Video Picks Archive

December 22, 1999
This Week's Video Picks
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For the next two weeks my picks are "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965 TV Special - No Rating), A Christmas Carol (1938 - ), It's A Wonderful Life (1946 - ), The Bishop's Wife (1947 - ), and A Christmas Story (1983 - ).

It's pretty much unavoidable now. The holiday season is upon us, and the spectre of Y2K looms over our heads. So, before we have to revert to the dark ages, fire up your VCR and check out these holiday classics.

First off, I felt it was appropriate to include "A Charlie Brown Christmas" because of the pending retirement of Charles Schulz, the legendary cartoonist and creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip. Although it is a half-hour TV special, it is still available on video. Charlie Brown is tired of the commerciality of Christmas, and decides to look for the true meaning of the holiday. What would seem like another hackneyed idea actually turns out to be a touching affair, full of the characteristic pathos of Charlie Brown. CBS has been running this every year since 1965, and it continues to delight each generation.

Next, we go back to 1938 to see the first big-budget Hollywood version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". In case you still don't know the story, greedy financier Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen) is visited by the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley (Leo G. Carroll), who sends him three more ghosts on Christmas Eve. These ghosts show him Christmas in the past, present, and future, and how his greed and disdain for the holiday will keep him from a long and happy life (and afterlife). This grand production from MGM at their pinnacle brings this familiar story to life unlike any other film. It is shown on televsion more often than any other version, but beware of the frighteningly popular colorized version. Get the original on video, and never deal with the horror again.

Once a continuous programming staple, Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life is now bought by a single network for limited broadcasting. Never again will there be a dozen or more showings a day. Just as long as they don't show the horrible colorized version. Based on the story "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern, this film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, the owner of a small building & loan trust. When he loses a large deposit, he considers suicide, but is stopped by an angel (Henry Travers), who shows him how the world would be if he was never born. Little of the film has to do with Christmas, but it's the famous ending that has made it a holiday favorite. Stewart and Capra make pure magic again, nearly surpassing their previous collaboration: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. In 1990, this film was entered into the National Film Registry, so that it will continue to live forever.

In 1946, Capra made the definitive post-war holiday film, but Samuel Goldwyn would follow the next year with another classic. In The Bishop's Wife, David Niven is trying to build a cathedral, but has run out of money, so he prays for guidance. God sends him Cary Grant, which really answers the prayers of his wife (Loretta Young). Simply a beautiful film directed by Henry Koster, and full of the charming humor that Grant did better than anybody. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, and won for Best Sound Recording. In 1996, Penny Marshall remade it as The Preachers Wife, starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. But you can't beat the original, which is always a must-see for the season.

To wrap up the picks, I have chosen the only significant Christmas film of the modern era: 1983's A Christmas Story. Based on Jean Shepherd's semi-autobiographical novel, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, this film is about Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), a young boy in the 1940's who wants nothing but "an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle" for Christmas. Of course, his mother and every other adult tells him that he'll shoot his eye out with it. No other Christmas-themed film in the last thirty years has been embraced like this one. It's not hard to see why; every scene is pure nostalgic joy, even for those who weren't alive during that time. Ted Turner owns this one, and he shows in on TBS constantly throughout the season. Last year, it was on all Christmas Day, but why deal with commercials, when you could buy this film and all the above for your video collection.

I'll be back with some more Video Picks on January 5, but until then: Happy Holidays from

For more information, visit the Internet Movie Database:
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) (TV)
A Christmas Carol (1938)
It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
The Bishop's Wife (1947)
A Christmas Story (1983)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) -- VHS
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) -- DVD
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition -- Hardcover
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording Of The CBS Television Special -- Compact Disc
A Christmas Carol (1938) -- VHS
A Christmas Carol, a story by Charles Dickens -- Hardcover (Illustrated by Everett Shinn)
A Christmas Carol, a story by Charles Dickens -- Hardcover (Illustrated by Arthur Rackham)
A Christmas Carol, a story by Charles Dickens -- Paperback
A Christmas Carol, a story by Charles Dickens -- Audio Cassette (read by Patrick Stewart)
A Christmas Carol, a story by Charles Dickens -- Interactive CD-ROM
It's A Wonderful Life (1946) -- VHS
It's A Wonderful Life (1946) -- DVD
It's a Wonderful Life: The Fiftieth Anniversary Scrapbook, by Jimmy Hawkins -- Hardcover
The Bishop's Wife (1947) -- VHS
The Bishop's Wife (1947) -- DVD
A Christmas Story (1983) -- VHS
A Christmas Story (1983) -- DVD
In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, a novel by Jean Shepherd -- Paperback Home
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Capsule Reviews © 1999 Matt Heffernan