For a notorious tough gal, Barbara Stanwyck made a considerable amount of heart-warming Christmas movies, or better said, films that indulged in the Holiday spirit. Some of them, namely our Top 3, are bona fide, all-time Christmas Classics. Here’s a list of her best Holiday movies as voted by you! Do you think you can get through them all before New Year’s?
STANWYCK’S BEST CHRISTMAS FILMS
1. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
A great screwball, romantic comedy and a Christmas Classic with a capital C, this one features Stanwyck at her very, very best. A farm in Connecticut, a fake husband, a borrowed child (or two), a handsome soldier, mistaken identities, a boss without a clue, sleigh rides, flapping the flapjacks, S.Z Sakall… These ingredients blend together to create one beautiful “Catastrophe!” The memorable moments and characters in this movie are countless. Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan fall in love during their first scene together and spend 90 minutes trying, unsuccessfully, not to show it. This is the perfect movie with which to gather the whole family around the Christmas tree, hot chocolate in hand, and soak in the spirit of the season, Old Hollywood style.
Christmas Scenes: the whole movie takes place during Christmas with the help of Warner Studio’s version of Winter Wonderland, CT. You’d never guess that the movie was shot during the summer months in LA and was released in August, to a tremendous box office success no less.
Another Christmas Classic that has gained recognition in recent years thanks to TCM, this one stars power-couple Stanwyck and Fred McMurray in the first of their 4 movies together. Moved to pity by the Christmas season, New York District Attorney John Sargent (MacMurray) lets pretty shoplifter Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) out on bail and offers her a ride to her Indiana relatives’ on his way to his own family home. This is a road-trip and Christmas movie in one, with both very dark and very charming moments. Cynical city-girl Stanwyck falls in love with the charm of middle America, McMurray’s old farm – family included – and discovers for the first time what it is to spend Christmas with a real family. As is typical for a Stanwyck heroine, her past catches up with her eventually, but this Christmas experience changes Ms. Leander and her reluctant holiday escort Mr. Sargent forever.
Christmas Scenes: The movie takes place fundamentally from Christmas through the New Year in Indiana. There’s popcorn popping, presents exchanged, singing by the piano, a New Year’s Eve barn ball, and charm– lots and of lots of charm. One wants to bundle up in this precious Indiana town and stay there, if only for those wonderful 7 days in December.
3. Meet John Doe (1941)
Meet John Doe is one of those Capra Classics that can be watched anytime or anywhere, but during Christmas in particular, this one has an even more profound impact. A story that unrepentantly warns the audience of the dangers of fascism and populism, it more so reinforces the concepts of family, friendship, and community: without them, we are alone… As the leads, Gary “Coop” Cooper and Stany naturally learn these lessons the hard way, and we watch mesmerized. When your faith in humanity– and your next-door neighbor– is shattered, when you turn on the news and all you see is bad news, there is perhaps no filmmaker more reliably able to lift the spirit than Capra. His Meet John Doe is second only to It’s a Wonderful Life in the way it takes its characters through the ringer and breathes new life and hope into them by the end reels.
Christmas Scene: The climax of the movie happens on Christmas day, a pivotal moment the whole film dramatically builds toward. If you are feeling blue, want your faith in humanity restored, or need a good, old-fashioned reminder that life is worth fighting for, just tune in to Meet John Doe this Christmas.
4. Stella Dallas (1937)
While not a quintessential Christmas Movie, this gem does feature Christmas, and any mother-daughter story is great to watch around the holiday anyway. In this case, the story might both warm your heart and tear it to pieces, so we recommend you follow it up with the No. 1 or No. 2 movie to cheer you up! Stella Dallas only gets better and more poignant with each viewing, reminding the viewer that it’s never too late to tell, or perhaps even better show, those who mean the most to us that we love them.
Christmas Scenes: Stella’s estranged husband Steve visits Stella and her daughter after a long absence on Christmas, and Stella entertains thoughts of coming back to him for the first time in a long time. The only trouble is, he wants to take their daughter away with him for the Holidays… The resulting scene is absolutely heartbreaking. Oh Stella, how could you make so many bad decisions and still be such a great mother!?
A young widow with mommy issues might not be the best subject for a Christmas movie on paper, but the charm of this story and the triple threat of war, love, and family drama makes for a VERY entertaining viewing. In essence, My Reputation is the studio version of the dysfunctional-family holiday movie genre. As Stanwyck has to fight convention and family expectations due to her growing feelings for scalawag with a heart of gold George Brent, the viewer cannot help being transfixed by the chaotic and emotional spectacle of her life. Beautifully photographed, this impeccable Warner’s production is wrapped in an exquisite Max Steiner soundtrack, providing the perfect holiday movie night at home.
Christmas Scenes: Christmas Day at the family home of Jessica Drummond (Stanwyck’s) and New Year’s parties with Jessica’s friends at a Chicago restaurant… While the whole movie does not take place during Christmas, the last third of the movie does take place during the holidays. It also features Stany in skis!
