December 2023: A Few of Our Favorite Things

This month we take our title from Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics and our subject from the DVD shelves. We’re looking at our favorite things—in this instance, Christmas movies. Janet and D. Z. give a nod to those films which have earned an honored place in our holiday rituals. Some are classics and others are new. What they have in common is that we watch them year after year.

Our suggestions, to be taken with large bowls of buttered popcorn. Enjoy!

Janet Dawson

May All Your Christmas Movies Be . . .

White Christmas

Top of the list—White Christmas. Bing Crosby! Rosemary Clooney! Danny Kaye! Vera-Ellen! Fabulous music by Irving Berlin and wonderful dancing. The 1954 movie was filmed in eye-popping Technicolor and widescreen VistaVision. Danny and Vera-Ellen swaying to “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing.” Then there’s the wonderful duet “Sisters,” with Rosemary and Vera-Ellen, followed by Bing and Danny camping it up and having so much fun with their rendition. And the finale always gets me teary-eyed. I love it. Hey, I even refer to the movie in my novel Nobody’s Child, which takes place during the holidays.

I start the season with Miracle on 34th Street, the 1947 classic with Edmund Gwenn’s Oscar-winning performance as Kris Kringle, on trial for lunacy because he insists that he’s Santa Claus. What a cast! Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood as the little girl who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, and a host of sublime character actors. I especially like Gene Lockhart as the perplexed judge and William Frawley as his curmudgeonly advisor.

My favorite bit of dialogue comes when Maureen O’Hara (Doris) argues with John Payne (Fred).

Doris: “Oh, Fred! You’re talking like a child! You’re living in a realistic world. And those lovely intangibles of yours are attractive, but not worth very much.”

Fred: “Look Doris, someday you’re going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. And when you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover they’re the only things that are worthwhile.”

Hey, I’ll take the lovely intangibles every time.

A Christmas Carol. Of course. The question is, which version? It’s been filmed many times. I’m not that fond of the 1938 movie with Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge, but it has its moments. Gene Lockhart is quite good as Bob Cratchit. I prefer the 1951 version with Alistair Sim as Scrooge, which is postwar Britain bleak. I enjoyed seeing Patrick Stewart’s stage version, in which he plays all the parts, but didn’t care for his TV version. The one on my shelf is the 1984 TV movie with George C. Scott as Scrooge. The rest of the cast is wonderful, including Frank Finlay as Marley’s Ghost, David Warner as Cratchit and Edward Woodward as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scott is magnificent as Scrooge. He is indeed “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner.” And I rejoice every time he finds his humanity.

Speaking of A Christmas Carol, a recent film landed on my best of Christmas list—The Man Who Invented Christmas, the 2017 movie with Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens. After poor sales and financial failure on his last three books (writers can relate!), he resolves to write a Christmas novel and publish it himself. He’s got a deadline and the writing is not going well (writers can relate!). Dickens is trying on names for his protagonist, out loud. When he says “Scrooge,” guess who steps out of the shadows. It’s Christopher Plummer, bringing the old miser to life. If that’s not enough to make Dickens tear out his hair, more characters show up to give unsolicited advice. A delightful movie.

Other favorites include Love, Actually, the 2003 comedy. I enjoy watching Hugh Grant dance down the stairs and find love backstage at the Christmas pageant. I love the scene where Colin Firth proposes marriage in fractured Portuguese. Of course, Bill Nighy as the “mad, bad, grandad of rock ‘n roll” steals every scene he’s in.

There’s the 1991 comedy called All I Want for Christmas, about two kids in New York City trying to get their divorced parents back together. And We’re No Angels, the 1955 black comedy about three convicts (Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray) who escape from Devil’s Island on Christmas Eve.

Finally, It’s a Wonderful Life. With a wonderful cast led by Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore—the list goes on!—the movie details the trials and tribulations of George Bailey, who really wants to get out of Bedford Falls but never does. He discovers that in spite of all the disappointments and problems, the good outweighs the bad. He really has had a wonderful life. As his brother puts it during the finale, George is the richest man in town.

D. Z. Church

Oh, TV Night, the stars are brightly shining …


Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without sitting down in front of the television and watching all the seasonal movie favorites. At my house, we run from the sublime to the ridiculous, meaning the original The Bishop’s Wife to Christmas Vacation. We have left Die Hard off the list, well, because … though it takes place Christmas Eve and Day. Just today we were remembering Suspect, a sort of wonderful Cher and Dennis Quaid movie, which takes place during the holiday season, also. But, really, they’re thrillers not Christmas movies. Christmas movies should make you reflect, remember, enjoy, and laugh.

