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Best Christmas Movies from the 40’s and 50’s

Are you searching for new Christmas movies to watch this December? Maybe what you really need is some OLD Christmas classics! Let me introduce you to some of the great classic holiday movies that my family loves. Some you’ve probably seen, some you may rediscover, and I bet there will be a few from my list that you’ve never even known about.

I’m happy to say that my adult children are familiar with these classic Christmas films. My parents host a Christmas movie marathon every year, so they’ve grown up knowing Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, Jimmy Stewart, and even Peter Ustinov, Donna Reed and Mareen O’Hara . Now my folks have a greater collection, including some we’ve only recently discovered.

Where should I start with this great line up? Maybe the fairest way to introduce them is in order of their film release dates.

The Shop Around the Corner – 1940

If you’re familiar with the movie “You’ve Got Mail” you’ll recognize the story line here. I’m always a fan of Jimmy Stewart (Alfred) and his lead lady here is Margaret Sullivan (Klara). Both work at a little shop in Budapest, and the story is set over the busy Christmas shopping season. Alfred and Klara have all sorts of misunderstandings and drama in their work life while developing a growing affection for each other as secret pen pals. Both are amusingly naive and hopelessly romantic, especially Klara.

These two aren’t the only ones with secret relationships and animosities stemming from misunderstandings. Other complex relationships weave into the plot, adding further tension to the work environment and complications for the main characters. With help from an older gentleman employee played by Felix Bressart, the two lovebirds learn to see each other in a new light and patch things up just in time for Christmas.

Christmas in Connecticut – 1945

Although Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is not the gourmet, country housewife she pretends to be in her newspaper column, she becomes a highly successful single woman in New York City through the help of her dear chef friend whom she calls Uncle Felix (S.Z. Sakall). She thinks the gig is up when her headstrong and presumptuous publisher invites himself and a war hero to her Connecticut home for Christmas dinner. But to save her job and reputation she continues the charade by agreeing to marry her friend who happens to have a lovely country home in Connecticut.

Elizabeth finds a web of lies can be complicated to maintain, as she tries to woo the man she loves while pretending to be married and while hosting a Christmas dinner she doesn’t know how to prepare. Oh, and did I mention she supposedly has a baby? She doesn’t know anything about caring for babies, but fortunately Jefferson Jones, the war hero and love interest (Dennis Morgan) can help her out. Uncle Felix, who has to travel along to help Elizabeth in the kitchen and with her deceptions, is one of my favorite characters. How can anything go wrong when Felix is there to declare things “hunky dunky” in his broken English.

It’s a Wonderful Life – 1946

I hope you’ve all seen this one. But maybe you’ve only seen parts of it, coming in halfway as it played on TV when you were younger. It’s a great classic for a reason and makes more sense when you watch the whole thing from beginning to end. I shouldn’t have to tell the plot because it’s so well known, but essentially George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is ready to end his life until Angel, Second-class, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) comes down to show him how much his life has touched and helped everyone around him. Donna Reed plays Mary, his wife.

I think the directing and acting in this slower-moving movie are superb. You can watch as George’s expectations and dreams get whittled away, never realizing that his sacrifices and big-hearted humanity are achieving greater things. Through Clarence’s help he discovers that friends and kindness are greater successes than money and fame.

The Bishop’s Wife – 1947

Another movie with angel intervention, “The Bishop’s Wife” stars some of my favorites, Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. Dudley, the angel played by Cary Grant arrives to help Henry Brougham (David Niven) who has prayed for divine guidance as he plans to build a cathedral. Dudley impresses everyone who meets him (of course! He’s Cary Grant!) and helps Henry in ways he hadn’t expected. 

Miracle on 34th Street – 1947

This movie has been remade several times, but the classic version is from 1947 and stars Natalie Wood as a child. The little girl’s mother heads Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and hires the real Kris Kringle as a last minute substitute. Kris continues to play Santa Claus at Macy’s to the chagrin of one of the store employees who works to get Kris institutionalized. Kris Kringle is now on trial to determine his sanity and true identity. (Spoiler) Few may remember Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker, Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle or John Payne as Fred Gaily, but we all remember Natalie Wood as Susan who scampers through the empty house at the end of the movie, crying, “There is one! There is one!” as she spots the tree swing outside the house she was promised by Santa. 

It Happened on Fifth Avenue – 1947

This is a delightful movie that I only heard about recently. I saw the end of it on TV and had to do a little digging to find it for our Christmas Movie Marathon. A homeless man spends his winters in an empty mansion as its owners go south. The winter in this story turns into quite the adventure when the man, Aloysius T. McKeever (played by Victor Moore) keeps adding houseguests, eventually hosting the true owner and his family! A sweet movie about generosity and hospitality.

White Christmas – 1954

Surprisingly the only musical on my list! But you must love the music of Bing Crosby to appreciate this well-loved classic. I know there are many people who have this on their favorites list, even though the storyline takes a little while to launch. Two war time buddies, played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, create a musical show at their retired general’s Vermont lodge. With the help of the beautiful Haynes sisters, of course, played by Rosemary Cloony and Vera Ellen.

Romance, music and comedy aplenty in this film. The movie features Bing Crosby’s song, “White Christmas”, but there are several others that my family like to sing and dance to including “Choreography” and “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me”. And for the sake of my family I should add, costumes are by Edith Head.

We’re No Angels – 1955

I’m not sure where Dad discovered this movie, but we’ve all enjoyed watching it several times! Again, this is not your usual storyline, time period or location. Who would expect a Christmas show starring Humphrey Bogart and Basil Rathbone? Or one set in French Guina in 1895? In this story, escaped convicts with ill intentions are hired at a local shop and end up using their dishonest crafts to aid the failing, distractible manager, his lovely, practical wife and day-dreaming daughter.

Daughter Isabelle (Gloria Talbott), compares the three visitors to the three angels on her Christmas tree coming down to help and bless. The results of the convicts may not be ethical, but they are transformingly miraculous. The dialogue in this movie is very witty and delivered dryly by the three convicts played by Bogart, Aldo Ray and Peter Unstinov.

So be sure to add some of these great classic holiday movies into your Christmas mix this holiday! I hope your family will enjoy each one as much as mine has! Have a blessed and wonderfully merry Christmas!

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