Grab you mince pies and warm up the hot chocolate — PZ and John Glover’s Christmas 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 16, 10:15 pm, Marnie (1964)

People have been trying to over-“Christianize” Alfred Hitchcock for a long time. I mean, ‘Hitch’ was a Catholic, and a conscious one, the more so near the end of his life. And he did direct two explicitly Christian pictures (i.e., I Confess and The Wrong Man), though he also directed one explicitly anti-Christian picture (i.e., Frenzy). But there were other things going on, too. This particular movie, Marnie, while it has elements in common with Christian pastoral insight, is explicitly Freudian in the narrow sense. The movie is still terrific, and has a touching, definitely redemptive denouement. Plus, the musical score is lush and amazing! But I don’t want to say that Marnie is something more than what it is. Oh, and I once showed the ending to the entire corps of Episcopal clergy within the Diocese of New York. They liked it. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 17, 4:45 am, The Wrong Man (1956)

A musician is mistaken for a vicious thief, with devastating results. This is one of the two explicitly Christian masterpieces directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It concerns both an unjust accusation (against the Henry Fonda character) and a mental breakdown (on the part of the Vera Miles character). The music, by Bernard Hermann, is intense and memorable. The high point of the movie for Mockingbirds will probably be the Jesus-Christ-substitutionary prayer of Henry Fonda, which issues in its perfect answer. Five stars! (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 17, 8:15 pm, King of Kings (1961)

Sometimes referred to as “I Was a Teenage Jesus,” King of Kings was directed by Nicholas Ray and stars Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus. Nicholas Ray had directed Rebel without a Cause in 1955. King of Kings is actually very good! Watch for the director’s vigorous and animated representation of the Sermon on the Mount, the unusual overhead camera angle for the Last Supper, and the very last shot of the movie when the Lord appears to the Disciples at the Sea of Galilee. I still think The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) is a better movie, but don’t underestimate King of Kings. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 18, 1:15 am, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

This is a superb life of Jesus Christ. Almost every sequence succeeds, tho’ some people think John Wayne is wooden as the Centurion at the Crucifixion. (Yet there is also Sidney Poitier during the same sequence, and the effect of Poitier’s cameo, as Simon of Cyrene, is extremely affecting.) The film score for TGSET, composed by Alfred Newman, is one of the best ever written for a Hollywood movie about religion. Wait for the climax of Part One of Greatest Story, which is the raising of Lazarus. Watch especially for the Van Heflin character, the ‘Observer’ of the Event — his overwhelming conviction, sincerity, and elation. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 18, 2:15 pm, Mrs. Miniver (1942)

This Oscar-winning film about the English Home Front during World War II is a wonder. Almost every situation and every sequence is emotionally powerful without any artifice. Readers of Mockingbird, and followers of PZ’s “Protestant Face of Anglicanism” blog, will be looking for the concluding scene of the movie, in which the Church of England vicar of the parish, played by Henry Wilcoxon, presides and preaches at an almost complete service of Morning Prayer within his bombed out church. That entire sequence is Hollywood at its best! Mrs. Miniver, which stars Walter Pigeon and Greer Garson, was directed by William Wyler, who later directed Ben Hur (1959). (Available for rent on Amazon and Redbox).

December 19, 6:00 pm, The Bishop’s Wife (1948)

Here is a Christmas classic, starring David Niven (as the Bishop), Loretta Young (as the Bishop’s Wife) and Cary Grant (as an angel on a mission). The movie is somewhat static in feel, tho’ the wonderful Henry Koister directed it. The Bishop’s Wife tells the tale of an institutional churchman’s humbling, one effect of which is a touching and heartfelt sermon preached by the Bishop at the end of the movie on Christmas Eve. (Note that the Bishop is a Low Churchman, which you can tell by the Protestant robes he wears in the pulpit of his cathedral.) I am a great fan of Robert Nathan, who wrote the novel on which this movie is based. Nathan’s novel is more detached than the film, and perhaps a little cynical concerning the long-term spiritual prospects of the Bishop. But, hey, when it comes to most bishops, I’ve come to feel about the same way Nathan did. Wish I didn’t. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 20, 2:00 am, Lady in the Lake (1947)

