They’ve been making Christmas movies for about as long as they’ve made films. That’s almost literal. A movie called Santa Claus was made way back in 1898. No, I didn’t transpose two numbers. That movie came out in the 1800s. That’s “train coming at the screen” era. Since then, they’ve made dozens of Christmas movies, the exact number coming down to your personal definition. Some of them I really like. The thing is, as I look over the history of Christmas movies, they didn’t really start making good Christmas movies for quite some time.
I’m not just talking about the obviously bad ones. Of course Santa Claus, the one where Santa squares off with Mr. Pitch, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians are bad. Babes in Toyland is lame. Even some of the ones people like I’m not that into, though. I’ve never been a fan of It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a big maudlin and saccharine for my tastes. The kind of movie that made people think Frank Capra only made corny flicks. The original Miracle on 34th Street? Not so good. Well, that’s true of every version of that story.
I don’t really like any version of A Christmas Carol save for maybe the Muppets version. Well, Scrooged came out before that and is sort of a version of that story too. Can’t go wrong with Bill Murray…usually. There is that movie with an elephant he made.
The first definitive, without a doubt really good Christmas movie to come out, in my mind, is Gremlins. That came out in 1984. Yes, one year after Trading Places. That movie is not good. It’s ridiculous and mean spirited and not all that funny. However, there are a couple films that are basically Christmas movies that I think are solid. I wouldn’t call either of them really good, or even good, but they are pretty good. That way, I’m not saying there was almost a century of Christmas films before they made one worth seeing.
The first is The Thin Man, which came out all the way back in 1934. It’s a detective story and a murder mystery, which spawned a series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, but it takes place around Christmas. That definitely makes it count as a Christmas movie to me. We see Nick and Nora, plus their dog, celebrate the holiday. The only thing that gets in its way is the logistical issues of making a movie in 1934. The movie is kind of slow, there is a lot of ambient white noise, and the editing is a little awkward at times. Two years later they made a sequel, Another Thin Man, and the difference in quality is clear.
If you want to watch a Christmas romantic comedy, and all those Hallmark and Netflix movies say you do, check out 1944’s Christmas in Connecticut. It’s a totally solid romantic comedy starring screen legend Barbara Stanwyck. Hey, if you’re willing to watch “A Christmas Prince” or whatever nonsense that’s out there, why not watch something actually decent that talented people worked on?
It may have taken a while for Christmas movies to really start picking things up, but there are at least a few holiday films from the early days of Hollywood that you can check out.