A few years ago I wrote about an idea for a Christmas movie marathon and as we jump into Round 2 of Merry Movie Mayhem I thought it might be fun to revisit the idea. Since that piece was published I purchased a Roku streaming stick for my television, though I haven’t made the leap of cutting the cord from cable quite yet so I have both. Anyway, there are a few movie streaming services available (Vudu, Netflix, FandangoNow, Amazon Prime), and with a little research I discovered that one could purchase just about the entire Christmas movie marathon for about $350. At first glance that sounds awfully expensive, but when you break it down it’s actually not too bad. At $4/rental you’d have to rent about 87 movies. Considering there are about two dozen movies & TV specials involved that would mean renting each of them less than four times to get to $350. Since most are films we all watch atleast once annually that means if you purchase instead of rent the expense would be “paid off” within a minimum of four years. When one realizes that we watch many of them atleast 2 or 3 times every December the idea of purchasing really begins to make sense. And while it is true that TV channels like Freeform, AMC, TCM, USA, & others air a fair amount of holiday favorites (often multiple times), one still has to deal with commercials & edits to the films. I am not suggesting that you spend such a sizeable chunk of change in one fell swoop, but it is an idea to consider doing a little at a time as your budget allows. Think of it as a long term Christmas investment. Okay, so while you ponder that idea let’s move on to second round action in the North Pole Division.
It’s A Wonderful Life
“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence Oddbody, AS2
“I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world!!” – George Bailey
“You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas.” – Henry F. Potter
As Uncle Billy drunkenly leaves the Bailey home, it sounds as if he stumbles into some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped a large tray of props right after Thomas Mitchell went off-screen. James Stewart began laughing, and Mitchell quickly improvised “I’m alright, I’m okay!” Frank Capra decided to use this take in the final cut, and gave the stagehand a $10 bonus for “improving the sound.”
Despite being set around Christmas, IAWL was filmed during a heat wave.
The name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps, cookies produced from 1901 until the early 1980s by National Biscuit Company, aka Nabisco.
Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie share their names with the IAWL‘s cop & cab driver, but it’s believed to be just a coincidence.
Carl Switzer, better known as Alfalfa from The Little Rascals, appears in IAWL as Freddie, the guy that becomes so annoyed about Mary ignoring him at the dance in favor of George Bailey that he opens up the swimming pool beneath the dance floor.
At one point in the film Mr. Potter’s housing project in Bedford Falls is referred to as Potter’s Field. The term Potter’s Field is often used to refer to municipal cemeteries where paupers & unidentified bodies are interred.
The Lemon Drop Kid
“You’ve still got your hourglass figure, dear, but most of the sand has settled to the bottom.” – Old Woman
The movie was filmed in 1950 but not released in theaters until March 1951. When a recording of Silver Bells by Bing Crosby became a hit in December 1950 the studio called actors & crew back to re-shoot a more elaborate musical version of the song for the film’s release.
The song Silver Bells was originally called Tinkle Bells until someone pointed out that tinkle was also slang for urinate.
The Verdict: IAWL. I always liked Bob Hope, and The Lemon Drop Kid really should be shown somewhere on television during the Christmas season (make it happen AMC & TCM). However, IAWL is in a league of its own. I think some of the backlash from the days when it was on TV ad nauseum every December has softened just a bit, and folks are starting to rediscover how fantastic a movie it really is.
The Polar Express
At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell. But as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found, one Christmas, that she could no longer hear it’s sweet sound. Though I have grown old, the bell still rings for me. As it does for all who truly believe. – Hero Boy
Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see. – The Conductor
There’s no greater gift than friendship. – Santa Claus
One thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on. – The Conductor
The Polar Express is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first all-digital capture film.
When the Hero Boy first meets the Hobo on the roof of the train he is playing the carol Good King Wenceslas. The story of Saint Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia is that of a king braving the harsh winter to bring alms to the poor on the Feast of Stephen on December 26th. His page finds he can’t go on through the harsh conditions and is directed to walk in the footprints that the king has made in the snow. The Hobo directs Hero Boy to follow behind him and ultimately helps him reach the engine before they make it to the tunnel, thus allowing him to find and help his friend. The Hobo can be viewed as a representation of the Holy Spirit that he guides those who believe in Him to safety even in perilous times.
