National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes 11.01.2009

BY Steven D. Greydanus

November 1-7, 2009 Issue | Posted 10/26/09 at 1:59 AM


A Christmas Carol (1952)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

White Christmas (1954)

This week, two perennial Christmas classics come to Blu-ray — one a Vatican list film, the other a celebrated tale of redemption. (Even if you don’t have Blu-ray, keep reading: One new set comes with standard DVD, and the other movie is available separately in DVD.)

Both films focus on an oppressive relationship between a wealthy, heartless miser and a sympathetic, suffering, hardworking family man.

In both stories, there is a supernatural intervention in the life of the protagonist, who is shown a dark alternate vision of reality that causes him to embrace life in a new way.

On the one hand, there’s A Christmas Carol (or Scrooge), starring Alistair Sim as Charles Dickens’ penitent miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. From VCI Entertainment, the two-disc Blu-ray set includes a standard DVD version of the film.

George C. Scott made an impressive showing, and Patrick Stewart has his fans, but Sim is to Scrooge what Sean Connery is to 007: not quite the original, but the enduring standard by which all others are measured.

The true meaning of Christmas is offstage, but “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night” remind us of the reason for the season.

A commentary track by George Cole (young Scrooge) is the main extra. Filmmaker bios are also included.

On the other hand, there’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s and Jimmy Stewart’s favorite film of their careers — and the definitive Christmas classic.

From Paramount, It’s a Wonderful Life is also new this week with a standard DVD two-disc “collector’s gift set” (with “limited edition ornament”) and is available in other DVD editions.

Where A Christmas Carol was about the redemption of the rich miser, It’s a Wonderful Life is about its Bob Cratchitt, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) — his heroic virtue and consistently selfless choices, his dark night of the soul and his ultimate vindication.

St. Joseph acting on prayers from Bedford Falls ties the story closer to Christianity and Christmas than Dickens’ “spirits.”

A making-of featurette is the main extra. There’s also a theatrical trailer and (cough) the colorized version of the film.

A third Christmas offering, also from Paramount, isn’t in the same classic league; for that matter, White Christmas, loosely based on Holiday Inn, in which Bing Crosby first crooned Irving Berlin’s classic tune, isn’t in quite the same league as its own predecessor. But White Christmas still delivers charm of its own.

Replacing Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye brings added likability and physical comedy to make up for Astaire’s hoofing. Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen are delightful, and director Michael Curtiz keeps things moving nicely.

The two-disc “anniversary edition” (55 years) includes a raft of extras, including featurettes on Crosby and Kaye, a commentary by Clooney and more.

CONTENT ADVISORY: A Christmas Carol: Mild spookiness. It’s a Wonderful Life: Some tense family scenes; contemplation of suicide; brief inebriation. White Christmas: Romantic complications. All three are fine family viewing.