Part One of PZ and John Glover’s December movie highlights is here! Set your DVRs or tune into the Turner Classic Movie channel to see these wonderful films with profoundly Christian themes. All times Eastern, and, where possible, streaming alternatives are provided in parenthesis. 

December 2nd, 8:00 pm, Jane Eyre (1944)

This excellent Hollywood version stars Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, and looks for all purposes as if it had been directed by Welles. It was not — the director was Robert Stevenson — and it is still a masterpiece. One may prefer one of the later BBC versions, but this one, rather more Gothic in look than less, is close to Charlotte Bronte’s novel in its emotional feel. I love every inch and every minute of it. Oh, and Jane Eyre is probably Mrs. Zahl’s favorite novel of all time. (Available on YouTube and for rent on Amazon.)

December 2nd, 11:45 pm, Citizen Kane (1941)

A unique masterpiece that still holds up! It is Ground Zero Mockingbird, as Citizen Kane debunks systematically its hero’s “Seculosity”-type gods, values, and persons. Yet it is also most sympathetic, compassionate even, in relation to the title character. Like many others, I have seen Citizen Kane about once a year since … whenever, and it never fails to offer a treasure on each viewing. And the photography. And those matte paintings. LUV U. (Available for rent on Amazon.)

December 3rd, 2020, 6:00 am, On Dangerous Ground (1952)

A tough cop sent to help in a mountain manhunt falls for the quarry’s blind sister. This is one amazing “film noir” — or rather, two movies/stories in one! In the first part, Robert Ryan cracks up as a stressed detective in LA. In the second part, he finds redemption — real and explicit Christian redemption — through the love of a blind young woman played by Ida Lupino. The movie is compassionate, realistic, and, finally, lyrical! Highly recommended, even at 6 am.

December 3rd, 1:00 pm, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

A space visitor’s touch turns an unhappy heiress into a vengeful giant. Gosh, I love this movie. But the main reason I love it is Yvette Vickers, who plays the “tramp” and sort of gets her just deserts. Miss Vickers, who died a few years ago under pitiable circumstances, is major-league appealing in a certain way. The music is eerie; the special effects are — well, you judge; and unfaithfulness is punished, by … a 50 Foot Woman. Don’t miss this. (Available for rent on Amazon.)

December 4th, 2020, 11:15 pm, King Solomon’s Mines (1950)

A spirited widow hires daredevil jungle scout Allan Quatermain to find a lost treasure in diamonds. H. Rider Haggard is one of the most interesting novelists of the early 20th century. Both Freud and Jung regarded him as a man who knew about “archetypes” before it was even a term. This particular one of Haggard’s novels is a little superficial compared with She, but it’s still a great yarn! I recommend this movie version, which stars Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger. Haggard was also church warden of his family’s parish in Norfolk, and for many years. (Available for rent on Amazon.)

December 5th, 1:30 pm, Bell, Book, and Candle (1959)

Excellent movie of a John Van Druten play that concerns Greenwich Village witches, mostly benign, and the touching transformation of the Kim Novak character into a real human woman thanks to the love she begins to feel for the Jimmy Stewart character. This is a gem, and oddly something of a Christmas movie. Warmly recommended. Also stars Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs.

December 6th, 10:00 pm, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Two singers work their way to Paris, enjoying the company of eligible men they meet along the way. This is not a great movie, but it is a fun one. The reason I select it for Mockingbirders is the fact that the source novel was written by Anita Loos, who was one of Hollywood’s (and the world’s) most interesting characters. She co-wrote Susan and God (1941), which is sort of the greatest movie ever made, and was a closet Christian who hid her faith successfully for decades. But Loos never compromised herself. Therefore Anita Loos is the reason I focus on this delightful movie today. Stars Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Directed by Howard Hawks. (Available on YouTube and for rent on Amazon.)

December 7th, 4:00 am, Knife in the Water (1962)

A Polish bourgeois and a hitchhiker develop a deadly rivalry during a boating weekend. Here is the classic intersection of an “art house” with a gripping story and production. Knife in the Water was Roman Polanski’s first international success, and it went all over the world. I recommend it highly, and especially for the jazzy Komeda score and the tense, somewhat suggestive conclusion. Saw it with my friend Lloyd (RIP) when we were 11. Look out for the walking-on-water sequence and its burst of youthful exuberance in the middle of an otherwise dark triangle. That sequence “in the Water” has stayed with me like a great hymn. (Available for rent on Amazon.)

