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Classic Christmas Films: A Baker's Dozen

Nothing beats the charm and wit of classic Christmas films. This hub highlights the best-known holiday movies of the 1940s and 1950s.

"The Bishop's Wife" reproduction poster print.
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"The Bishop's Wife" reproduction poster print.
Source: Amazon / Home and Kitchen

Beloved Holiday Classics

’Tis the season for sweet traditions like spiced cider, iced cookies and holiday films. What better way to escape the cold, or the hustle and bustle of crowded shops, than a wonderful old movie?

While there is no shortage of holiday films, nothing beats the charm and wit of Christmas movies from the 1940s and 1950s. Filled with warmth, whimsy and the right touch of holiday spirit, these timeless treasures are a great way to celebrate the season.

Popular Christmas movies, even the classics, are generally easy to find during the holiday shopping season. Look for them online or at entertainment retailers, movie rental stores or your public library.

While many Hollywood classics are available on DVD, some are still only available in VHS format. Those in the public domain may be viewable online for free at the Internet Movie Archive.

This hub offers a baker's dozen of holiday treats for your viewing pleasure. These sweet gems from yesteryear are some of the best Christmas movies ever made. Pour yourself a cup of hot cider, settle into a comfortable chair and enjoy the show!

1. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

The Shop Around the Corner is a delightful film starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. The 1940 movie is based on "Parfumerie," a 1937 Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo.

Set in a Budapest gift shop during the busy shopping season, the story centers on two strong-willed coworkers: Alfred Kralik and Klara Novak. Although they intensely dislike each other, they maintain a secret letter-writing relationship, each unaware of their pen pal’s true identity.

This charming movie has inspired numerous musicals, movies and television shows including the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan film You've Got Mail and the British sitcom Are You Being Served?

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in "The Shop Around the Corner."
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James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in "The Shop Around the Corner."
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

2. Meet John Doe (1941)

Meet John Doe is a Christmas classic that is often overlooked. Frank Capra directed the 1940 movie, which stars Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.

The story centers on an unemployed man who is hired by a city newspaper to impersonate a non-existent “John Doe.” Pretending to threaten suicide on Christmas Eve to protest society's ills, the man sets off a grassroots political movement.

When he learns that he is being used to create a political party, the man thinks that he is a failure and threatens suicide for real. Only a newspaper reporter and the movement's loyal followers can persuade him otherwise. In reference to Jesus, the people remind him that an historical "John Doe" already died for the sake of humanity.

Edward Arnold, Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan in "Meet John Doe."
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Edward Arnold, Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan in "Meet John Doe."
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

3. Holiday Inn (1942)

Holiday Inn is a song-and-dance musical starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale. While it is popular at Christmas, the movie is fun to watch any time of year.

The story is set on a Connecticut farm, in a country inn that only opens on holidays. It centers on two men, one a singer and the other a dancer, who vie for the affections of a lovely young woman.

With music from Irving Berlin, the film features twelve memorable songs including "White Christmas." The song's legacy led to a loose remake of the film the 1954 hit White Christmas, which also starred Bing Crosby.

4. The Bells Of St. Mary's (1945)

The Bells of St. Mary’s is not expressly a Christmas film. However, a warm spirit and adorable school pageant scene are enough to include it with the best Christmas classics.

Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman star as priest and nun in a Catholic school on the verge of being condemned. Despite their good natured rivalry, the two choose to work together to save the school.

Their plan? Prayer, gentle persuasion and the benevolence of a wealthy old man.

The Bells of St. Mary's was released a year after the 1944 film Going My Way, which introduced Bing Crosby's Father O'Malley character.

Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman in "The Bells of St. Mary's."
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Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman in "The Bells of St. Mary's."
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

5. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Christmas in Connecticut is an amusing Christmas movie starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet.

The story centers on a food writer who pretends to be the perfect housewife for the sake of her magazine column. When her boss invites a war hero to her home for the holiday, she tries to cover her deception. The results are hilarious!

This 1945 holiday film inspired a 1992 television remake starring Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson and Tony Curtis.

Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan in "Christmas in Connecticut."
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Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan in "Christmas in Connecticut."
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

6. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s a Wonderful Life is America's favorite Christmas movie. The heartwarming story centers on a compassionate but desperate man who receives a special gift: a chance to see what the world would be like without him.

The 1946 holiday classic is based on “The Greatest Gift,” a 1943 short story by Philip Van Doren Stern. It is one of the most inspirational films of all time. Directed by Frank Capra, the Oscar nominated movie stars James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers and Lionel Barrymore.

It's a Wonderful Life created a lasting impression on popular culture. Numerous novels, comic books, songs, television shows and other movies have made reference to the film's title and characters.

Donna Reed, James Stewart and Karolyn Grimes in "It's a Wonderful Life."
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Donna Reed, James Stewart and Karolyn Grimes in "It's a Wonderful Life."
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

7. The Bishop's Wife (1947)

The Bishop’s Wife is a fun romantic comedy starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. The 1947 film was adapted from a Robert Nathan novel.

The story tells of an angel who is sent to a bishop's home in answer to prayer. His mission is to guide the bishop and those around him. However, something unexpected happens in the process: the angel develops an attraction to the bishop's wife!

This charming Christmas movie features loads of holiday atmosphere: Christmas shopping, tree trimming, sidewalk strolls in the city, a church boy’s choir and ice skating in the park.

The Bishop's Wife inspired the 1996 movie The Preacher's Wife, which stars Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.

Cary Grant and Loretta Young in "The Bishop's Wife."
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Cary Grant and Loretta Young in "The Bishop's Wife."
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

8. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street is one of the most loved Christmas movies of all time. The 1947 movie stars Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn and a young Natalie Wood.

Set in New York City following Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Miracle on 34th Street tells the story of a nice old man who claims to be Santa Claus and the young lawyer who defends his claim in court.

With a holiday theme and faith message ("You've got to have faith in something that's bigger than you"), the film remains a perennial Christmas favorite.

Miracle on 34th Street has inspired several remakes including a Broadway musical and a 1994 film starring Mara Wilson.

9. The Miracle of the Bells (1948)

Fred MacMurray, Frank Sinatra, Lee J. Cobb and Alida Valli star in the bittersweet drama The Miracle of the Bells. A Russell Janney novel inspired the 1948 movie.

The story centers on a Hollywood press agent who returns the body of a young actress to her hometown for burial. To pay her tribute and generate interest for her film, the man convinces the Coaltown churches to ring their bells for three days.

While the movie is not about Christmas, it is considered a holiday classic. The flashback scenes, especially a memorable Christmas Eve dinner at a Chinese restaurant, make it a special movie to watch during the holidays.

10. Come to the Stable (1949)

Come to the Stable does not have a Christmas theme, but it embodies the spirit of the season. The 1949 movie is based on a short story by Clare Boothe Luce.

Loretta Young and Celeste Holm star as two French nuns who visit a New England town on a war-time promise to build a children's hospital.

On their mission to secure land and funds, they enlist the help of several people: an eccentric painter, a music composer and a tough-guy gambler.

With a message of faith and belief against impossible odds, this whimsical little movie has become a cherished Christmas classic.

Celeste Holm and Loretta Young in "Come to the Stable."
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Celeste Holm and Loretta Young in "Come to the Stable."
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

11. The Great Rupert (1950)

The Great Rupert is a magical tale about two New York families who are down on their luck at Christmas. The Christmas Wish is the film's colorized version.

The story revolves around Rupert, a dancing squirrel with loads of charm. He helps the financially distressed families overcome their obstacles.

The Great Rupert is a Christmas movie for the whole family. Terry Moore, Tom Drake and Jimmy Durante star in the film. Stop motion animation creates the squirrel's movements.

A tale by Canadian writer Ted Allan inspired The Great Rupert. The story has also been published as a children's book called Willie the Squowse.

Terry Moore and Tom Drake in "The Great Rupert."
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Terry Moore and Tom Drake in "The Great Rupert."
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

12. A Christmas Carol (1951)

A Christmas Carol, also called Scrooge, is a film adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novella. It is one of the most popular films of the holiday season.

