Holiday magic: Movies celebrate all things merrry, bright

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Holiday movies create beloved memories. They make us laugh, cry and relate to the trials and tribulations of the heroes and heroines. Great holiday films remind viewers of the real treasures of Christmas – family, faith and friendship, compassion and generosity of spirit – and we re-visit their special world again and again.

Where folks once had to plan their schedules around a single holiday airing, thanks to VHS tapes and DVDs, holiday movie lovers can now watch their favorites anytime.

 Several readers recently shared their own holiday film and TV special favorites with The Greenville Advocate.

‘Dreaming of a BB gun'

 Who can forget the moment in &#8220A Christmas Story” when poor little Ralphie, desperate to find that coveted Red Ryder BB gun under the tree instead of the football he blurted out to Santa,  is given an unceremonious shove down Santa's slide by a grumpy elf?

Haven't we all wanted something so much and felt defeated at every turn?

&#8220You'll shoot your eye out,” indeed.

Stacey Edwards, art teacher at Greenville High School, says &#8220A Christmas Story” is her &#8220hands-down favorite.”

&#8220It's one of the best Christmas movies for my generation. Who can resist Ralphie's story of wanting a Red Ryder BB gun?” Edwards says.

She still adores the 1980s comedy in spite of the fact her little brother &#8220watched this movie every day for a solid year when he was ten.”

Ashley Thigpen of Greenville says both &#8220A Christmas Story” and &#8220Christmas Vacation” are &#8220hilarious,” earning high marks for her each holiday.

Lisa Bowlan, advertising representative for The Luverne Journal, says &#8220A Christmas Story” makes her laugh &#8220every time that little boy has that boy of soap in his mouth.”

One of the most amazing things about the modern holiday classic may be the fact this family-oriented favorite was directed by the same man, Bob Clark, who gave us the salacious &#8220Porky's.”

‘There IS a Santa Claus'

&#8220Miracle on 34th

Street,” a 1947 Christmas film that originally premiered in May (its theatrical trailers carefully and oddly avoiding the fact it revolved around a Yuletide theme) has also become a holiday favorite for local readers, who still believe in Santa, no matter their age.

Edmund Gwenn, the genial little British actor whose performance as Kris Kringle in &#8220Miracle on 34th Street” won him an Academy Award, held up his Oscar and announced &#8220there really IS a Santa Claus!”

The film includes actual footage shot at the 1946 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the first parade held after its suspension during the war years. Over 100 cast and crew members descended on the two competing stores, Macy's and Gimbel's, during the height of the '46 Christmas shopping season.

The story, comical, sentimental, yet never maudlin, is set on the busy streets and in the highly competitive department stores of cynical, hard-bitten New York City. It revolves around the credibility and very sanity of &#8220a nice old man with white whiskers” who claims to be the genuine article, old Saint Nick himself.

 Writer Valentine Davies came up with the storyline after encountering the hectic quality of the holidays and wondering just what Santa would think of the increasing commercialism of Christmas.

The classic never fails to bring a smile to Pratha Harrison's face each Christmas.

&#8220I love ‘Miracle on 34th Street.' (Daughter and granddaughter) Amy and Lauren Bryan and I recently had the pleasure of going to New York City, and the Macy's windows' Christmas theme this year was based on the movie. Each window had a different animated scene. They were fantastic!” the Pioneer Electric employee says. 

Three additional versions of the movie were made: a 1950s TV production, a 1970s TV movie and a big-budget 1994 theatrical release. Most critics dub the original as the best of the bunch. The latest DVD edition of the original film also included the two television remakes, so viewers can judge for themselves.

‘The most famous reindeer'

Another favorite is the &#8220AnaMagic” (stop-motion animation) of 1964's television special, &#8220Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

&#8220Rudolph” is based on a character created in 1939 by Robert May, later immortalized by his brother-in-law Johnny Marks' beloved song, recorded by Gene Autrey in 1949.

 More than 40 years later, the television special featuring the lovable North Pole reindeer with his glowing red nose and his fellow misfit pals, including an elf who doesn't like to make toys and an affable prospector (&#8220Mush! &#8220Mush!”) continues to charm audiences.

&#8220I still love to see Rudolph save Christmas,” says Bowlan.

Kathy Atchison, who grew up watching &#8220Rudolph” and later shared the holiday experience with her two daughters, now also grown up, says &#8220the magic of Rudolph still has a special place in our hearts.”

As for Edwards, she says the TV classic just &#8220makes it feel like the holidays.”

What many fans of the misfit reindeer don't know is his creator, May, based his original story on both the &#8220Ugly Duckling” concept and his own childhood experiences as a slightly built, shy and sickly boy often taunted and teased by bullies.

May initially called his character &#8220Rollo” (a name rejected as too carefree), then &#8220Reginald” (deemed too British-sounding), before settling on &#8220Rudolph.” The story was distributed in booklets as a promotional tool by his employer, Montgomery Ward. Some six million copies had been given to children by the end of 1946.

May's own little girl, Barbara, was delighted with her dad's charming story. Sadly, May's wife fell seriously ill and passed away during the creation of Rudolph.

 He found himself drowning in a sea of medical bills. Since the department store owned the copyright to May's work, he received no royalties from the post-war demand for all things Rudolph.

In January 1947, May was able to persuade Montgomery Ward's corporate president to turn over the copyright to him, finally ensuring his family's financial security. May died in 1976, a former misfit made comfortable in the life his misfit creation provided for him.

The story of Rudolph underwent a number of changes along the way.

In May's original story, Rudolph wasn't Donner's son; he was just a reindeer from an &#8220ordinary” reindeer village nearby, who was raised in a loving household with a good self-image and sense of worth, in spite of that glowing red nose.

Santa discovers Rudolph's unusual ability quite by accident while delivering gifts to Rudolph's home and seeing his nose shining through the window. Santa calls upon the reindeer for help during the terrible fog on Christmas Eve, saying afterwards: &#8220By YOU last night's journey was actually bossed, without you, I'm certain we'd all have been lost!”

Other movie and TV favorites mentioned by readers include &#8220How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the original animated and the live-action versions), &#8220A Charlie Brown Christmas,” &#8220Frosty,” &#8220Little Women,”  &#8220White Christmas,” and  &#8220A Christmas Memory,” Truman Capote's poignant autobiographical short story, made into TV movies in 1966 and 1997.

All are available on DVD, with the exception of &#8220A Christmas Memory,” currently found only on VHS.