by Lilah Ramzi– Vogue
It’s Christmas, and you’re in the mood to watch something festive. Netflix’s frothy best are never lacking in holiday spirit, but gravitas? Maybe… So a classic it is! But before you press play on It’s a Wonderful Life, consider the alternatives: You’re likely well-versed in Frank Capra’s simultaneously macabre and feel-good wintertime flick, and Hollywood’s golden age oeuvre is filled with Christmastime tales for kids from 1 to 92. Why not try something a little different? Don’t worry! Much like Henry Travers’s guardian angel, we won’t lead you astray. Here, our favorites for the holiday season:
The Shop Around the Corner, 1940
James Stewart delights once again! Here, he’s opposite Margaret Sullavan in the charming love story of which the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks AOL-centered rom-com You’ve Got Mail was based: A man and a woman are at odds with each other yet find themselves besotted by their respective mystery pen pals. Guess who’s on the other side of that envelope?
Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944
Not a Christmas movie exactly, but we have this film to thank for the tune “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” And at the Christmas Ball, Judy Garland (in a pseudo turn-of-the-century gigot-sleeved red velvet gown) gives us all a lesson in chic holiday dressing.
Christmas in Connecticut, 1945
This Christmassy film is white with lies! Barbara Stanwyck assumes the role of a columnist who chronicles a fictitious life as a housewife at a bucolic Connecticut farm. She’s found out and puts on a charade as to not disappoint a fan—a celebrated war hero played by Dennis Morgan. Somewhere along the way, the two fall in love, of course.
Babes in Toyland, 1961
This fantastical film strings together Mother Goose’s coterie (Little Bo Peep; Mary, Quite Contrary; Tom, the Piper’s Son) in a theatrical musical based on Victor Herbert’s operetta of the same name. Before Tom and Mary can live happily ever after, seemingly everything goes awry.
Remember the Night, 1940
Barbara Stanwyck stars in another holiday movie, but this one doesn’t quite pan out the way you’d expect. Stanwyck is arrested for shoplifting, and let out on bail by the New York district attorney (played by Fred MacMurray). He takes a liking to her, but his mother does not, so Stanwyck opts to serve out her sentence.
It Happened on Fifth Avenue, 1947
A drifting war veteran (played by Don DeFore) finds himself squatting in a well-appointed Fifth Avenue townhouse owned by an out-of-town mogul, the world’s second richest man. His presence goes unnoticed until a charming Gale Storm, playing the daughter of the owner, shows up unannounced. It’s not a B&E if you’re in love!
The Bishop’s Wife, 1947
Before there was Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington’s 1996 The Preacher’s Wife, there was Loretta Young and Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife. Grant plays the Christmas angel sent to the aid of a bishop, who is struggling to build a new cathedral, and attempts to give his strained marriage some celestial guidance.
Holiday Inn, 1942
Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds make Christmas magic in this Irving Berlin musical that debuted Berlin’s hit White Christmas. The film revolves around a sharp-edged love triangle between the trio, who play members of a musical performance group. (Caution: The original contains a highly problematic scene using blackface; the version you’ll watch today has been rightfully censored.)
Holiday Affair, 1949
Look to this film for another Christmastime tale of a shoplifting damsel in distress— this time, a single mother and war widow played by Janet Leigh. The sales clerk, played by Steve Mason, can’t bring himself to turn her in and is ultimately held responsible. Because it’s Christmas, the two fall in love.
White Christmas, 1954
Another can’t-miss Christmas musical with Bing Crosby. The movie also stars Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney (aunt of George!) in a colorful, feather-filled musical extravaganza you could watch for the costumes alone. The wardrobes, coupled with Irving Berlin’s score, make this film an audio-visual treat.
Miracle on 34th Street, 1947
You’ve likely seen the 1994 film of the same name (starring the delightful Mara Wilson as the little girl who believed), but don’t let that deter you from watching the original. In the original black-and-white version, that faithful child is played by no less than Natalie Wood.
The Thin Man, 1934
Should you prefer a film that’s only subliminally Christmassy, look to this murder mystery flick. Starring William Powell and Myrna as Nick and Nora, the film follows the married couple on a holiday break that takes them from San Fransisco to New York. A retired, booze-soaked detective, Nick can’t help being called back into action when a murder presents itself. The killer is revealed in a whodunit-style dinner party— and the costumes worn by Nora throughout the film are just to die for.
The Lemon Drop Kid, 1951
While most early holiday classics warm the heart and induce tears, they are rarely out to get laughs. The Lemon Drop Kid, however, manages the rare emotional trifecta. Starring Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell, this screwball comedy is based off the short story of the same name. Around Christmas time, New York gangsters come to collect a $10,000 IOU from Hope’s character (shocker, he doesn’t have it), and comical mayhem ensues. Somewhere along the way, the Christmas classic Silver Bells, is performed for the very first time.