December 7th, 9:30 am, Sons of the Desert (1933)

Though a little creaky in its production, Sons of the Desert is state-of-the-art Laurel and Hardy. Two hen-pecked husbands stage a getaway from their wives by attending an out-of-town Masonic convention. Nothing really bad happens, but they get caught. The back-and-forth between Stan and Ollie is now so hardened into our cultural memory that it may not seem as funny as it once was. Personally, I find Laurel and Hardy movies — and there are at least two other classics from the same period — endearing and delightful, maybe even touching. (Available on YouTube.)

December 8th, 6:00 am, Mogambo (1953)

The high point of this starring-vehicle for Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, and Clark Gable is one long shot, in which the Ava Gardner character goes to confession at the ear of a missionary Catholic priest in the Congo. That one long shot is the hinge point for the entire movie. In hindsight, because of that one long shot, Mogambo is an incredibly moving and explicitly Christian movie. Otherwise, it has some long, boring passages, some studio-shot gorilla-hunting scenes that don’t come off, and a kind of raging and overly obvious “passion” that overtakes the supposedly restrained Grace Kelly character. Alabama-born Ava saves it, though; and oh, that last shot of her on the dock, with the umbrella: it’s pure uplift. Mogambo was directed by John Ford. (Available for rent on Amazon.)

December 8th, 8:00 pm, A Christmas Carol (1938)

This version of the Dickens classic is often referred to as the “Reginald Owen Version,” because Reginald Owen plays Ebenezer Scrooge. It is contrasted with the “Alastair Sim Version” (1951), because the latter is thought to be better than the former. I myself am a fan of the “Reginald Owen Version,” but that is because of one scene, the Christmas Eve service in church, during which the entire cast (minus the main character) sing carols in a packed Church of England (i.e., Protestant Anglican) parish. The scene is a memorable evocation of the joy that really is Christmas. So see this version — and to be sure, the other version “carries its weight” (“Abbey Road,” 1969), too. But for Yuletide joy, I prefer the … Reginald Owen! (Available for rent on Amazon.)

December 9th, 12:00 am, Great Expectations (1946)

This version, directed by David Lean, is the best, and captures to perfection the grace-dynamics of the Dickens original. The scene near the beginning when “Magwitch” and “Pip” understand one another beyond words, at the moment Magwitch is captured, is one of the great transactions of cinematic Dickens — which is saying something. The scene near the end, too, when Pip lets in the light for him and Estella in Miss Havisham’s exhausted, decrepit mansion, is a total infusion of the New Creation. PZ keeps the DVD of this Great Expectations by his bed and hopes it will never move. (Available for rent on Amazon.)

December 9th, 4:30 am, A Tale of Two Cities (1935)

Dickens’ novel of the French Revolution has been filmed several times, but this one is still the best. What makes me say that when it is so old and “vintage”? Simple answer: This version takes directly aboard the Christian dynamic of substitutionary sacrifice and atonement that is at the heart of the novel. Note the embroidered New Testament text that is obvious, up on the wall, in one of the penultimate scenes that take place in London. And Ronald Colman’s concluding thoughts as he is led to the scaffold. It is a miracle of a story and a miracle of a movie. (Available on Archive or for rent at Amazon.)

December 9th, 8:00 pm, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

This well-known “50s sci-fi classic” is suffused with explicit Christian situations, imagery, and themes. “Mr. Carpenter,” the adopted Washingtonian name of the alien Klaatu, is just the first in a series of New Testament references — from sacrificial altruistic death to physical resurrection to a sort of Ascension Day/Pentecost appearance before the religious leaders of the world. It is all there in Edmund North’s screenplay. Plus, ‘natch, the landing of Klaatu’s sleek saucer and the scenes on board, with Patricia Neal and Gort the robot. This is a majestic movie. (Available for rent on Amazon.)

December 10th, 1:15 am, Mysterious Island (1961)

Escaped Civil War POWs end up on an island populated by giant animals. Outstanding and extremely creative stop-motion animation, including one of the best ever giant crab sequences in a movie. (There are several such and we all have our favorites, but this is still probably the best.). Also, the trapped-in-a-beehive sequence is WONDERFUL. Note, too, that it is Confederate POWs who escape from their prison, an unusual touch. Oh, and at some point, go back and watch Port Sinister (1953): It’s got pretty good giant crabs, too! (Available for rent on Amazon.)