Lonely Boy is played by Peter Scolari, who starred alongside Tom Hanks in the 1980’s sitcom Bosom Buddies.
The movie is based on the 1985 childrens’ book The Polar Express by Chris Van Alsburg, who also wrote Jumanji in 1981.
The close shots of Hero Girl’s train ticket floating in the air are a nod to the feather doing the same in Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 film Forrest Gump, which starred Tom Hanks.
The Ebenezer Scrooge marionette that frightens Hero Boy was used as the basis for the physical appearance of Scrooge in Robert Zemeckis’s 2009 film A Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Carol (1984)
Perhaps, in the future, you will hold your tongue until you have discovered where the surplus population is, and who it is. It may well be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. – The Ghost of Christmas Present
Good Spirit, your nature intercedes for me and pities me. Assure me that I may yet change these shadows, by an altered life. I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The spirits of all Three shall strive within me! I will not shut out the lessons that they teach! Tell me that I may sponge the writing from this stone! – Ebenezer Scrooge
It’s time you made your way in the world. I’ve arrange an apprenticeship for you. You’ll move into Mr. Fezziwig’s establishment in three days’ time. – Silas Scrooge
Make sure that a check for the entire amount is deposited with my clerk. I don’t ship until I have the cash in hand. – Ebenezer Scrooge
Tact is a quality I despise. – Ebenezer Scrooge
“Almost” carries no weight. Especially in matters of the heart. – The Ghost of Christmas Past
Spirit, what perversity is this? I’ve asked to see some emotion connected with that man’s death… and you’ve shown me only greed, malice, and apathy! Let me see some tenderness, some… depth of feeling! – Ebenezer Scrooge
Scrooge’s nephew Fred, whose full name was never given in the book, is surnamed Hollywell. Also, his wife, whose name was never mentioned in the book, is named Janet.
Scrooge stops at the Royal Stock Exchange on his way home from work, which not only gives us a look at how ruthless he is in dealing with his colleagues but also it is where he encounters the charity collectors rather than at his office.
This is the first film version to actually show Scrooge’s father (here named Silas Scrooge), a character referred to in the book but never seen.
Scott’s Scrooge differs from most portrayals in that not only is he stocky rather than scrawny, he is portrayed as a ruthless businessman rather than an archetypal miser.
A subplot is added to explain what it was that caused Ebenezer to dedicate his life to the accumulation of money, putting the kindly youth on a path to hard-heartedness. During the visions of the Ghost of Christmas Past, it is shown that young Scrooge believed his lack of a fortune made him unworthy of Belle’s attention and that to deserve her he must be able to finance their future together.
The Verdict: The Polar Express. This is a tough one. George C. Scott’s version of Scrooge was released theatrically in Britain and aired on CBS here in America. After that it was only shown by local channels here, and not released on home video for several years due to ownership issues thru Scott’s estate. It wasn’t shown on national television in The States until American Movie Classics began airing it in 2007, over two decades after it was produced, and I still feel like it flies a bit under the pop culture radar. Conversely, The Polar Express was the tenth highest grossing film of 2004, which is impressive, and almost immediately became a holiday TV staple. I adore motion capture, and though the technology has noticeably improved in the past decade this is the film that got the ball rolling.
Planes, Trains, & Automobiles
I won’t quote it here, but the exchange between Neal Page and a car rental clerk is CLASSIC.
Those aren’t pillows! – Neal Page
You’re going the wrong way! You’re going to kill somebody! – couple on the highway
Too long to quote here is a motel room conversation between an exasperated Neal Page and an obviously sad Del Griffith that is at the heart of the entire movie.
Our speedometer has melted and as a result it’s very hard to see with any degree of accuracy exactly how fast we were going. However, the radio still works. – Del Griffith
No transportation company wanted to appear inept or deficient in any way, so crews had to rent twenty miles of train track and refurbish old railroad cars, construct a set that looked like an airline terminal, design a rent-a-car company logo and uniforms, and rent two hundred fifty cars for the rental car scene.
John Hughes was inspired to write the story after an actual flight he was on from New York to Chicago was diverted to Wichita, KS, thus taking him five days to get home.
