There are certain movies which are loved by all during the Christmas season and some which aren’t for different reasons. So let’s see how these two classics hold up today.
It’s a Wonderful Life
(USA 1946, director: Frank Capra)
The life of a struggling bank manager is in jeopardy, but with the help of an angel he is given a look at what would have happened if he never existed.
This is it. The big one, the most influential Christmas movie of all time. So is it overrated and feels a bit outdated like so many other classics? Not really. Despite some overacting and scenes in which joyful tunes can be a bit too much, this is just as heartwarming and touching as when it was released. The reason for this is the witty script with well-written dialogue and characters who feel like real people and less like stereotypes or caricatures.
One can of course try to criticize the movie for elevating the status of the small town community, but this would mean missing the point. The message of everyone living a meaningful life and touching other lives is simple and true. The time it takes place on Christmas might be less prominent than expected, but the way it’s woven into the story with a fantasy twist (which would also influence Back to the Future II, believe it or not) is genius.
This is one of those very few old movies which despite its long running time doesn’t drag on. At times it’s very funny, has memorable scenes and dialogues, at other times it’s sad and even depressing. But in the (happy) end, it all comes together, creating a movie which is not only a great Christmas classic, but a must-see movie on its own which is justly referenced in so many later movies like Gremlins or Christmas Vacation.
(USA 1954, director: Michael Curtiz)
Two male and female couples of singers try to save the hotel of an old army’s friend with an on-stage musical TV show with or without snow.
What do you expect when you read the words “white” and “Christmas”? Snow and warm feelings in front of a decorated tree? Well, sorry to disappoint you, but that’s not really what you see in this so-called musical classic. Only in the first and last scene, there’s snow and a Christmas tree. Now how did this happen, especially with the famous “White Christmas” song by Bing Crosby? It seems as if the director or script writer wanted to be especially intelligent or maybe a little bit critical of the season and play with his audience’s expectations. That’s why there’s no snow in snow paradise and vacation target No. 1 Vermont.
Oh well, how does one rate a Christmas movie in which only a few Christmas songs are played and there’s not a lot of Christmas to be seen anywhere? And what about the whole war and camaraderie background which plays very importantly in the final scene with a horrible in-the-army-everything’s-great song? I have to be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of musicals, and despite some catchy tunes here and there, this is the epiphany of stupidity wrapped up in a nice no-snow-less-Christmas story. What is especially annoying is the way musical scenes spring up just when the story gets a bit more interesting. And it’s not even the most original. Sure, the idea of saving a friend’s hotel might be overdone today, and this might have been one of the first examples, but the military angle can’t be overlooked.
Not even taking into account how many times the fake dub singing can be annoying (and is only once made fun of in a cringeworthy silly men-dressed-up-as-women dancing scene) and the fake background destroys any impression other than this being all on a movie set), people critical of old movies will find plenty of opportunities to get through the scenes with lots of eggnog and mulled wine without pressing the mute or off-button of the remote control. Overacting and slapstick scenes are just as annoying to watch as the forced lovey dovey part whose outcome can already be guessed at the very beginning. All in all, despite having the status of a true classic, this should only be watched by musical lovers and cineasts whose opinions that “they don’t do movies like these today” can’t be shaken. I myself have to say: “Thank God they really don’t do movies like these today”…
Score: 3/10 (for some catchy songs, but not for the story, acting or anything else in the movie)
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