We’re right in the middle of the holiday season, and that means there’s a lot of holiday films around to consume. Most importantly, you’re probably trying to avoid the endless barage of carbon copy Hallmark films, along with arguments about if Die Hard counts as a Christmas film (it doesn’t). There are a lot of true holiday classics out there, including gems that get people watching old films. There’s a lot more out there than just White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, though. If you’re looking for holiday films that are off the beaten path over the next couple weeks, here’s a few selections to tear people away from whatever shameful Christmas film Ed Asner is in this year:
I’ll Be Seeing You (1944)
A fair warning: enjoyment of I’ll Be Seeing You depends heavily on how much sentimentality and melodrama one can take. The plot itself is a rather old and common one, including one that comes up later on in this list. Two people (Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten) are both only away from their confined spaces for a short time: Cotten is on leave from a military hospital, while Rogers is due back in prison in a short amount of time. When they meet, neither can bring themselves to tell the other the horrible truth. Instead, they separately decide to have a good Christmas together by keeping their secrets private.
It’s a smaltzy story on paper, and is even more of a sentimental tearjerker in execution. And that’s precisely what makes it so much fun. I’ll Be Seeing You is more of an emotional rollercoaster than most holiday films, all told with the corny and sentimental tone you’d want for a film of the season. Something a little hokey is good around the Christmas season, and I’ll Be Seeing You delivers it in such a charming way.
Okay, so this film isn’t that unknown. It’s on TCM every December and is a popular holiday DVD release. And yet, Christmas in Connecticut still doesn’t seem to get the recognition it deserves as one of the greatest Christmas films of all time. Watching it, it’s easy to wonder how it doesn’t get played more during the season, getting as much praise an airtime as the other films of the period. Christmas in Connecticut brings with it that hallmark of the period: the screwball comedy. Few things can bring more comedy than wacky misunderstandings and cockamamie schemes falling part. Throw in a Christmas setting, and you’ve got a great set up for a film.
But what really makes the film work is the incredible cast. Barbara Stanwyck plays a phony food columnist, forced to serve up Christmas meals she can’t prepare for a war hero (Dennis Morgan) at the behest of her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet). Stanwyck is perfect in the middle of the madcap hurricane, doing things like failing to cook and trying to change her (fake) baby. Greenstreet plays the perpetually befuddled man well, and the supporting cast is rounded out with the always amusing character actor SZ Sakall. As the bound to get together couple, Morgan and Stanwyck have a chemistry that is at times adorable and other times downright sultry. With this cast and plenty of hijinx, Christmas in Connecticut brings an incredible amount of fun.
Beyond Tomorrow also can be classified as sentimental, but it does have something you’re not likely to see elsewhere: a couple of unique plot elements. It opens with three rich older men thinking of a way to have some company on Christmas. They throw wallets onto the street, wondering who will go to the house to return them. A young man and woman arrive and hit it off. When the three men die in a plane crash, they return from beyond the grave to make sure the people they set up stay together.
Even more of a redemption tale than a Christmas film, Beyond Tomorrow does a good job of fleshing out all the major players involved. The three elder men aren’t just vehicles to bring a couple together at Christmas. They’ve done things wrong in their past, and bringing the couple together after their death serves another role of redemption. They also don’t have much time to accomplish this before they are called away from earth forever. The cast may be unassuming and it may be a somewhat minor tale, but Beyond Tomorrow has an intriguing hook and enough heart to make it well worth it.
I know, I know. One Way Passage has nothing to do with Christmas. There is, though, a December holiday that fits into the film: New Year’s Eve. While almost all of the film takes place outside of New Year’s, this romance classic really does fit the bill for an end of the year film.
Without giving away spoilers, the one ending scene on New Year’s Eve couldn’t be more important or powerful. You’ll probably need some tissues handy for it. But more than just New Year’s itself, One Way Passage is about the power of love, new beginnings and endings. William Powell and Kay Francis play two star crossed lovers on a ship, both knowing their love can’t last as death soon awaits them. Neither one can tell the other that truth (there’s that plot again), and they agree to meet again on New Year’s Eve, something that just can’t happen.
Powell and Francis light up the screen and tear at the heartstrings, but the story of their beginning and ending isn’t the only one to be seen. There’s also a highly entertaining and sweet subplot that explores if a criminal and a cop can come together when love strikes them.
Simply put, One Way Passage is one of the unabashedly romantic films ever made, and perhaps one of the greatest films ever. The connection to December holidays may sound tenuous, but it’s really not. And by the time the film reaches New Year’s Eve, you’ll be plenty emotionally invested in the holiday.