Films have been a part of my holiday traditions as long as I can remember. There are always the new Christmas time big releases, the need to escape the family commitments for a few hours of quiet time, and the general need for mood altering entertainment to help you properly get into the spirit of the season.
One of my earliest holiday theater experiences was seeing Santa and the Three Bears (1970). Now I’m sure I didn’t see this in 1970, because I wouldn’t have been old enough, but when I was pretty young, the local theaters would often have special Saturday matinees for children including holiday films or films that originally aired on television. I can recall seeing this film along with several others that day, but this is the only one I can definitely recall being shown.
There’s a pretty interesting history to this film if you bother to look it up. There’s a substantial bit of live action that was later removed to trim it down to just a 45 minute animated special.
I can recall the live action scenes from memory, though they are a little hazy. You can find most of this one online for free, but a full uncut version with the live action sequences doesn’t seem to be available. (watch on youtube)
Another holiday theater experience which probably deserves a little mention is Santa Claus the Movie (1985) and really this is mostly because of the hoopla surrounding the film more than anything else. As it turns out, the local candy company in my home town, Boyer, somehow secured the candy rights to this film, and because of that, there was a special premier at one of our theaters. While I certainly wasn’t invited to the theater that night, it was covered in all the local press and probably did more to sell tickets in our town than anything else.
Moving out of the theater and distant movie memories into the realm of personal holiday traditions, there are a few films which I watch every year. Of course there’s the old standbys, A Christmas Story (1983) and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) which I see whether I want to or not, but there’s also a couple of films which I actively make a priority.
The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) is a film I first saw on television about ten years ago, and have made a part of my holiday viewing ever since. Based on a Damon Runyon short story, the film features Bob Hope as down on his luck con man in trouble with a local gangster. The wise-cracking comedian is in top form here as he engineers a scheme to use the holiday spirit of others to help him pay off his debts.
Filled with a cast of colorful Runyon characters, the film zooms along and provides a lot of laughs while ending on the kind of uplifting holiday beat you would expect from the post-war era.
A interesting side note, the perennial Christmas classic “Silver Bells” actually debuted, and was written for this film. Hope and Marilyn Maxwell deliver the ultimate version in a nice segment toward the end of the film.
My other holiday classic, really isn’t a holiday film, but it’s perfect family fare for snowy evening gatherings. Disney’s Snowball Express (1972) is a film I loved as a kid and love even more as an adult.
Dean Jones is a mid level office worker who gets fed up with his job and decides to move his family to the middle of nowhere when he inherits a rundown lodge in Colorado. What follows is a series of light hearted and wacky hijinks that were common to this era of Disney film making.
It’s full of action and a great cast of side characters make this film a delight for all ages, as long as you check your modern cynicisms at the door.