by Charlie Martin December 16, 2019
One of my favourite parts of Christmas is watching all the classics. I think my childhood love of films from the '40s and '50s is one of the reasons I fell in love with vintage fashion and therefore came to work at Revival Retro!
So let's get started with my Top Four and the costumes I'm dreaming about every Christmas...
White Christmas - 1954
Ah, a holiday classic. The remake of Bing Crosby's earlier (and far more problematic) 1942 film Holiday Inn.
A film bursting at the seams with fantastic musical numbers and outfits from multi-award winning costume designer and general goddess Edith Head.
(White Christmas, Michael Curtiz, 1954)
Why not start with something really festive? Red is in many ways synonymous with Christmas and while we don't have anything trimmed in white fur, we do have a few rosy pieces in the classic hourglass shape of the 1950s.
Rosemary Clooney (yes, George's auntie) tells a great story on the film commentary (yes, I've listened to it all). Edith Head was apparently dissatisfied with the stunning black dress she had designed for Clooney's torch song.
(Fun fact: that's Bernard from West Side Story on the left as an uncredited dancer!)
So at last minute, before Clooney stepped on stage, Head slapped this "big old pin on the butt!" And as she turns sharply you can see why! In the sleek black silhouette, the brooch adds that extra pizzazz!
Luckily we have a number of striking black dresses and sparkly pins if you want to get this look...
It's a Wonderful Life - 1946
Another family favourite! This film includes so many of my favourite lines, such as:
"This old thing? I only wear this when I don't care how I look."
Mary may be the heroine of this film but my favourite character is Violet. She has some of the best lines and definitely the best outfits!
(It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra, 1947)
In this flashback to a sunny pre-war afternoon, Violet catches everyone's eye in her flirty, flouncy day dress. This one reminds me so much of the Raileen dress. It exudes that '30s/'40s femininity and easy glamour.
Violet is in many ways an underrated character in this film. As a woman who is aware of her sexuality, we see how she can be unfairly dismissed. Indeed Potter suggests that she has been seducing George for money and in a world without him, she is vilified. I believe the great performances by Gloria Grahame and Jimmy Stewart make this an interesting friendship and shows support for confident women rather than shame.
Miracle on 34th Street - 1947
A divorced mother with a career? Oh dear goodness! What are these modern gals like...
(Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara in Miracle on 34th Street, George Seaton, 1947)
But cinema loved a gal with moxy and after the War, many women didn't want to return to the tame world of domestic life. From His Girl Friday to everything Katherine Hepburn, powerhouse women in powerhouse suits were infiltrating the job market and the silver screen.
If you haven't seen this film, I thoroughly suggest you do. That said, the 1980s remake is one of the few remakes that does the original justice. Besides improving upon the rather ridiculous ending, it also gives a nod to the powerful silhouettes of the 1940s.
In many ways it sets out the themes for future Christmas classics: the commercialisation of Christmas, growing pressure on parents, the loss of childhood innocence. Every time I watch it I'm also struck by the dark signs of the time: the Dutch orphan, the rise and fear of psychoanalysis and of course, the expectations of women.
The Bishop's Wife - 1947
I'm always surprised that more people haven't seen this film. If you love It's a Wonderful Life then you're likely to warm to this one (it also stars a lot of the same child actors).
(The Bishop's Wife, Henry Koster, 1947)
Cary Grant is an angel who comes to teach David Niven, a Bishop, the meaning of Christmas and community - or he'll steal his wife and kids? I don't know but it's pretty funny and there are some heartwarming moments.
There was also a '90s remake called The Preacher's Wife with Whitney Houston, which I must admit I haven't seen but please let me know what you think!
This film includes some great supporting performances and if you're an old movie nerd like me you'll love spotting cameos. For instance, one of the gooey eyed maids is played by Elsa Lancaster, AKA The Bride of Frankenstein! Gladys Cooper gives a hilarious performance as the stubborn widow and benefactor whom you may also know as Mrs Higgins from My Fair Lady.
So that's my round up of Christmas Classics! Apologies if I've missed out your favourite. Whatever and however you celebrate during this festive season, we hope you have a jolly holly time and a fabulous New Year.
Remember it's our late night Christmas shopping event on Thursday 19th until 9pm and we'll be open Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve until 4.30pm. Be sure to pop in and jingle our door bell, after all:
"every time a bell rings and angel gets its wings!"
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