The snow has begun to fall and you have made a supply of hot cocoa or Irish coffee, as the case may be. You are ready for some holiday cheer to push away all the gloomy news from the networks and newspapers and internet. Bring on some elves, snowflakes, saccharine and warm fuzzies. S is for the Snow that is gently falling. P is for the Priceless performances stored on video and DVD. I is for the Inspiration that flowed from the pens of those who wrote these. R is for the Rich costumes and scenery. I is for the Instant downloads available to your computer. T is for the Tunes you will be humming after watching the musicals. So read, sip, download and enjoy.
Christmas in Connecticut
Barbara Stanwyck, one of the great Hollywood actresses who could do drama and comedy both, stars in a comic 1945 tale of a writer who has made a big success writing about her homemaking skills, her hubby and baby, and her idyllic life on a farm. Suddenly her publisher wants to meet her family at her home. Problem: her real home is in a New York apartment and she is single. A merry time ensues as she tries to foist a fake hubby off on her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet). At times it is very sweet in a way I hope you will not find cloying. She finds herself falling in love with the guy whose farm she borrows for the charade, a fella whose proposals she has spurned many a time. By the way, if you get the chance to watch Barbara in The Lady Eve or in Ball of Fire, grab it. She is a real delight to watch in those comic gems.
AMENDED TO ADD: Christmas in Connecticut is available from Netflix; check out http://www.netflix.com/Movie/Christmas-in-Connecticut/70040469 You can also watch clips on YouTube.
Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol
All that you might know about the Mr. Magoo cartoons is that Jim Backus of Gilligan's Island fame, did the voice. But the nearsighted goofball also starred in a wonderful 1962 version of the Dickens classic. Music is by Jule Styne, the same guy who wrote the songs for Funny Girl and many other Broadway and Sinatra hits. Lyrics by Bob Merrill are also very funny and witty. Worth checking out. This show was also spoofed in an episode of the Simpsons. Soundtrack is at soundtrack.omani.ac/movie_tv/mister_magoos_christmas_carol YouTube has a clip of the Plunderers March at www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOJBU95pVmw
AMENDED TO ADD: Mr Magoos' Christmas Carol can now be viewed for free on Hulu at http://www.hulu.com/watch/197592/mr-magoos-christmas-carol#x-4,vclip,1,0
Twilight Zone The Night of the Meek
With Art Carney as Henry Corwin, a store Santa who loses his job for showing up drunk on Christmas eve. He goes out into the alley and finds a magic bag that dispenses whatever gift is asked for. The cops pick him up on suspicion of burglary, but when they look in the bag, all they find are tin cans and a stray cat. Corwin is released and continues to give out gifts till midnight when the bag is empty. A friendly bum (Bert Mustin) notes that he has not asked for anything for himself. Corwin says all he wants is to be able to do this every year. Corwin comes upon a sleigh, reindeer and elf in an alley. The elf waves him on board. Right now AOL Video has the half-hour show for free at http://video.aol.com/video-detail/the-night-of-the-meek/4128915014.
AMENDED TO ADD: The Night of the Meek (along with all the Twilight Zone episodes) may be viewed on Hulu Plus, the premium version of Hulu.
A Claymation Christmas Celebration
Stars the California Raisins, and those wrinkled little grapes can really sing. Enjoy R & B versions of Rudolf, We Three Kings etc in this 1987 TV special. Some goofy bells also do a version of Carol of the Bells in another memorable sequence. I think hosts Rex and Herb spoof Siskel and Ebert, the film critics.
AMENDED TO ADD: About ten minutes of Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas may be downloaded at veoh.com at http://www.veoh.com/watch/v194318962AKnQR86?h1=Claymation+Christmas You can ALSO download the complete original for yourself.
The Red Shoes
There is nothing Christmas-themed about this 1948 film. But it is a classy subject (ballet) and the kind of film that studios always release around the holidays for the prestige value. Based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a pair of enchanted crimson ballet slippers, the plot is fairly simple: A young ballerina wants to dance for the top ballet troupe which is run by a real Svengali type director. She makes it into the corps and then to feature roles and is a smashing success. But then she falls in love with the young musical prodigy who is writing original scores for the troupe, and wants to get married. The Svengali will have no married dancers in his troupe; she has to decide to either dance, and only dance, or get out. She is forced to leave but the troupe but it suffers under a less dedicated star. The Svengali calls her back for a revival of her biggest hit, the ballet that is the title of the film. She does not make it onto the stage; the shoes, like the shoes in the ballet, dictate where she will go. She dances headlong down the back stairs, onto a balcony and leaps very artistically onto the train tracks below. Her husband cradles her as she dies, and removes the red shoes from her feet. The sets, costume and artistic direction are all top-notch; please look for it -- Amazon has it as part of the Criterion Collection. As an aside, I always admired Moira Shearers athletic yet girlish figure, so I was disappointed to learn how current ballet companies are only hiring the most anorectic-looking dancers.
