Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  Dec. 12, 2001 at 6:29 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- 'Tis the season for Christmas movies, many of which are seen repeatedly during Yuletide TV offerings.

Probably the most beloved and durable is "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946), starring James Stewart in a sentimental family story centered around spiritual virtues.

It ends with an angel ringing a tiny bell on a Christmas tree, signaling the moment an angel is given its wings.

Co-starring Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell and Ward Bond, the Frank Capra film has become a Hollywood classic enjoyed by generations of movie fans spanning two centuries.

New seasonal movies are somewhat rare, perhaps because a plethora of oldies have become evergreen on the tube.

Bing Crosby's "Holiday Inn" (1942) is a perennial favorite, especially with Der Bingle crooning the most popular movie Christmas carol of all time: "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas."

So popular was Crosby and his song that another movie was made, titled "White Christmas" (1954) co-starring Bing with Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney.

Whether comedy, drama, fable, love story or tragedy, the holiday season lends itself to heightened emotions in American audiences.

In recent years, "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" and "Scrooge" in its many versions provide humor and satire to seasonal movie fare, and quickly adapted by television where they are likely to be seen well into the next millennium.

In a predominantly Christian country, movies based on Biblical interpretations or popular legend and parables come into play with filmmakers eyeing the holiday box office.

One of the most successful of all Christmas movies was "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne and Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus. It launched the career of an adorable tike named Natalie Wood who grew up to be a superstar.

Other Christmas-themed films included "The Holly and the Ivy," "Tenth Avenue Angel," "Christmas Eve," "The Bishop's Wife," "I'll Be Seeing You" and "Christmas in Connecticut."

Religion plays a negligible role in Christmas genre movies in which the central figure most often is Santa Claus rather than the deity.

In addition to "Miracle on 34th Street," Santa was a major figure in "The Lemon Drop Kid" (Bob Hope), "The Light At Heart" (Monty Woolley) and most of the old Sinatra Rat Pack in "Robin and the Seven Hoods."

Christmas scenes in movies can be traced all the way back to old black and white silent flickers. A sure-fire emotional bang is a family Christmas scene involving a crisis of some sort to cast a shadow over a customarily happy, carefree motif.

Usually such scenes involve an estranged parent peering through a window at a warm family group around a Christmas tree singing carols.

And lives there a dry-eyed moviegoer watching a film in which a starving orphan looks on a happy family celebrating over a turkey dinner?

Such Christmas scenes were found in "On Moonlight Bay," "Little Women," "The Bells of St. Mary," "The Man Who Came to Dinner," "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness," "Since You Went Away" and "Meet Me in St. Louis" to name a few.

One of the most memorable was the depressing little Christmas spent by Macaulay Culkin in "Home Alone." The little boy sheds a tear by himself with his Christmas tree while the rest of his family is off in Florida.

Nor are movie Yuletide celebrations limited to American families and typical middle-class homes.

Christmas scenes could be found in some bizarre circumstances, for instance in a submarine at sea in "Destination Tokyo" and in a Congo Mission for "The Nun's Story."

There was also Christmas in an Indian nunnery in "The Black Narcissus" and in "Scott of the Antarctic."

As movie audiences become increasingly sophisticated and with political correctness a major consideration in determining what is appropriate, religious themes are increasingly suspect.

No prayer in schools, no public displays of the crèche, no crucifix on public buildings, no religious icons represented in parades and such.

There is widespread dismay when a minority group yelped about separation of church and state if any city, county, state or national entity suggests that God in any way is represented on public property.

But it does make one wonder why our currency bears the legend "In God We Trust" at that the pledge of allegiance includes "One nation under God."

But movies can get away with it because no government sanction is necessary to release a motion picture in this country -- yet.

Santa Claus or St. Nicholas or Father Christmas are okay because they do not necessarily reflect any particular sect or religious affiliation.

Santa, in fact, has become a secular old party who makes his home at the North Pole where there apparently is no political correctness.

Anyhow, the Santas in movies are benign souls who love all kids everywhere.

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