OK, I waited two days to start yammering to you about holiday movies. I think that’s perfectly restrained of me, especially since I heard “The Little Drummer Boy” in a cookie-batter-scented knickknack emporium in early October.
But don’t even talk to me about Hallmark movies or Elf or whatever—the only part of It’s a Wonderful Life I ever enjoy is when Jimmy Stewart tears up the living room and yells at his children. And when it comes to Love, Actually, I have been vaccinated by every medicine science has invented—including booster shots—and am completely immune to it. So seriously, don’t even with me on that.
No, give me the dark ones, the ones where there’s weeping and blame and maybe some sort of faith crisis (I know, that’s basically It’s a Wonderful Life—I’m a walking contradiction). Give me The Ref, where Denis Leary holds a drunker-by-the-minute Judy Davis hostage while Kevin Spacey beats up a Christmas tree with a fireplace poker. Give me Remember the Night, with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, where an ultimately unavoidable years-long prison sentence serves as the heartwarming finale. Give me Christmas Holiday—one of the bleakest films noirs of all … and it’s a Christmas movie!—with a grown-up Deanna Durbin (!) fending off rotten bad guy Gene Kelly (double !!) in a New Orleans nightclub.
My holiday movie obsession over the past couple of years has been 1952’s The Holly and the Ivy, which has never quite caught on with American audiences (though whether that’s because of the movie itself—which is so very British—or its relative scarcity, I do not know). It’s full to the top of the teacup with melancholy: Ralph Richardson as a country reverend, with his grown children—Margaret Leighton, Denholm Elliot and the peerless Celia Johnson—home for the holiday. It’s heavy-duty: crises of faith arise, there’s a drinking problem or two, and Margaret Leighton has a dish-drying scene that is alarming in its intensity; never before in all of cinema have dishes been so thoroughly dried.
Broadcasts can be tough to find—which is why I’m mentioning it now rather than closer to the end of the season—so keep your eyes peeled. TCM usually airs it once (I don’t see it on their schedule yet, but they always do it at like 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, so keep that in mind), but if you have a library card, you can watch it via Kanopy. It’s also here on Archive.org.
It’s worth the hoop-jumping, and it’s fifty times better than Love, Actually. No discussion.