optimist sees it as a move to embrace that wonderful time of the year as long as possible.

No matter which attitude you subscribe to, it's not too early to start thinking about videos as holiday gifts. Here's a look at some video possibilities. All of them go for $19.95 or less:

* "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947): The new version may have its moments, but it's hard to beat the original. Natalie Wood is the little girl who is told there is no Santa Claus by her mother, played by Maureen O'Hara. John Payne and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle convince both they're wrong. I prefer the black-and-white version, but the colorized version is OK, too. Stay away from the made-for-TV effort, which stars Sebastian Cabot.

* "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946): This movie featured James Stewart as the man who wishes he had never been born. It was never meant to be a Christmas classic, but few films capture the feeling of "Peace on earth, good will toward men" as does this one. The colorized version is a bummer. By the way, it won't air three dozen times on television this season. NBC, which has the exclusive broadcast rights to it, will air it once with commercials.

* "A Christmas Story" (1981): Peter Billingsly is the kid who badly wants a genuine Red Ryder B-B rifle for Christmas during the 1940s. Darren McGavin shines as his father. A marvelous piece of nostalgia from writer Jean Shepherd.

* "Holiday Inn" (1942): Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire were never better than in this tale of a lazy performer (Crosby) who wants to operate an inn that opens only on holidays. This is the film in which Crosby first sang "White Christmas." Irving Berlin wrote the score.

* "Prancer" (1989): Sam Elliott stars in this warm outing about a little girl who believes she has found one of Santa Claus' reindeer. No one believes her -- not even dad -- until the closing minutes.

* "White Christmas" (1954): Not quite a remake of "Holiday Inn." Crosby teams with Danny Kaye in this romantic Hollywood-musical tale of two ex-soldiers who throw a surprise Christmas Eve bash for their old commander, played by Dean Jagger. Starring with the boys are Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen.

* "The Homecoming" (1971): This two-hour telemovie served as the pilot for the long-running series "The Waltons." Here the family spends an eventful Christmas Eve in the snow- covered Virginia mountains waiting for the father to return home. Patricia Neal and Andrew Duggan take on the roles of that were later played by Michael Learned and Ralph Waite. Richard Thomas is John-Boy.

* "Roots: The Gift" (1988): Louise Gossett Jr. and LeVar Burton reprise their roles from the original "Roots" of Fiddler and Kunta Kinte in this story about an attempt to lead slaves to freedom on Christmas Eve.

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