The story centers on Ebeneezer Scrooge, a bitter old miser who discovers the error of his ways through the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley. When three other spirits haunt him on Christmas Eve, Scrooge receives a chance for redemption.

Among the many film adaptations of A Christmas Carol, this 1951 movie is considered the definitive version. Alastair Sim plays the role of Scrooge.

Alastair Sim as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol."
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Alastair Sim as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol."
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

13. White Christmas (1954)

White Christmas is a beloved holiday musical starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. It features an array of Irving Berlin songs including the holiday standard "White Christmas."

Inspired by Holiday Inn, another Christmas classic, White Christmas follows a successful song-and-dance duo who become romantically involved with a sister act. The four team up to save a failing Vermont inn that is owned by a retired army general.

White Christmas is the first film that was produced and released in VistaVision, a high resolution, widescreen format. Immensely popular at the time of release, it is now a holiday favorite.

Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney in "White Christmas."
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Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney in "White Christmas."
Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Your Turn

What is your favorite classic Christmas movie? Leave a comment below and join the conversation. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your social networks.

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 Last updated on October 10, 2013

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Comments 12 comments

stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 3 years ago from Bend, Oregon Level 2 Commenter

All great classic Christmas movies! Thumbs up!

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

With so many great classics, it's hard to limit the list to a dozen or so. But these are my all-time favorites. Thank you for the thumbs up!

MBL Jerseys 3 years ago

MBL Jerseys I'm sure you had fun writing this article. Comfortably, the article is really the sweetest on this precious topic.

craigmissuea profile image

craigmissuea 3 years ago from USA

I an looking forward to watching these movies.

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

@MBL Jerseys, How sweet! Thank you, and Merry Christmas!

@craigmissuea, Thanks for dropping by. I know you'll enjoy these movies.

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 2 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

My husband and I started this year's holiday viewing with "Holiday Inn." What a great little film. I never get tired of this one!

Erica 2 years ago

My family has a tradition of spending ALL day Christmas day watching Christmas movies (although now that my sisters and i have kids the movies are often just running in the background), and some favorites in our house were "It's a Wonderful Life" and "White Christmas," along with more recent ones. Over the years we've added "Holiday Inn" and "Christmas in Connecticut," and one I'm trying to get in to rotation, "Bundle of Joy." I don't know if it's neccessarily a Christmas movie (though it is set at Christmas time and this is the ime of year i always finditon TV) but i love it. And I always heard it was a remake of "Bachelor Mother" but i had never seen it- I watched it for the first time last night and besides a few minor differences they're practically the same movie (word for word).

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 2 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

Hi, Erica. Thank you for stopping by! "Bundle Of Joy" is a new one to me. Thanks for sharing a little bit of info and insight. I'm going to add it to my growing list of movies I must see. Merry Christmas!

 
mjkearn profile image

mjkearn 21 months ago

Hi Annette

Thoroughly enjoyed this hub and great job. Happy you included my two favorite xmas movies White Christmas and it's a wonderful life. Have bookmarked to check out the rest. Ticked and voted up.

MJ.

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 21 months ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

Hello, MJ. So glad you enjoyed the read! "White Christmas" and "It's a Wonderful Life" are among my favorite holiday films. A companion hub called "8 Forgotten Christmas Films of the 1940s" highlights more of my favorites. Thank you for the vote up. Merry Christmas!

ajwrites57 profile image

ajwrites57 19 months ago from Pennsylvania Level 3 Commenter

I wrote a Hub similar to this one. I saw The Shop Around the Corner for the first time this year. Most of these I've seen several times. Come to the Stable and Holiday Inn are often overlooked Christmas movies. I think Christmas movies are good to watch anytime--not just at Christmas. Thanks for sharing.

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 19 months ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

You're welcome, A.J. I love the old classics! Like you, I tend to watch Christmas movies throughout the year, and it's fun to discover holiday films that I haven't seen before. I'm off to check out your hub now!

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