It’s officially That Time of Year, the only time when your grocery store carries eggnog, when wearing a sweater with a light-up reindeer on it seems like a good idea, and when Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis find themselves getting serious radio airplay. It’s also the season for DVD companies to dig into the vaults and find cool treasures that fit perfectly into the Christmas season.
A long-buried vintage classic that has recently reemerged as a popular favorite – and if my holiday movie guide Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas played even a tiny role in that, then I’m thrilled – is 1940’s Remember the Night (TCM/Universal), which makes its Blu-ray debut this year. Written by the great Preston Sturges and directed by Mitchell Leisen, this charming romantic comedy pairs Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck as, respectively, a district attorney and a shoplifter thrown together for the holidays.
If you’re used to seeing these two as the homicidal lovers in Double Indemnity, get ready for a completely different relationship this time around. Sparkling and sweet — and even featuring Beulah Bondi, Ma Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, as MacMurray’s mom — this one’s destined to become a permanent part of your December rotation.
Also available: The tune-filled favorite White Christmas (Paramount Home Video) gets a Blu-ray release in a Diamond Anniversary Edition celebrating the movie’s 60th birthday; also getting their first high-def releases are Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) and another Stanwyck classic, Christmas in Connecticut (Warner Home Video).
Wrestler Mick Foley produced and costars in the fascinating documentary I Am Santa Claus (Virgil Films), a look at men from various different backgrounds who wear the red suit every December; Naomi Judd and Robert Loggia star in An Evergreen Christmas (Arc Entertainment), about a young singer who leaves L.A. and returns to her family’s Christmas tree farm after an unexpected death in the family.
Christmas TV Movies:
Certain cable channels figured out years ago that Christmas movies were a relatively inexpensive investment that could pay off year after year after year after year. But before such telefilms became ubiquitous, there were some select gems, like The House Without a Christmas Tree (CBS/Paramount), released this year on DVD in a set that also contains its sequel, The Thanksgiving Treasure.
Based on the novel by Gail Rock (as is the follow-up), Christmas Tree tells the story of young Addie Mills (Lisa Lucas), growing up in the 1940s with her stern father (Jason Robards) and loving grandma (Mildred Natwick). Addie wants nothing more than a tree in the house this holiday, but Christmas brings up painful memories for her dad. It’s a moving tale that’s aged well, despite the fact that it was shot (in 1972) on videotape rather than on film.
Also available: The Christmas Gift (CBS/Paramount) stars John Denver as a newly widowed architect who finds love in a small town where everyone seems to believe in Santa Claus; Eddie Izzard plays a mysterious stranger who helps people find the things they’ve lost in the moving Lost Christmas (Inception Media).
There’s a new batch of Christmas movies heading to DVD following their cable debuts, including Northpole (Arc Entertainment) — set in Santa’s hometown and apparently a tentpole for some upcoming sequels — and a quartet of Hallmark Channel movies: Nine Lives of Christmas, A Cookie Cutter Christmas, A Royal Christmas and Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas (all Cinedigm). The standout of the bunch is Lifetime’s Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), in which the iconic online feline (voiced by Aubrey Plaza) foils a dognapping and saves Christmas. Trust me, it’s funnier than you’d think.
Christmas TV Specials
1964 was apparently a heckuva year for Christmas specials, since two iconic ones celebrate their golden anniversaries with new home video editions. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Classic Media) offers up a crisp Blu-ray of the Rankin-Bass perennial, with a documentary (Rudolph Unwrapped), sing-alongs and a video pop-up book thrown in for good measure. Less extras packed but equally beloved is A Charlie Brown Christmas: 50th Anniversary Edition (Warner Home Video), the DVD of which offers an additional Peanuts special, It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown.
Also available: Fans of classic variety specials have two great new releases to add to their collections: A King Family Christmas (Polly O. Entertainment) offers up a host of talented sisters, cousins, spouses and assorted children singing their way through two Christmas specials, a Thanksgiving special and two episodes of their popular ABC variety show, as well as a fascinating documentary about the singing Kings and their love of the holidays. And Mr. Christmas himself is the center of Bing Crosby: The Television Specials — Volume Two: The Christmas Specials (UMe), featuring a bundle of classic moments, with guest stars ranging from Frank Sinatra to David Bowie.
More vintage TV moments can be found on Little House on the Prairie: A Merry Ingalls Christmas (Lionsgate Home Video), featuring two episodes of the 1970s hit drama series; 1983’s Santa’s Magic Toy Bag (Legend Films), from Alf creator Paul Fusco, makes it to home video for the first time ever this year; and the Garfield Holiday Collection (Anderson Digital) offers up not just the lasagna-loving cat’s Christmas special but four others as well.
And if you find the holiday offers up more sweetness and light — and eggnog — than you can stomach, you can always turn to Robot Chicken Christmas Specials! (Warner Home Video) to clear your palate with a strong burst of sick humor, random violence and brilliantly hilarious non sequiturs.
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