December 10th, 3 am, Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

The legendary hero enlists the help of the gods to steal the golden fleece. Another feast of inspired stop-motion! Personally, I prefer Clash of the Titans (1981) because the latter has more of a moral center. But hey, Jason and the Argonauts is Tom Hanks’ favorite movie of all time, and I saw him once in person, sitting in the back of a church where I had just christened a beautiful baby. Therefore … (Available on YouTube and for rent on Amazon.)

December 11th, 11:30 am, The Human Comedy (1943)

A small-town telegraph boy deals with the strains of growing up during World War II. This is a remarkable, explicitly Christian, and extremely moving production.

It concerns a delivery boy for telegrams, played by Mickey Rooney, in a small California town during World War II. He encounters almost every possible pain (and joy) known within the “human comedy.” There is also a kind of ghostly Our Town ending, which even mentions the Presbyterian Church!

For many Mockingbirders, the high point of the film, and possibly the high point of your entire movie life, may be the scene on board a troop train on its way to deployment, in which one by one the entire group of homesick, uncertain soldiers begins to sing a Gospel hymn. The sequence totally works. I cannot recommend The Human Comedy highly enough. (Available for rent on Amazon.)

P.S. The family of my friend David Ignatius knew William Saroyan, the screenwriter of the movie, and spoke very highly of him.

December 12th, 1:30 pm, 3 Godfathers (1949)

Three outlaws on the run risk their freedom and their lives to return a newborn to civilization. This is a Christmas classic, a Nativity tale, done up in Western garb. John Ford directed it, somewhat sentimentally, and it stars John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz (who was much later blown up in From Russia with Love), and Harry Carey, Jr. The movie’s humor is clumsy and at times almost impossible to watch, but once it gets going, 3 Godfathers is touching, Christian, and memorable to the nth degree. I recommend it with Four Stars. Oh, and watch for Harry Carey’s straight-on yet lyrical singing of “Shall We Gather at the River” (at a funeral) and “Streets of Laredo” (as lullaby to a newborn baby). AND wait for the hard-to-believe-it’s-really-happening rendition of “Bringing in the Sheaves” near the end. It’s worth the whole movie!

December 12th, 3:30 pm, Meet John Doe (1941)

A reporter’s fraudulent story turns a tramp into a national hero and makes him a pawn of big business. This is another great and stirring Christmas movie, a pure wonderment from Frank Capra and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Critics use all sorts of words to describe Capra’s “populism,” but whatever the word, the movie’s common touch is contagious and splendid. Stay for the explicit Christian ending, on top of a New York City skyscraper on Christmas Eve. You may end up wanting to catch Meet John Doe every Christmas from here on out. (Available on Youtube.)

December 13th, 4:00 pm, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

This is the standout in today’s TCM lineup. In fact, the movie is somewhat bittersweet, between Margaret O’Brien’s hysterical meltdown on Halloween and Judy Garland’s lyric counsel of despair (kind of) in “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” But then there’s the scene on the trolley car near the beginning, and the gorgeous, crowded number at the end. We could say that Meet Me in St. Louis is realistic, properly nostalgic and wondrously, luminously realized. Yet at bottom, the movie lacks hope. Like American in Paris. (Available for rent on Amazon.)

December 14th, 8:15 am, Deep Valley (1947)

This is a touching movie about a lonely, put-upon young girl who falls for … an escaped convict. Their doomed love is portrayed against the backdrop, romantically enough, of coastal road construction in Northern California. But it works. And it’s all worth it, from a Mockingbird perspective, because of the last conversation between the Dane Clark character, the convict, and the heroine, played by Ida Lupino. Think “streams of living water.” Seriously, don’t miss Deep Valley.

December 14th, 8:00 pm, Way Out West (1937)

I was hoping TCM would get to this one, which is A+ Laurel and Hardy.

Pretty primitive in production by today’s standards, Way Out West is Stan and Ollie as “tenderfoots” on the American Frontier, who ultimately (more or less) carry the day. The high point for me is the dance number they improvise to “On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine.” It’s immortal. (Available for rent on Amazon.)

December 15th, 12:15 am, Bonnie Scotland (1935)

Another A+ Laurel and Hardy. This time they find themselves in the British Army in India, and the marching sequences alone, with their swinging kilts, are to die for. Like the other classic L and A’s, this one is not exactly stylish in form. But the Boys themselves are in rare form. Highly recommended. (Available for rent on Amazon.)