KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–In case you’ve seen “Miracle on 34th Street” or all the of Scrooge adaptations so often you’re capable of quoting the dialogue, allow me to share a few favorite alternatives I enjoy viewing with family members during the holiday season.
FOR THE FAMILY
“Stars in My Crown”
One of my favorite B-films of all time — Joel McCrea stars as a pistol-packin’ preacher who helps the citizens of a small western town cope with life’s frustrations. Sentimental, inspirational and very entertaining.
John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz and Harry Carey Jr. portray three outlaws running from a posse. They come across a dying woman and her newborn baby. The symbolism between the Christ child and this new foundling has a redemptive effect on the three bandits. Sincere performances, beautiful cinematography and the skillful direction of John Ford highlight this entertaining western.
FOR OLDER KIDS & ADULTS
“Whistle Down the Wind”
Three children mistakenly think the fugitive hiding in their barn is Jesus. A delightful comedy/drama with Hayley Mills giving the best performance of her career. Charming and symbolic, with strong moral messages: faith, compassion and courage to stand for what you believe.
Best Picture of 1942, this was an important account of the early days of World War II and its effect on a naive world. Oscar performances from Greer Garson and Teresa Wright highlight a film that exposes the horror of war without the gruesomeness of today’s “realism.” Far more than a war picture, it’s a film about family.
When a ne’er-do-well finds himself the cause of his brother’s death, he seeks a reason for his life. He stumbles upon a church gathering and quickly turns his life around, living for others.
Blythe Danner, Edward Herrmann, Thomas McCarthy star in this touching Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation. It has several powerful messages and life lessons, none of which overpowers the entertaining drama. What a delight to find a film where Scripture is quoted, the Christian lifestyle is not mocked, prayers are spoken and the Gospel message is put into practice.
With a clear presentation of the Gospel in this suspense-filled production, Luther is a compelling look at Martin Luther, the 16th-century Christian reformer and one of the most important figures in Western civilization. While it is a movie, therefore subject to dramatizing and maybe even occasionally elongating the facts, Luther reminds viewers of the importance of the Reformation — it took sole interpretation away from one religious figurehead and put the written Word into the hands of the people.
This Edwardian saga about an orphan and his mysterious benefactor showcases inspired storytelling. Indeed, no one did it better than Charles Dickens (well, maybe that other English guy). It has been retold several times, but if you can get young people to watch a B&W film, the 1946 David Lean production with John Mills is the outstanding version.
“The Winslow Boy”
Writer/director David Mamet (known for his salty dialogue in past productions) has sensitively adapted Terence Rattigan’s play about a barrister defending a youth accused of school theft. This genteel look at a father’s determination to see justice done has a superb screenplay by Mr. Mamet, proving a story can be told without bombarding the viewer with profane and offensive material. Nigel Hawthorne and Rebecca Pidgeon costar.
Supported by a story filled with deep emotion, director Douglas McGrath and his capable cast deal with themes ranging from overcoming injustice to cherishing the blessing that is family. Although the production is done from a secular perspective, the filmmakers are keenly aware of the significance of religion and propriety during the story’s era. Those seeking justice and mercy in the production forthrightly declare a faith in God and a reverence for Him. It’s rated PG for its subject matter, the depiction of the ill treatment of boys in an orphanage and the inclusion of a suicide, but the film is not a downer. It inspires with its lessons of hope in the face of adversity and faith in God’s will.
FOR LITTLE ONES & PARENTS
“The Greatest Adventure — The Nativity”
A respectful homage to the greatest story ever told. Three young archeologists go through a time portal and find themselves in Jerusalem during the birth of Christ. Entertaining. Good animation. From Hanna /Barbera, with the voices of Roscoe Lee Brown, Darlene Carr, Helen Hunt, Gregory Harrison and Vincent Price.
“The Little Drummer Boy”
The seasonal song comes to animated life with the capable voices of Greer Garson, Jose Ferrer, June Foray and Teddy Eccles. It opens with a quote from Luke 2, then segues into the story of a bitter orphan who’s kidnapped by a Fagan-like villain. The boy is full of anger until he beholds the Christ child. Lesson: hatred is wrong.
AFTER THE KIDS GO TO BED
Needing to start their lives over after the accidental death of their 2-year-old son, an Irish couple move their family to New York. While in their new homeland, they must adjust to American ways, at the same time attempting to heal. But it is the downstairs artist who truly helps the family see what they have taken for granted. He is a tortured soul, a man alone, envious of what his new neighbors have been given — each other. When the little girls come to his door at Halloween, seeking treats, he is so moved by their sweetness and energy that he reconnects with his spiritual roots and passes on his revelations to the wounded family. Though an outright need for Jesus Christ is not mentioned, the film makes it clear that there is something more to life than our mental and physical existence. And although the father is angered with God, the ending offers the prospect that he is on the road to a spiritual healing. Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Sarah Bolger and Emma Bolger star.
Caution: Be advised of the PG-13 content: Two obscenities and four lesser expletives, but I caught no misuse of God’s name. One violent scene has a junkie pulling a knife on a main character; though disturbing, it does not end tragically. We see the parents in a sexual situation, but the scene is not graphic and it portrays a husband and wife expressing their love. The subject matter of this film is too adult for little kids as it deals with the death of a child, the possible death of a mother during childbirth and the loss of a dear family friend, but I believe mature teens and older will find the honest portrayal of a family’s ability to endure life’s struggles both touching and insightful.
“Down in the Delta”
Fearing her substance-abusing, self-deprecating daughter will lose her life, a Christian mother sends the girl and her two children to relatives down in the South. There, each member of the family learns life lessons about responsibility, commitment and the importance of family. Sounds a bit high-handed, but I assure you, the screenplay accomplishes all this while entertaining you every second.
I just can’t say enough about the positive nature of this film. Cast members Alfre Woodard, Al Freeman Jr., Esther Rolle, Mary Alice and Wesley Snipes demonstrate how people can mend when they are nurtured. And not one profanity in the entire production! There’s even a respect for God, with family members praying and attending church. I was moved, educated and entertained throughout. It is perceptive, touching and life-affirming. Rated PG-13, there are four or five lesser expletives, but no obscene or profane language. In the beginning, to set the stage, we see alcohol and drug abuse and suggestive sexuality; however, the content is not used gratuitously, but rather to indicate how anyone can change his lifestyle.
Phil Boatwright is a film reviewer and editor of The Movie Reporter, on the Web at www.moviereporter.com.