This is a fascinating, and for me, powerful movie. Robert Montgomery, the father of the star of the television show Bewitched, directed Lady in the Lake and took an unusual tack. He decided to photograph the entire story from the point of view of the hero, which took a huge amount of pre-planning and directorial care. Let alone the actors! I think it works. Also, the plot itself, based on a popular mystery novel (that the movie dilutes a little, and actually to good effect), plays out in a Christian ethical manner that is both true to life, true to romantic love, and true to personal redemption. We strongly recommend this movie. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 20, 8:30 am, Beyond Tomorrow (1940)

This one is a dilly! Beyond Tomorrow is a Christmas movie that travels very far — right into the afterlife, and also, in the case of the Harry Carey character, to purgatory. You could call it a benign ghost story, yet … with a touch of the blarney. There is a strong Christian background to everything that happens, and please don’t carp about the details. (The special effects, for example, are a little primitive.) The Good truly wins out here, and how often does that happen? (Available on YouTube and on Amazon, under the title Beyond Christmas).

December 20, 10:15 pm, The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

Catch this movie tonight wherever you are and whatever you do. It is seldom seen, and I’m not sure it’s ever been released on an American DVD. (I keep the English DVD of The Holly and the Ivy beside our bed.). This is the Christmas-Eve story of a widowed Church of England vicar, whose three children “rally” to come home — one is already there — for Christmas. He’s not been the best Dad, the vicar, but also has some excellent qualities. The sure tendency of the film is towards redemption and hope for all the characters, while never short-changing “reality.”

This is a very touching Christmas movie, and I hope you can see it.

December 21, 8:00 pm, Come to the Stable (1949)

This is an outstanding Christmas classic of a movie! Directed by our (now) true friend Henry Koster, and starring Loretta Young, who was a devout Roman Catholic, Come to the Stable tells the story of two European nuns, the second of whom is played by Celeste Holm, who come to the US just after World War II and found a convent in southern New England. The story of the discovered pop tune that stems from a Gregorian chant and the “back story” of a (sort of) crime boss whose son was killed in the War: these are pure Christian gems. You won’t even need to give this movie time: it starts right up. Highly recommended! P.S. Look for the Bride of Frankenstein. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 21, 9:45 pm, The Miracle of the Bells (1948)

Another post-War religious movie that works. This one is sometimes dismissed as being “treacly” or “pious,” but it’s not! The story doesn’t even start until after the heroine (played by Alida Valli, who was so brilliant in We the Living, 1942) has died. The miracle itself works on several levels, and you’ll be thinking about what really happened for quite a while. (I’m still thinking about it, and it’s been three years.) Interesting, too, that Frank Sinatra plays a (theologically) “liberal” priest — and his skepticism is not really rewarded. Observe, too, the understated performance of Fred MacMurray, who plays a man who has really loved a woman, and is determined to do justice to her! Again, highly recommended.

December 22, 12:00 am, Good Sam (1948)

Now here’s an exception for you, dear Reader. PZ has never seen this movie. But I am still recommending it. The critics all put it down — back then, and now, too. But the stars are great, the director was a serious Christian, and the story is most Providential. I suspect the critics don’t understand — nor wish to understand — the way we have seen God work. So watch this — it’s a little late at night, but hey, it’s Christmas time — and I’ll be watching it with you. Kind of a Mockingbird Zoom Watch Party. (Available on YouTube).

December 22, 3:45 pm, The World of Henry Orient (1964)

It’s hard not to love this movie, which is about two pre-teenage girls who follow the crush they share on a famous concert pianist, played by Peter Sellers. They follow him all over New York, and happen to discover a disturbing secret that is way too close to home. (Personally, I lived the life our young heroines lived, as a child in NYC. My sister even attended the same school, and was picked up by the same bus each morning.) There is also a touching, resolved sub-theme of a neglectful father who sees the cost of his inattention and changes his life as a result. One could say that Peter Sellers hams it up a bit, but the over-all effect of this gem is to warm the heart. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 23, 6:30 am, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)

