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Ten Christmas Movies You Need to Add to Your Holiday Viewing List

The most wonderful time of the year demands the most wonderful holiday movies. In our home, seasonal viewings of "Miracle on 34th Street," "Shop Around the Corner," and that tearjerking "Andy Griffith Show" episode with mean Ben Weaver help to make the season bright.

Basic cable has given "A Christmas Story," "Elf," and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" the 24-hour treatment. At this point, you might be Ralphie'd, Buddy'd, and Griswold'd out and looking for a Christmas movie you haven't seen multiple times.

Here are 10 under-the-radar holiday films you might not have considered part of the Christmas movie canon. But each in their unconventional way, whether with witchcraft, ice cream, or Abe Vigoda, captures the holiday spirit.

"The Apartment" (1960)

Unrequited office crushes are the worst, especially when she is the mistress of the toxic boss to whom you sold out for an office on the 27th floor. Billy Wilder's Best Picture winner starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, has everything you didn't know you wanted in a Christmas film: office politics, adultery, and attempted suicide. But in this cold and cynical world of the takers vs. the taken, two lonely people find each other, and that's an uplifting holiday message. Available on TCM's app, Watch TCM. Also available for rent in multiple places.

"Bell, Book & Candle" (1958)

The holidays are a swell time to fall in love. James Stewart is bewitched by Kim Novak, which stands to reason as she is a witch. What's heartening about this holiday-set romantic comedy is the revelation that witches celebrate Christmas, too. Available on Criterion Channel.

"Comfort & Joy" (1984)

I take back what I said before: Holiday breakups are the worst. Glasgow radio DJ Dickie Bird (Bill Paterson) is devastated when his free-spirited girlfriend walks out. Still, he gets a new lease on life when he insinuates himself in the middle of a rivalry between two ice cream companies. Bill Forsyth's follow-up to his beloved "Local Hero" has that film's off-center charms with a heartwarming Christmas message. Unfortunately, it is unavailable to stream and out of print on home video, but you can find it on YouTube.

"The Lemon Drop Kid" (1951)

Bob Hope stars as the titular racetrack tout who has just 23 days until Christmas to come up with the $10,000 he owes mobster Moose Moran by hook or crooked. Based on the Damon Runyan tale, one of Hope's best comedies introduced the holiday standard, "Silver Bells." If you can watch dry-eyed as block after block of Manhattan pedestrians sing along, you are made of sterner stuff than I am. Available for rent on Prime Video.

"The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1942)

'Twas weeks before Christmas, and Sheridan Whiteside, world-renowned radio wit, is making life miserable for the unfortunate Ohio family in front of whose house he injured himself. Wheelchair-bound, he insults, thunders, and makes impossible demands until finally, his unnerved nurse declares that she is quitting to find work in a munitions factory. "From now on," she declares, "anything I can do to help exterminate the human race will fill me with the greatest of pleasure." George Kaufman and Moss Hart's classic comedy gets a rollicking screen adaptation with Monty Wooly recreating his iconic stage role (inspired by critic Alexander Wolcott), with Bette Davis as his long-suffering secretary, and Jimmy Durante as his Marxist (as in Harpo) prankster buddy. Available on HBO Max.

"Mr. Soft Touch" (1949)

Frank Capra's 1933 "Lady for a Day" is superior, but he set his 1961 remake, "A Pocketful of Miracles," starring Glenn Ford and Bette Davis, at Christmas. If that one's too Capra-corny for you, here's another Ford Christmas movie on the hard-boiled side. Ford stars as Joe Miracle, which it's going to take if he is to elude the mob from whom he stole $100,000 to avenge the death of his former partner. Enter Evelyn Keyes as a social worker who installs him in a settlement house, where he performs good deeds in his fashion. Unavailable streaming. Get thee to a specialty video store if you can find one.

"Prancer" (1989)

Despite being championed by Roger Ebert, this family film remains an underseen gem. Rebecca Harrell (now an award-winning environmental documentarian) is an absolute charmer as eight-year-old Jessica, in whom the force of Christmas spirit is strong, and who firmly believes that the injured deer she finds and shelters is Santa's own Prancer. She melts hearts (Abe Vigoda's crusty veterinarian, Cloris Leachman's feared neighborhood recluse). Still, even Scrooge might suggest that she overwhelmed and financially-strapped single father (Sam Elliott at his gruffest) lighten up a bit regarding Christmas. Of course, that just makes his climactic transformation a great "I'm not crying, you're crying" moment. Available on HBO Max.

"Remember the Night" (1940)

If you loved Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray when they committed murder and insurance fraud in "Double Indemnity," then this Christmas dram-rom-com about a shoplifter released into the custody of a deputy district attorney over the Christmas holidays will sleigh you. Available on TCM's app, Watch TCM.

"Three Godfathers" (1948)

I wish I could have been at this pitch meeting: It's the story of the Christ child, but with three amiable outlaws instead of wise men and an opening credits medley of classic cowboy songs instead of Christmas carols. John Wayne leads a trio of fleeing bank robbers who come upon a dying woman in the desert and makes a deathbed promise to care for her infant. One of John Ford's lesser-considered westerns is a Christmas movie miracle. Available for rent in multiple places.

"We're No Angels" (1955)

Another unconventional trio comes to the rescue in this black comedy. Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray star as three escaped convicts with a dilemma. "It isn't fair," moans Ustinov. "Here we are, three desperate criminals who'll stop at nothing to escape Devil's Island, and we must fall in with nice people." But even though cutting a family's throats might spoil their Christmas, Bogie's not having it: "They're not going to soften me up. We're escaping, and this is our only chance. We came here to rob them, and that's what we're going to do. Beat their heads in, gouge their eyes out, cut their throats ... as soon as we wash the dishes." Available on Kanopy and for rent in multiple places.

What's your favorite cult Christmas movie yenjoy in introducing to friends and family? Scroll to the Comments section and let us know, let us know, let us know.

Donald Liebenson

Donald Liebenson is a Chicago-based film critic, entertainment writer and DVD reviewer. He has been published in The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, Printer's Row Journal, Los Angeles Times, Movieline and Entertainment Weekly.

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