Ah, it’s Christmas again – a time of joy, happiness, peace on earth, Black Friday and the ‘legendary’ Christmas double issue of the Radio Times. Legendary? Hmm I’m not so sure about that. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary tells me that legendary means something that it is ‘described in or based on legends’ or is ‘remarkable enough to be famous’. I don’t think the Christmas issue of the Radio Times fits either of those descriptions, but I’ll let it go because it’s the only issue of the Radio Times I buy all year.
This year’s legendary issue lists 4,500 films that are being shown over the Christmas and New Year period, of which only a handful are actually Christmas films, and so this year I’m going to settle in front of my television set and dig out my favourite Christmas films from my own collection because they are either not being shown on the BBC or they’re on one of the commercial channels and therefore I refuse to watch them.
Is it just me or has anyone else noticed the increased frequency of adverts on commercial television? For example, ten years ago a two-hour prime-time slot was filled with a show lasting 110 minutes interrupted by ten minutes of ads. Nowadays that same two-hour slot is filled with a show lasting NINETY minutes interrupted by THIRTY minutes of ads.
For those of you who like Christmas films then keep following this blog as I present The Twelve Films of Christmas, charting the twelve best Christmas films of all time in reverse order over the next twelve days. I’ll post the best Christmas film of all time on Christmas Eve.
Okay, get your jingle bells ready – On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me – One Magic Christmas (1985).
Way back in 1986 when I was in the Royal Air Force and stationed at RAF Hereford I celebrated Christmas much as I do now by eating too much food and drinking too much booze. I was a Corporal at the time and therefore a mandatory member of the RAF Hereford Corporals Club, whether I wanted to be or not. Each Christmas the committee would organise a Christmas party for the small kids of the families and 1985 turned out to be no exception. This would usually take the form of a chaotic meal that the kids rarely touched because they were too excited, followed by a film, generally a Disney cartoon, and then finally a visit from the fattest bloke in the club dressed as Santa Claus. By the time the big man arrived the kids were in such a state of unbridled excitement that most of them had pissed in their pants even before they sat on his knee.
When I saw the poster advertising the event that year I noticed that the film they had chosen to show the small children was Disney’s One Magic Christmas, one of the very few Disney films from that period that went straight to video in the UK. I had already seen it and thought that it was an odd choice of film for a group of impressionable five and six year olds and so I approached the chairman of the club with my concerns.
“But it’s a Disney film,” he told me. “Kids love Disney films.”
“Remember when you were a kid,” I explained, “and you saw that a Disney film was advertised in the Christmas issue of the Radio Times as being shown over the festive period and when it finally came round to the time of broadcast you found yourself crushingly disappointed because it wasn’t a cartoon but a live action film like That Darn Cat or worse, one of their boring True-Life Adventure Wildlife films?”
“Errr . . . yes,” he said.
“Well, that’s how the kids are going to feel when One Magic Christmas starts. But their crushing disappointment will only be the start. Fifteen minutes into the film their disappointment will turn to horror when they see the main character’s dad get shot by the police after a bank robbery goes wrong and it’s at that point that her mother’s life begins to unravel and it gets even sadder. It does have a happy ending but the kids will be so traumatised by what has gone on before that it would hardly be of any concern to them. If you want a club full of crying, suicidal kids at this year’s Christmas party then show them One Magic Christmas.”
“But we’ve already bought the video,” said the chairman.
“Then buy another one – something like Dumbo or Pinocchio.”
“They’re not Christmas films.”
“I’ll tell you what – why don’t you watch One Magic Christmas tonight and then make a decision about what whether to show it to a group of five and six year old kids.”
“I will,” he told me, “and then we’ll see.”
We did indeed see.
The kids watched Dumbo that year.
At this point you may be getting the impression that I’m not a fan of One Magic Christmas and if that’s the case then you couldn’t be more wrong. This is a brilliant and highly underrated film that’s a kind of dark updating of Frank Capra’s classic Christmas film of 1946, It’s A Wonderful Life, and like Capra’s great film, with its theme of redemption and how everything would be irrevocably changed if just one person’s life was altered, it was a critical and commercial flop on its initial release. This was due in no small part to Disney marketing it as a children’s film. The title and the poster that advertised it both gave the impression that this would be a magical and uplifting Christmas tale for all the family.
Let me make this quite plain – THIS IS NOT A CHILDREN’S FILM.
The very fact that it featured Harry Dean Stanton as the angel Gideon should have rung alarm bells to anyone with a passing interest in films. Harry Dean Stanton didn’t appear in normal run-of-the-mill films. Harry Dean Stanton was specially chosen by highly regarded directors to play oddball and complex characters. Before One Magic Christmas he had appeared in films like Arthur Penn’s The Missouri Breaks (1976), Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1982), Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984) and Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984) for which he won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actor. Harry Dean Stanton was (and still is) one of the best character actors around. He was what drew me to the film in the first place. He is now eighty-eight years old, has appeared in almost two hundred films and is still working.
One Magic Christmas was directed by an Australian émigré to Canada, Phillip Borsos, who was responsible for directing that other great character actor, Richard Farnsworth in the unorthodox western The Grey Fox three years earlier. Although One Magic Christmas bombed on its initial release its reputation has grown through the medium of television. Audiences coming across it who want something a little different than Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or Mrs Santa Claus need look no further than this dark and sometimes creepy Christmas tale.