This is a movie worth watching almost just for one scene: the recitation in church, by Margaret O’Brien, of the Nativity Story. It’s not like anything you’ve ever seen, and is almost ‘Gothic’ in mood. But it also carries huge Christmas impact. The film concerns Norwegian immigrants in the Midwest and climaxes with a barn fire that is both spectacular and “karmic” for one of the characters. And even there, our child star will save the day. Our Vines Have Tender Grapes is a most unusual movie. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 23, 3:30 pm, Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

This is director Frank Capra’s remake of one of his own earlier movies, Lady for a Day. I don’t think it’s as good as Lady; but the story itself, which is highly and variously redemptive in the true sense of the word, would work in almost any decade. You’ll like Glenn Ford and Bette Davis, and also Hope Lange; and will watch a complicated “conspiracy” of imputation that cannot help but make one cry. Again, the show’s a little long, but it comes together. And remember, it’s all based on a story by Damon Runyon, that chronicler of Manhattan “low lifes” in the early 1900s, who is really worth your while getting to know. Runyon could not write a non-Grace-ful story, tho’ his relationship with the Church, Catholic and Protestant, was extremely checkered during his entire life. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 25, 12:15 pm, Susan Slept Here (1954)

This is an extremely entertaining movie. Frank Tashlin, who was a kind of comedic genius, directed it; and it stars Debbie Reynolds and Dick Powell. What Susan Slept Here offers — and you may not have seen it before — is sumptuous technicolor, delightful music, an ethical situation that keeps threatening to go somewhere it never does, and a fabulous “dream sequence” with Anne Francis, whom you probably remember from Forbidden Planet. The resolution is touching and terrific. And oh, this is a Christmas movie! (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 26, 12:00 pm, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

I think this is the best of the so-called “John Ford cavalry trilogy.” The technicolor photography, by the gifted Winton Hoch; the effortless seeming peace-making theme; the beyond-poignant relationship of the John Wayne character with his deceased wife; and the whole wide outdoors feeling of the film, shot in Monument Valley, make this a Hollywood masterpiece. Not too long ago, before he died, my oldest friend and I, together with Mrs. Zahl, made a pilgrimage to Monument Valley in order to see for ourselves where She Wore a Yellow Ribbon was filmed. Guess what: It hasn’t changed. Oh, and I forgot to mention its stirring music, and the battlefield funeral of the ex-Confederate general. That latter scene, by the way, is a scene for today, full of honor and love and perspective. If you haven’t already, see She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. (Available on Amazon).

 December 26, 4:00 pm. Ben Hur (1959)

In its own way Ben Hur has never been bettered. It is the perfect Biblical epic, with monumental spectacle, spectacular acting, and the most moving (possible) depiction of the ministry of Jesus. For its evocation of the Sermon on the Mount alone, Ben Hur is a complete success. And that carries right on through the Passion, the Death, and the Resurrection of Christ. And the healing of Judah Ben Hur’s “nuclear family”: the scene is a smiting wonder. By the way, the novel on which the movie is based was written by Lew Wallace and is a masterpiece in its own right. Moreover, the initial version of the novel, which was released in 1925 and stars an actor with the best name ever held by a Hollywood star, is outstanding, and very much worth your time. “En somme” we could say that Ben Hur is a perfect Christmas movie, a perfect Good Friday movie, a perfect Easter movie, and basically just a perfect movie. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 27, 8:00 am, The Clock (1945)

This movie depicts the touching whirlwind courtship of a young private on leave in New York City during WWII and a girl he meets by total chance. The soldier is played by Robert Walker and the girl he marries by Judy Garland. The Clock was directed by Vincente Minnelli. What should stir “Mockingbirders,” however, is the beyond-touching penultimate sequence in which the newly married “strangers,” who missed out entirely on Holy Matrimony, enter St. Thomas Church (Episcopal) on Fifth Avenue and read the Prayer Book service to one another while seated diffidently in a pew. They exchange their vows in the sight of God. That scene, to me, is one of the most moving of its kind in Hollywood history, right up there with the conclusion of Mrs. Miniver. Oh, and here’s a question for you: What is the relation of Burton Cummings, lead singer of the Guess Who and genius figure of Canadian rock ‘n roll, to … The Clock? The connection is direct and concrete. Let me know. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 27, 5:15 pm, Guys and Dolls (1955)

