December 4, 2019 at 5:40 pm PST | by Joey DiGuglielmo
10 great kinda-sorta Christmas movies for your holiday viewing
Christmas movies, gay news, Washington Blade

Seen the staples a zillion times? Here are a few with holiday settings off the beaten path.

Christmas movies are funny. Some folks never tire of the classics — “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) or “A Christmas Carol” (1938). But maybe you’ve worn those into the ground and are ready for something else.

If you can’t stomach the saccharine heteronormativity of the Hallmark schlock, here are 10 movies that aren’t ostensibly about Christmas but feature either a significant holiday scene or happen to take place around the holidays. From the warm fuzzies to outright terror, these run a surprisingly wide emotional gamut.
In no particular order …

1. “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999) — The final movie by legendary cinematic auteur Stanley Kubrick was released in July but is famously set in December. This polarizing sex mystery — some consider it Kubrick’s final masterpiece, others say it’s a steaming, meandering turd — uses lights of the season to ominous effect as Dr. Bill (Tom Cruise) pursues his ritualistic labyrinth. Opinions vary as to what it all means — some have even hypothesized it’s ultimately a depiction of the dark side of Christmas consumerism.

‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (Still courtesy Warner Bros.)

2. “The Lion in Winter” (1968) — It’s Christmastime, 1183 and King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) decides to let his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn in an Oscar-winning role) out of jail. Literary-caliber wit and one-upmanship ensue.

‘The Lion in Winter’ (Still courtesy AVCO Embassy Pictures)

3. “Bell, Book and Candle” (1958) — Fresh off “Vertigo,” Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak reunite for this frothy romantic comedy in which Gillian (Novak) casts a spell on her new neighbor Shep (Stewart) and, of course, calamity ensues. If a jazzed-out, ‘50s-set authentic Greenwich Village Christmas vibe sounds appealing, this one has it.

4. “Has Anybody Seen My Gal” (1952) — Another Technicolor wonder from Hollywood’s boom years, this one finds Rock Hudson as soda jerk Dan; the object of his affection Millicent (Piper Laurie) is from a family grappling with sudden wealth. The Christmas scene is beautifully shot. Look for James Dean in an uncredited cameo.

5. “Female Trouble” (1974) — The convoluted and increasingly dark plot of this John Waters classic gets started all because Dawn Davenport (Divine) discovers on Christmas morning that “nice girls don’t wear cha-cha heels.” It’s a queer Xmas classic.

6. “Stella” (1990) — Bette Midler breathes new life into this third screen adaptation of a ‘20s novella (Barbara Stanwyck had the role in 1937) as the feisty, brash title character who mothers a child with a man from the other end of the social spectrum. Tender Christmas scenes add poignance to a genuine weepy.

7. “Die Hard” (1988) — An office Christmas party goes horribly awry but John McClane (Bruce Willis in his prime) saves the day. “Die Hard 2” (1990) also takes place on Christmas Eve. The films have become de facto seasonal classics in recent years. Ironically, they were both summer blockbuster releases in their first runs.

8. “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) — Christmas scenes are tangential in this Polanski-directed thriller about a young woman Rosemary (Mia Farrow) experiencing a very unusual pregnancy. But if you want a Satanic twist on the Annunciation, this is always a fun one to revisit.

‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (still courtesy 20th Century Fox)

9. “The Bells of St. Mary’s” (1945) — Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman play a priest and a nun who join forces to save their school from being shuttered. Crosby revives his Oscar-winning role of Father O’Malley (whom he’d played in “Going My Way” the previous year). Its original Dec. 6 release date dovetails with its warm holiday scenes.

‘The Bells of St. Mary’s’ (Still courtesy RKO)

10. “The FBI Story” (1959) — Taken literally, this brisk, Jimmy Stewart vehicle may seem initially like little more than a J. Edgar Hoover puff piece. As a consultant on the film, Hoover made sure his agency comes out looking stellar throughout. As a pure thrill ride, however, I found it vastly more watchable than the leaden 2011 biopic J. Edgar. A Christmas passage finds Vera Miles (who has great chemistry with Stewart) decorating their home in full, mid-century holiday splendor.

‘The FBI Story’ (Promo lobby card courtesy Warner Bros.)

HONORABLE MENTION — “Psycho” (1960) — You may have forgotten, but the Hitchcock classic takes place over the course of nine days starting Dec. 11. Odd, then, that Norman (queer actor Tony Perkins) and Mother have no tree up when Lila (Vera Miles) comes snooping in their creepy house just five days before Christmas. Hitchcock chose the December setting because a second unit crew sloppily picked up Christmas decorations when filming process plates prior to principle photography. You can spot them briefly in the scene when Marion (Janet Leigh) sees her boss from her car just before leaving town.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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