Herbie J Pilato: Best Christmas Cinema Classics

EDITOR’S NOTE: TVWriter™ legendary Contributing Editor Emeritus Herbie J Pilato brings us some Christmas insight.


by Herbie J Pilato

They just don’t make ’em like they used to.

Christmas movies, that is.

Feature films for theatres.

Motion pictures for the big screen.

Television does a pretty good job with holiday editions of what used to be called “movies of the week.”

But Christmas movies for actual leave-the-house, movie-theatre-going lovers?

Not seein’ ’em, certainly nothing compared to classics such as the 1934 Laurel and Hardy edition of Babes in Toyland, which many consider a New York City classic.

Then there’s the 1938 edition of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, starring Reginald Owen as Scrooge. Hollywood royalty, in the guise of the Lockhart family, those being father Gene, mother Kathleen, and daughter June (much later of TV’s Lost in Space and Petticoat Junction).

The black-and-white Holiday Inn, starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby in 1942, was the precursor to the stunning and colorful semi-remake, White Christmas (with Danny Kaye stepping in for Astaire, who was unavailable, due to caring for his ailing wife in real life).

Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland, and released in 1944, is not technically classified as a “Christmas movie.” But it’s infested with the spirit (if with a significant Halloween sequence), and introduced the now-monumental Christmas carol, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” performed on screen by Garland.

Director Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, from 1946, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed can absolutely not go without mention as the legendary piece of filmmaking that it is.

The Bishop’s Wife, starring Loretta Young, Cary Grant, and David Niven stunned movie audiences in 1947 and was remade in 1996 by director Penny Marshall as The Preacher’s Wife (with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston).

Miracle on 34th Street, which introduced the world to a pre-teen Natalie Wood, and earned Edmond Gwenn in 1947 the Best Supporting Oscar for playing Kris Kringle (a.k.a. Good Ol’ St. Nick, a.k.a, Santa Claus).

Scrooge, the 1951 British adaptation of A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim, is considered by many to be the best edition of the classic Dickens tale.

The 1970 musical edition of Scrooge, starring Albert Finney, gave the story another steller holiday try, but this time, with song.

A Christmas Story, from 1983, and set in the 1940s, is so decorated with realistic days of Christmas-past charm, the season’s greetings near leap off the screen with subtle aplomb.

A few others are honorable mentions: It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947), Remember the Night (1940), Three Godfathers (1948), Holiday Affair (1949), Christmas in Connecticut (1945), The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), Pocketful of Miracles (1961), and though, again, like some others mentioned, Going My Way, in 1944, and it’s 1946 sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s (both starring Bing Crosby and an affable singing priest) are not technically designated as “Christmas movies,” but both are so sprinkled with the true meaning of what the holiday represents:

Love, peace, and goodwill toward all men — and women.

Consequently, these films continue to delight audiences of every faith, religious creed, and spiritual belief.

The creative dynamics of each movie mentioned are pristine, from the direction and overall production values to the performances of the talent, to and most importantly, the scripts, the stories, and the dialogue presented; the quality of which, in each case, and in comparison to contemporary holidays films (or movies in general, for that matter), is far superior.

What the movies of today really need is a Christmas miracle.


Writer/producer Herbie J Pilato is the host of THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the new classic TV talk show now streaming on Amazon Prime, Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, and author of several classic TV companion books. He has been part of TVWriter™ for 20 years and is Contributing Editor Emeritus. Learn more about Herbie J HERE. This article first appeared in Medium.