Guys and Dolls, which is the movie version of a timeless Broadway musical, was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who happens to be buried in the cemetery of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Bedford, NY, which is also where John Zahl is the Rector. As a movie, Guys and Dolls is a little slow paced for contemporary audiences, at least in my opinion. But several of the musical numbers are inspired, especially “Sit Down You’re Rockin the Boat.” The plot concerns a Salvation Army evangelist, played by Jean Simmons, who is courted by a professional gambler, played by Marlon Brando. Moreover, the whole scheme stems from a short story by the great Damon Runyan, who was (somewhat quirkily) sympathetic to the Christian Gospel. The over-all effect is delightful, somewhat spectacular even, and at points, moving and redemptive. I think we all need to see Guys and Dolls. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 28, 12:15 am, Die Frau im Mond (1929)

This German science-fiction movie directed by Fritz Lang, the title of which translates as “Woman in the Moon,” starts slowly but proceeds to open up onto a very wide canvas. At the heart of it, at the climax and core of it, is a redemptive Christian sacrifice that is explicit and overwhelming. Plus, the special effects are outstanding. As I say, give it some time. (“Give Me Just a Little More Time,” Chairmen of the Board, 1970.) I think you will be glad you did.

December 28, 5:15 am, Wild Strawberries (1957)

Wild Strawberries is basically the ultimate “art house” movie for my generation. Everybody saw it when they were about 18, and its structure and technique felt mind-blowing and fresh — and also sort of arcane and thereby snobby. Movies like Wild Strawberries, which was directed by Ingmar Bergman, made you feel superior to all the “dumb bunnies” — especially if you “got” it, i.e., understood its heavy (heavy) symbolism. That being said, Wild Strawberries is still an evocative, provocative movie. It is also close in spirit to my recent book for Mockingbird concerning the last third of life. And that last shot! Pray that your dying moment is not so strongly arrested upon one specific image — tho’ it may well be, sad to say. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 28, 8:00 pm, A Chump at Oxford (1940)

This is late Laurel and Hardy, but very, very fine. Yes, it trades on wildly overstated Hollywood clichés about “Englishness,” or rather, upper-class Englishness, but it still is very funny — and especially Stan Laurel, for whom Oliver Hardy is the straight man. Sometime I would like to sponsor a movie night in which we showed the first episode of the 1981 Brideshead Revisited followed by … A Chump at Oxford. Remind me for the next Mockingbird conference! (LUV U) (Available on YouTube).

December 29, 5:45 pm, Bells Are Ringing (1960)

This is an outstanding movie musical! A somewhat quirky Manhattan love story between Judy Holliday and Dean Martin, it offers a couple of spectacular song-and-dance numbers, a fun setting of telephone-message operators who get to know their clients in an offbeat way, and a few moments of off-the-wall eccentricity. The great concluding number, which is a reprise of an earlier number in the film, takes place in the children’s park at the end of 57th Street where I played as a small child — so the movie, shall we say, has associations. Bells Are Ringing will not disappoint you. It is in a class by itself. (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 30, 8:00 pm, The Birds (1963)

Kind of a masterpiece, this famous film. There’s a man-woman problem between Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren (and also Suzanne Pleshette, who plays a lovely, giving elementary school teacher), a mother-son problem between Jessica Tandy and Rod Taylor, and a birds vs. mankind problem between (mostly) seagulls and the residents of Bodega Bay, California. It’s all very well done and ends on a slightly positive note. Plus, The Birds contains one of the greatest “God’s-Eye-view” shots in the history of movies. Mrs. Zahl and I spent a day once exploring the locations near Sebastopol, CA, where The Birds was filmed. The locations haven’t changed much. (Ask Mockingbirder Jim Munroe about them, too.) (Available for rent on Amazon).

December 30, 10:15 pm, Psycho (1960)

A little like November 22, 1963, people my age remember when and where they first saw Psycho. No matter what age you were, this Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece made a lasting impression. There are bountiful reasons to praise it, and most of all the utterly surprising end to the story. There’s a lot of Original Sin in Psycho. Plus, it is almost two movies in one, the “pivot” being Janet Leigh’s stopping at the Bates Motel on a rainy night. If you’ve never seen Psycho before — which is unlikely — make sure you see it with someone. LUV U! (Available for rent on Amazon).