Since it is December, the networks are dusting off the evergreen holiday movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” along with the seeming endless incarnations of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Plus there’s usually the young Macaulay Culkin doing some serious damage to bumbling crooks, the Peanuts gang decorating a sad little tree, the Griswold holiday home invaded by relations from the shallow end of the genetic pool. A programmer with an offbeat sense of humour might schedule the original 1975 “Black Christmas” (nutcake living in an sorority house attic stalks co-eds) for a late night viewing. One might even find “Die Hard” on TV because it’s kind of a Christmas movie (barefooted cop Bruce Willis fights the bad guys who crash his wife’s company’s Christmas party in a half-built high-rise). But calling it a romance is a stretch, even if John McClane’s chief motivation is saving his estranged spouse. (For those who care, “Die Hard 2” also takes place on Christmas Eve.)
Last time, I looked at upcoming romance films hopefully coming to your local Cineplex. This time, I’ve got a short list of oldie and goodie holiday rom-coms you can rent or buy on DVD. Or if you’re lucky, maybe you can find them on a specialty movie channel or late night cable for taping. Every one of them is lighter and fluffier than the marshmallows in hot chocolate.
"Christmas in Connecticut" (1945)
Barbara Stanwyck (Elizabeth Lane) is a noted culinary writer living the country life and feeding her family the best of vittles. She’s kind of like Martha Stewart. Except it’s all a big lie cooked up for her magazine’s cooking column. The so-called expert can barely boil water, is single and lives in a New York apartment. Unfortunately, her magazine dreams up a publicity stunt where a sailor injured in the war (that’s WWII for the Y Generation) joins the “Lane family” for a down-home country Christmas with all the trimmings. Now Elizabeth has to find a farm plus fake a family and gourmet cooking or be exposed as a fraud.
This movie was remade in 1992 with Dyan Cannon in the Barbara Stanwyck role, but as a cooking show host. Kris Kristofferson is the lucky guy who falls for the famous (and fake) cooking personality. Trivia note: California “governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger directed this flick. Whether that’s good or bad, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
"The Bishop's Wife" (1947)
Back in the day, Cary Grant may have been your grandma’s idea of an angel. In this movie he plays one, albeit without wings and with the uncool moniker of Dudley. David Niven is an Episcopal bishop who wants to build a grand new cathedral. Meantime, he’s neglecting his churchly duties and his faithful wife (Loretta Young) in pursuit of his plans and all before Christmas. It’s Dudley’s mission to steer the bishop back to the important things in life. But the bishop begins to wonder if this mysterious suave stranger is out to steal his job and his wife.
In 1996 the movie was remade as “The Preacher’s Wife”. Courtney B. Vance is the reverend paying too much attention to his duties and not enough to his wife, Whitney Houston. Plus his beloved church is being threatened by a real estate developer. And the suave angel who comes as an answer to a prayer this time? Who else but Denzil Washington. Whitney, as the church’s choir mistress, gets to belt out a few tunes.
There’s also “While You Were Sleeping” (1995), with Sandra Bullock (Lucy) as a lonely Chicago transit fare collector working on Christmas Day. She sees the object of her romantic fantasies (Peter Gallagher) fall onto the tracks and rescues him. But confusion at the hospital where he’s taken leads her to be mistaken as the man’s fiancée by everyone, including the family and Peter, who awakes with amnesia. Complications heat up when Peter’s suspicious brother and real fiancée appear. No remake to date.
If you’re not into or can’t find the oldie but goodie films, their remakes, or Sandra Bullock’s flick, there’s bound to be a copy or two of 2006’s “The Holiday”. Two women (Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet), fed up with broken hearts and no-good boyfriends, find each other online via a home exchange program and decide to trade houses for the holiday season. This being a rom-com, they also find romance in the persons of Jude Law and Jack Black.
And in a pinch, there’s always “Die Hard”…