The Golden Age of Christmas Movies: Festive Cinema of the 1940s and 50s (2019)
Published November 2019
Today the Christmas movie is considered one of the best-loved genres in modern cinema, entertaining audiences across the globe with depictions of festive celebrations, personal reinvention and the enduring value of friendship and family. But how did the themes and conventions of this category of film come to take form, and why have they proven to be so durable that they continue to persist and be reinvented even in the present day?
From the author of A Righteously Awesome Eighties Christmas, this book takes a nostalgic look back at the Christmas cinema of the 1940s and 50s, including a discussion of classic films which came to define the genre. Considering the unforgettable storylines and distinctive characters that brought these early festive movies to life, it discusses the conventions which were established and the qualities which would define Christmas titles for decades to come.
Examining landmark features such as It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop’s Wife and White Christmas, The Golden Age of Christmas Movies delves into some of the most successful festive films ever produced, and also reflects upon other movies of the time that—for one reason or another—have all but disappeared into the mists of cinema history. Considering films which range from the life-affirming to the warmly sentimental, The Golden Age of Christmas Movies investigates the many reasons why these memorable motion pictures have continued to entertain generations of moviegoers.
This book discusses seventeen Christmas films from the 1940s and 50s, including The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940), Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944), Christmas in Connecticut (Peter Godfrey, 1945), The Bells of St Mary's (Leo McCarey, 1945), It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946), Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton, 1947), The Bishop’s Wife (Henry Koster, 1947), Christmas Eve (Edwin L. Marin, 1947), It Happened on Fifth Avenue (Roy Del Ruth, 1947), Three Godfathers (John Ford, 1948), Holiday Affair (Don Hartman, 1949), The Lemon Drop Kid (Sidney Lanfield, 1951), Scrooge (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1951), The Holly and the Ivy (George More O'Ferrall, 1952), White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954), We’re No Angels (Michael Curtiz, 1955), and Bell, Book and Candle (Richard Quine, 1958). As well as a section about early Christmas movies (1897–1939), an appendix is included which details some of the other festive cinema of this period, along with a filmography, bibliography and index.
The Inside Story:
The Golden Age of Christmas Movies takes a close look at an era of cinema that was responsible for some of the most beloved features in the history of the Christmas movie genre. These films captivated the public imagination, most notably in the period directly following the Second World War, and laid the groundwork for what has since become one of the most commercially successful categories of modern cinema.
During this period, the key themes and conventions of the Christmas film were established, and audiences were also to bear witness to the birth of numerous subgenres such as the Christmas romance movie and the Christmas musical. Many of these features were hugely successful at the box-office, and were headlined by some of the biggest stars of their day. This was often also reflected in the critical praise and industry plaudits showered upon these films, meaning that they remain fondly remembered even in the present. Yet a number were ultimately to drift into relative obscurity, their fortunes being revived only through television broadcasts or home entertainment releases in later decades.
The creative approaches and thematic concerns about Christmas films can tell us a lot about their period of production, and in this formative era of the genre there was much to explore about the national cultural attitudes and rarefied social conditions brought about by World War II and its aftermath. Yet for many film-makers, the Christmas movie presented a unique opportunity to celebrate family and community, to promote friendship and mutual understanding, and to encourage individual self-improvement. This book considers exactly what it is about Christmas films that have made them so enduringly popular amongst audiences, and examines the versatility of a genre which is still evolving and being reinvented even now.