The Marathon Car Rental scene is exactly one minute long from the time Steve Martin starts his tirade to the time the attendant ends the scene. In that sixty seconds The F Word is used eighteen times.
The Santa Clause
The Santa Clause: In putting on the suit and entering the sleigh, the wearer waives any and all rights to any previous identity, real or implied, and fully accepts the duties and responsibilities of Santa Claus in perpetuity until such time that wearer becomes unable to do so by either accident or design. – Bernard the Elf
Everybody likes Denny’s…it’s an American institution. – Scott Calvin
Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. – Charlie Calvin
I think if we’re going to destroy our son’s delusions I should be a part of it. – Scott Calvin
In the original film Tim Allen made a sarcastic remark which included the line “1-800-SPANK-ME.” A woman from Cleveland, OH called the supposedly-fictional number for her curious grandchildren and it turned out to be a phone sex line. In 1997, when Disney received complaints from parents whose children called the number and racked up huge phone bills, the studio take action and cut the line for future releases.
The role of Scott Calvin/Santa Claus was written with Bill Murray in mind. After reading the script and being offered the lead role, Murray declined, saying he didn’t think it suited his humor.
Television airings of this film usually edit a scene in which a doctor tells Scott to pull his shirt up for a heartbeat check and his heart beats to the tune of Jingle Bells.
The Verdict: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. A couple of things must be considered. Obviously films about Santa Claus are a huge part of the whole Christmas movie thing, but that lack of distinctiveness can be a deficiency in a competition like this. The Santa Clause is a delightful origin story that gives one warm fuzzies, but I’m not sure how much it stands out from the crowd, especially since it’s the first of a trilogy. Conversely, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles has become a Thanksgiving tradition on par with turkey & pumpkin pie.
Frosty the Snowman
As any child can tell you, there’s a certain magic to the very first snow. Especially when it falls on the day before Christmas. For when the first snow is also a Christmas snow…well, something wonderful is bound to happen. – Narrator
Happy birthday! I am alive! What a neat thing to happen to a nice guy like me – Frosty the Snowman
I must get that hat back! – Professor Hinkle
You’ve got to excuse him Sir. You see, he just came to life and he doesn’t know much about such things. – Karen
Frosty’s not gone for good. You see, he was made out of Christmas snow, and Christmas snow can never disappear completely. Oh, it sometimes it goes away for almost a year at a time, and takes the form of spring and summer rain. But you can bet your boots that when a good, jolly December wind kisses it, it will turn into Christmas snow all over again. – Santa Claus
Rankin-Bass wanted to give the show the look of a Christmas card, so a greeting card & Mad magazine artist was hired to do the character and background drawings.
Jackie Vernon, the voice of Frosty, was a stand-up comedian known as The King of Deadpan.
“What happened to her millionaire?”…”Slight mistake there. He didn’t own millions, he owed them.”…”Poor girl. Always straying to greener pastures and finding spinach.” – Jim Hardy & Ted Hanover
He always has that look! It doesn’t mean anything emotionally. It has something to do with his liver.” – Ted Hanover
When a fellow is surprised to hear about his own wedding, brother that’s when I go to work with a clear conscience.” – Ted Hanover
For the “drunk” dance Fred Astaire had two drinks of bourbon before the first take and one before each succeeding take. The seventh & last take was used in the film.
The animated Thanksgiving sequence, in which a turkey jumps back and forth on the calendar between the third and fourth Thursday in November, is a topical reference to the “Franksgiving” controversy. In 1939 and 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’ attempted to change Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November, instead of the fourth, in an effort to bolster holiday retail sales by starting the Christmas season one week early. This led to a joint resolution in Congress, which Roosevelt signed into law in 1941, officially designating the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
The firecracker dance sequence was added to the movie as a patriotic number, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, which took place during filming.
The Verdict: Frosty. Wow, this is a really difficult decision. At the end of the day, though credit must be given to Holiday Inn for introducing the world to the song White Christmas, I cannot overlook the fact that several holidays…Independence Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Easter, etc…are celebrated in the film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (Fred Astaire’s Fourth of July performance is incredible), but it dilutes the movie’s claim to being about Christmas (or even Thanksgiving), even though that is when it is traditionally aired on TV. Meanwhile, Frosty has been a beloved annual tradition every December for a half century.