In keeping with that sentiment, here are my current favorites in absolutely no order at all.

Prancer. If you have not seen this little gem, you owe it to yourself to discover it. Sam Elliott and Cloris Leachman are the grownups in a story revolving around a little girl who believes the injured deer she finds is Santa’s Prancer. It has an innocence and magic to it that can’t help but move you. For me, it has the added joy of Southwestern Michigan during a winter like the ones I remember. The town in the story takes place is just south of where my family lived. I’m telling you the movie is enchanting.

The Bishop’s Wife. The one with Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young. Watch, I dare you not to feel the joy and warmth of it. I had forgotten how wonderful it was until we rediscovered it by accident. It is like a great big warm, smiley hug.

A Christmas Kiss. I don’t care. I love this one. The film is about an aspiring interior designer who has a chance encounter with a handsome stranger, resulting in an impulsive romantic kiss in an elevator. Later she discovers that he is the wealthy boyfriend of her ruthless employer. All very Hallmark-y, though it is not a Hallmark movie. It is like candy on the screen, but what I love about it is the young designer’s two roommates. The actresses playing the roommates are bright, sassy, and perfect. Their relationship, which feels natural and delightful, is the heart and inspiration of the story. Give it a try – I think you’ll grin like a fool at the ending.

Klaus. The headmaster of the postal system/school sends a total washout to the far reaches of the icy north. He arrives in a town torn apart by an age-old rivalry. It is the worst. As he attempts to prove himself and meet a quota of letters mailed so that he can get out of there, he meets and befriends a recluse woodsman who makes toys. And, from there, well … that’s the story, isn’t it. This animated movie is perfect for everyone, young, old, in between and anyone who loves a good fairy tale.

And, of course, every year, we watch White ChristmasHoliday InnIt’s a Wonderful Life. You know, the usuals. But less usual are: One Christmas and I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Both movies are about family. The first is based on a Truman Capote story and the second takes place during World War II.

But as I said, the first four are my current favorites. Though watching Kurt Russell do his Elvis Presley in The Christmas Chronicles is well worth a gander. You’d have to be some sort of stone-hearted soul not to get up and dance with abandon and sing along.

So, that wraps up my little offering of joy. If you’re inclined and watch my four favorites, I hope you find them as refreshing and joyous as I do. Merry Christmas.

As for Books – Coming Soon!

A Confluence of Enemies

A Convergence of Enemies, the second book in the Wanee Mysteries, is coming out January 15 and will be available for preorder January 1. Cora and her gaggle of friends deal with drought and disease and secrets best kept. Miss Bales, the new upper-level teacher, is speaking when the excerpt that follows begins:

“I attended the Presbyterian Church, today everyone was gossiping about a rainmaker who has arrived this day in Wanee at the bidding of the Trustees, claiming Mr. Sullivan championed him. He has the most wonderful wagon, a cannon, a bass drum, and a hurdy-gurdy. He barks about his success as though he were at a carnival, claiming a rain so fierce in the tip of the state that the Mississippi ran clear. He is a one-man show able to thump a drum and grind his hurdy-gurdy, all while talking of his victories.

“Another victory he claims is a storm in Iowa that watered the fields for three weeks. All amusing tall tales from a tall man, strong-jawed, and light of eye! He dresses the part. His pants are brown and umber striped. He wears a red shirt with lacy, red women’s garters at his biceps, and a hat with what I believe are conchos like Mexican bandits in dime novels wear. He kept me too long with his banging, including tin pots that jangle whenever his horse prances in place, which it often does. Everyone is quite taken with him.”

“I do believe that is the point,” Josiah said, pushing out of the rocking chair. “To take everyone. Miss Countryman has our meal prepared.” He stood and held the front door open for Miss Bales.

“But I have heard they do good,” Miss Bales said, arranging her skirt to sit as Josiah waited, hands on the back of his chair. “Mr. Sullivan made a point in his introduction that the rainmaker is praised by one and all.”

“Know this, it is rare rain is linked to a rainmaker. Often, they plan their arrival but a few days ahead of a storm,” Josiah challenged.

“Well, though the sky is clear, he seems supremely confident.”

“As confident as I am that offering him Wanee’s good money will result in no rain and unrest. Too much hope in times like these is poor succor for fresh food, water, and good health.”

Reviewers call A Confluence of Enemies a captivating post-Civil War mystery with surprises and fireworks galore. And proclaim Cora a character it’s pleasurable to cheer for.