AMENDED TO ADD: You can now watch clips of The Red Shoes film online on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+red+shoes+ballet&oq=the+red+shoes+&aq=3&aqi=g4&aql=&gs_sm=c&gs_upl=40285l42077l0l45520l14l11l0l2l2l1l262l1537l0.6.3l9l0 (select the clips from the ballet film)
The Judy Garland Christmas Show
A classic riveting show by this electric performer and child star who grew up to be a case study in how Hollywood destroyed talent. But in the meantime, she delivers a memorable and beautiful program with special guests Mel Torme and Jack Jones, plus her three children on a spacious multi-level living room set. You can watch a couple clips from the show here: http://www.tvparty.com/xmasjudy.html Also:
AMENDED TO ADD: The Judy Garland Christmas Show (aired Dec. 22, 1963) may be viewed at http://vimeo.com/8293454 You can watch July sing The Christmas Song with a young Mel Torme at http://www.tvparty.com/xmasjudy.html (scroll down)
In one segment of this 1962 film starring Jackie Gleason (Honeymooners, The Hustler) Gleason tries to mime the story of Jesus Christ for a young girl who has never been inside a church. Gleason played a poor mute janitor of an apartment building in 1920s Paris. He has befriended this homeless child and her mother. From Wikipedia: Young Nicole points to a crucifix and asks Gigot who that is. Gigot clearly struggling and regretful of his muteness acts out the story of Christ beginning with Mary cradling the baby Jesus, His childhood through to the horror of the crucifixion. When Gigot is through he opens his eyes to see Nicole staring at him with a single tear on her face.
AMENDED TO ADD: Gigot can be viewed online at http://www.ovguide.com/gigot-9202a8c04000641f8000000000e1d334 – it is a series of 11 clips. Cumbersome, yeah, and you have to ignore the two clips of Paul Gigot.
The House Without a Christmas Tree
Jason Robards stars as a recently-widowed father, so he does not want a tree in the house at Christmas - However, his young daughter desperately wants one. A 1972 vintage, it co-stars Mildred Natwick. This nugget got lost in the re-packaging of older programs probably because it touches on uncomfortable subjects like broken families and grief. I find no free clips but Overstock.com has it for $2.95, and you bet Amazon has it.
AMENDED TO ADD: House Without a Christmas Tree can be watched as a series of clips on YouTube, starting with Part 1, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIxRVOn2Fqw&feature=related
The Spirit of Christmas
The story of the birth of Jesus featuring the Mable Beaton Marionettes is from 1950. It was sponsored by the Philadelphia office of Bell Telephone, and broadcast annually. I read that the local Philly PBS station, WHYY, tracked it down and broadcasts it several times each holiday season. Turner Classic has it for sale as do a couple other specialty retailers.
AMENDED TO ADD: You can view “The Night Before Christmas clip from The Spirit of Christmas here at http://www.tvparty.com/xmas2.html --- scroll down to the embedded clip.
It's a Wonderful Life
Yeah, I know you have seen it a million times. But I am still impressed by how Jimmy Stewart runs the gamut of the emotional scale and never loses his way. Donna Reed plays the perfect wife, quite a far remove from playing the prostitute in From Here to Eternity. Watch all the supporting actors, from Beulah Bondi (who always played much older than her real age) as his mother, to the guy who plays Mr. Gower the druggist. FlickPeek has a free download at www.flickpeek.com/movies/I/its-a-wonderful-life_2645/
AMENDED TO ADD: It's A Wonderful Life can be watch on Netflix, of course, or online at http://www.veoh.com/watch/v16470106WCFAJWrJ --- Download their WebPlayer to watch the whole movie.
Another chestnut to watch by the fire. The lush colors and classic musical numbers make it worth watching yet again. We all know the big number at the end with the big Christmas tree and Bing and Rosie and Sammy and Vera dressed in Santa outfits. But I also love the one with Sammy and Vera seeming to improvise a dance around the back patio of the inn, while they sing dancing soon becomes romancing, when you hold a girl in your arms that you never held before. Tidbit about Vera: she routinely lied about her age because she was too old to be cast as engenue types (tho her face/figure was very youthful). Filmon.com and MovieMagellan.com both have this one for free download, tho I am sure there are other sites that also have it.
John Denver Rocky Mountain Christmas
One of my favorite TV Christmas specials that aired in 1975 was a John Denver special. Olivia Newton-John, Steve Martin and Valerie Harper guest star and it was filmed under a huge clear plastic dome set in the snow covered Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The dome was filled with plants and butterflies which contrasted with the snow outside. The music is available on CD or you can listen for free at www.rhapsody.com/john-denver/rocky-mountain-christmas--1975 . However, I do not see the actual special anywhere on DVD. The Denver special with the Muppets has been released on DVD, so maybe there is still hope for this one.
AMENDED TO ADD: You can listen to samples of the soundtrack of John Denver's Rocky Mountain Christmas online at http://www.last.fm/music/John+Denver/Rocky+Mountain+Christmas
BTW -- If you have been unsuccessful in tracking down old faves from television, check out the Museum of Broadcast Communications website. This museum in Chicago has now digitally remastered many of them and has them available at their website store (a wonderful resource, by the way, for classic TV fans). On my visit there several years ago, they were running a Man from U.N.C.L.E. marathon in their auditorium.
The Jackie Gleason Christmas Special
A lost classic. (from a comment on the TV Party website: I remember only airing once or twice, unlike the others which have been running every year since time immemorial. I remember the Jackie Gleason special was just enchanting- the Poor Soul goes through all these fairy tales and nursery rhymes. I especially remember Little Bo Peep, and the lamb tails hanging on a clothesline. I haven't seen it in years, no one seems to broadcast it anymore. What a shame! I loved the Jackie Gleason show as a kid, but that special was just our favorite.
[Go to TV Party at http://www.tvparty.com/xmas2.html to see a discussion of fave old Christmas specials, with some embedded clips. Then scroll all the way to the bottom for more articles about TV shows and specials such as Amahl and the Night Visitors, The Yule Log, Charlie Brown Christmas, Judy Garland Christmas Special, etc. Another TV Party page at http://www.tvparty.com/xmas1.html is the main page for such reviews.]