As Christmas Day comes to a close and Hanukkah enters its 4th day, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very joyful holiday season. Hollywood has always gone all out this time of year, and I have assembled some of my favorite Hollywood moments commemorating the season. For now, I’m staying clear of It’s A Wonderful Life and other Christmas classics that get a lot of play, because there are other movies that deserve some acknowledgment, too. Enjoy!
The Hanukkah scene from The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)
There are very few classic Hollywood movies that depict Jewish life, much less a full-on Hanukkah celebration. But The Diary of Anne Frank gives it to us, thanks to Anne’s own diary entry on the holiday. It’s a shame that we have such a paucity of unapologetically Jewish scenes in Hollywood (even today, there aren’t many), but this scene is really something. Not only does it show the lighting of a chanukiah, but it also affirms the survival of the annex families up to this point, which holds great symbolism when viewed through the lens of the Hanukkah story itself (I will make a post about this on the final night of Hanukkah).
Now, one small staging quibble. When Otto Frank lights the chanukiah, he lights it with the first candle at his left. This is incorrect. The first candle should be on his right, and then the candles are loaded on each subsequent night toward the left. It’s a small complaint, and I can overlook it for the larger good here.
Bing Crosby and a choir of schoolchildren sing “Adeste Fidelis” (O Come All Ye Faithful) in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
Here, I must do a tiny bit of bragging. It may surprise you to learn that though Christmas is not my holiday (we’re Jewish, so we have the 4 candles lit tonight), my knowledge of Christmas carols is unparalleled even by many of my Christian friends. This is partly due to my stint in the San Francisco Girls Chorus when I was young, and my participation in their Christmas concert at Davies Symphony Hall every year. However, I can’t credit the Girls Chorus with my ability to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” in English and Latin. That is thanks to Bing Crosby, and his performance in this beautiful scene from The Bells of St. Mary’s, in which Bing sings “Adeste Fidelis” with the children at his parochial school before they are interrupted by nun Ingrid Bergman. The film as a whole is one of my personal holiday favorites, and includes such wonderful scenes as Ingrid Bergman teaching a student to box to defend himself.
In this scene, gender stereotypes are flipped on their head and Ingrid Bergman is the one who wants Eddie to learn to fight, while Bing Crosby promotes pacifism. It’s one example of the nuances and complexity of the film that are often overlooked.
Barbara Stanwyck learns what family is in Remember the Night (1940)
Remember the Night (1940) doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a holiday film, nor as a serious examination of societal ills. Barbara Stanwyck plays a jewel thief who is befriended by the DA on her case (Fred MacMurray), and she goes home with him for a Christmas celebration with his family. On the way, we learn why she is the way she is–she has a mother who never gave her any approval nor affection from childhood, and who rejected her outright after the mother remarried. With the DA’s family, we see Stanwyck gaze around longingly at his loving relatives, realizing what could have been for her. It’s a real, raw moment that is rare in Christmas movies, and it’s made even more poignant when one knows about Stanwyck’s own troubled childhood.
The Christmas pageant in Penny Serenade (1941)
Though not technically considered a Christmas movie, this is a moving scene that speaks to parents and families at this and every season. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, who by this time have gone through unimaginable struggle trying to uphold the adoption of their daughter, Trina, arrive at her school to watch her Christmas pageant. The looks on their faces as they hear her singing “Silent Night” from behind a cloud, are the looks of proud parents everywhere. And when Trina trips and falls backstage, Irene Dunne reflexively gets up to help her. It is a scene that captures the unconditional love of family, and how Trina is and has always been their child, despite what any court could say.
Happy holidays to all, and I hope that 2020 brings you the best of everything.
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