6. All I Desire (1953)
A second-class actress (Stanwyck) comes home, to the husband and children she abandoned years before in search of stardom. While not a Christmas movie per se, this is a magnificent turn of the century (20th) small town family reunion drama. Defeated and humbled by the school of life, Stanwyck re-discovers what she had gladly left behind, and tries to avoid reliving the mistakes of the past. One can’t go wrong with this hidden Douglas Sirk treasure, beautifully photographed in black and white. Stanwyck is magnificent as always, but this time, she has a touch of maturity and vulnerability the likes of which audiences had never seen before. It is one of the best “older-Stany” vehicles and another exemplary portrayal of the “fallen female” that Stany did so well.
Christmas scenes: the movie does not happen during Christmas, but if the producers decided to make Naomi (Stanwyck’s character) return home for Christmas, it would have been an instant classic, so let’s just pretend…
A Gif to remember:
7. No Man of her Own (1950)
Want to put some spice/film noir into your Christmas movie list? Look no further! No Man of Her Own is a hidden masterwork in Stanwyck’s filmography. Christmas, holiday shopping, identify theft… And murder! Don’t you love the premise already?
Directed by Mitchell Leisen, Stanwyck plays a desperate, unwed mother who, after recovering from a deadly train accident, finds herself assuming a dead bride’s identity and living with her rich in-laws. This is the kind of premise you can only get away with in the 40s, which is why we love the ‘40s so much, of course. Seeing Stanwyck in this new environment– small town America with a warm, caring and loving family– makes this one particularly interesting. The movie boasts some wonderfully tender moments while Stanwyck navigates the strange new world she has been thrown into. Naturally, past mistakes and her previous life will follow her wherever she goes. In a way, No Man of Her Own would be the film noir version of the previous Leisen/Stanwyck collaboration, Remember the Night.
Christmas Scenes: Stanwyck’s past comes knocking at her new home right around Christmas time, just as she is trimming the tree. Settled and happy in her new life, she gets a mysterious telegram than will lead her down the path of no return…
8. The Bride Wore Boots (1946)
Stuck between horses, civil war antiques and marriage quarrels, we find the most dysfunctional Christmas season in Stanwyck’s repertoire– save our No. 1 movie. While comedy-wise this one isn’t nearly as impeccable as her greats– like Ball of Fire or The Lady Eve— it still manages to show her at the peak of both her stardom and her legend. This in itself is reason enough to watch. A flawless and glamorous Paramount production, her last comedy offers one treat and one rarity: Stany riding a horse and, more importantly, struggling to keep a man! You can also see a very young Natalie Wood portraying Barbara Stanwyck’s daughter.
Christmas Scenes: The film opens on Christmas, and Stanwyck’s marriage to civil war expert Robert Cummings is beginning to show cracks. In a cute scene wherein Cummings dresses as Santa for their kids, he ignores Stanwyck’s invitation to rekindle their flame. How, I ask, could anybody ignore that call? Everything goes downhill from there… Also, not to be missed: Stany’s gorgeous, snowflake-inspired dress designed by Edith Head.
9. The Miracle Woman (1931)
A fake preacher who attains redemption through love is simply the perfect story to watch around Christmas time—especially if that story is directed by Frank Capra and belongs to the pre-code era. Stanwyck never looked more torn and vulnerable– save her star-making movie role a year earlier in Ladies of Leasure. And if you ask me, this is one of the most romantic love stories in her filmography. You cannot go wrong with this film at Christmastime, or any time for that matter… Perhaps you can do a Capra Christmas Marathon with Miracle Woman, Meet John Doe and It’s a Wonderful Life!
Christmas Scenes: right at the end of the film, Stanwyck is redeeming herself by singing some good, old-fashioned Christmas songs and volunteering for the Salvation Army.
10. The Other Love (1947)
A romantic drama with a weepy storyline, a divine landscape, and a glamorous, European winter setting, Stanwyck never looks so radiant as she does in this film’s astonishing wardrobe. For those not familiar, Stanwyck plays a famous, cloistered pianist who is sent to a sanitarium in the Alps to help her with what appears to be (though it is not explicitly said) an almost terminal case of tuberculosis. The luscious settings are a welcomed change at first, especially with her dashing doctor– the very caring and ever gentlemanly David Niven– but then, the darker realities of the sanitarium creep in. While all patients go there to recover, not all do… Just when Stanwyck comes face to face with the reality of her situation, she meets a dashing race car driver. But will he be her ticket away from death?
Christmas Scenes: Set during the winter, but not specifically around Christmas, the Sanitarium is located in Switzerland. There’s a beautifully romantic scene when Stanwyck and co-protagonist Richard Conte share an intimate conversation while watching skiers slide down the slope. Check out Stany’s lovely, Christmas-inspired sweater as well– Edith Head does it again!
Cutest Christmas Sweater
Other Barbara Stanwyck Christmas Movies
Other Stanwyck movies featuring Christmas are These Wilder Years (James Cagney looks for a long, lost daughter, formerly given up for adoption, around Christmastime), The Bride Walks Out (which features a New Year’s Eve celebration gone sour) and Ever in My Heart (warning – this features the saddest Christmas Day in a movie ever!). Some other readers suggested Double Indemnity. Why not? If Christmas is not your thing, you can’t go wrong with DI!
You have 15 days until the New Year, so choose your flavor and “Stany” your merry way through the New year. Any movie on our list that you haven’t seen and desperately want to?