All That Heaven Allows—1955 This classic directed by Douglas Sirk centers around the relationship between widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) and the younger gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) that she falls in love with. Set in a New England town, their romance becomes the source of gossip and condemnation from Cary’s friends and the general population of Stoningham. Probably no one disapproves of their relationship more than Cary’s adult children who think that she should sit around at home watching television. The idea that their mother should have any chance at a second romance is shocking and embarrassing to them. Shot in gorgeous Technicolor, All That Heaven Allows is quintessential Sirk at the height of his powers.
Backstory: This was a follow-up to Wyman’s and Hudson’s successful pairing in Magnificent Obsession released the year before. All That Heaven Allows opened in Los Angeles on Christmas Day, 1955.
Auntie Mame—1958 Rosalind Russell made an indelible impression on moviegoers when this film was released. The character of Mame had been the subject of a novel and play (eventually it would become a musical). Mame is one of those larger-than-life-characters that in spite of their eccentricities and odd behavior you just can’t help but love. Mame’s life has its ups and downs and during the Christmas season she experiences some hard times after the 1929 Stock Market crash.
Backstory: Rosalind Russell recreated the role she originated on Broadway and was nominated for Best Actress of 1959. The film was nominated for another five Academy Awards; it lost in all categories. The movie opened December 27, 1958.
A Summer Place—1959 How could a movie with that title have anything to do with Christmas? This 1950s melodrama directed by Delmer Daves was one of the biggest hits of the year when first released. The theme from the movie is one of the most recognizable pieces of music from the mid-twentieth century. The plot focuses on two former lovers now married to different people who are reunited during one summer. The complicated relationship affects both families, pitting parents against children. There’s a critical scene at Christmas where Helen Jorgensen (Constance Ford) confronts her daughter Molly (Sandra Dee) about her relationship with Johnny Hunter (Troy Donahue) just days before Christmas. It doesn’t end well for Molly and one sad Christmas tree.
Backstory: The musical theme from the film was Number One on the Billboard chart for nine consecutive weeks.
The Lion in Winter—1968 This complicated family drama—you think your family is dysfunctional—takes place at Christmas in 1183 in the medieval Angevin Empire. The film stars Peter O’Toole as King Henry II and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Acquitane his estranged wife and Queen. The plot revolves around the king and queen fighting over which of their sons deserves to follow Henry on the throne. You’ll need an extra blanket and some hot cocoa to watch this movie because it’s one of the coldest Christmas movies you’ll ever watch, but an enjoyable watch it is nonetheless.
Backstory: The original stage production of The Lion in Winter was a major flop. Hepburn won her third Best Actress Oscar and the film marked the debuts of future stars Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Classic Movie Man!
Check out past Christmas favorites by clicking on the links below.
Classic Movie Man's Favorite Christmas Movies: 2011 Edition