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Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Ok, I’m a sucker for DVD sets of movies that are in the Public Domain. I’ve been known to buy a set because it may contain only 2 or 3 movies I didn’t have before. Such is the case with HOLIDAY FAMILY CLASSICS.

Got this one as a “Wal-Mart” special at – you guessed it – Wal-Mart. It was amongst their $5 movies.

Yes, I had most of the movies listed and yes, I figured that some of the stuff contained therein would be awful, but there are treasures, too.

It shows that there are 12 Holiday Movies here, although some of them were television shows and not movies. It also mentions that there are 27 Christmas Cartoons. This, too, is not true. Some of the alleged “cartoons” are actually live-action short films, the kind your second grade teacher might have shown you – either in the classroom or as part of a school assembly on those Holiday “play days” we used to get back in the days when girls had cooties and long before I’d heard the term “receding hairline”.

Anyway, it’s the live action short films that I found to be worth the price of admission alone. A number of these movies were distributed by the Castle Films Company, with which I had a love throughout my childhood. For what it’s worth, I STILL love Castle Films. But, aside from that, there are films from both the “Coronet” and “Official Films” studios. These companies may not ring a bell with you off-hand, but you might remember them from their opening frames.

One of the Castle Films, A CHRISTMAS DREAM, appears to have suffered both actual damages and also the ravages of age, but is otherwise interesting to watch.

Couple of the cartoons are basically just sing-a-longs, O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM and JINGLE BELLS. You just follow along with the words at the bottom of the screen in case you happen to forget the lyrics to JINGLE BELLS (which, by the way, I just learned was written to be performed at Thanksgiving, not Christmas; makes sense to me because I’ve never considered JINGLE BELLS to be a Christmas song anyway).

There appears to be a couple of versions of THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, each with a different title, in this set. These are part of the live-action movies.

A PRESENT FOR SANTA CLAUS has been irritating to me in all the years that I’ve seen it. I really can’t explain why, though. Perhaps it’s the shabby Santa costume or the fact that Santa really needed to gain some weight here to be credible. Might have even been the bad acting. Maybe all three, in fact.

Now, if you’ve never had a disc of this before, there is a neat little extra in the set called VIRTUAL FIREPLACE. Quite a number of years ago, on New York public access television, someone got the brilliant idea of broadcasting what has become known now as THE YULE LOG. Very simply, it was a video loop feed of wood being burned in a fireplace. For those who didn’t have a fireplace of their own, this was a warm and fuzzy concept. In subsequent years there have been many Yule Log-type DVDs (and yes, even VHS tapes) on the market. I’ve got quite a collection of them. Even caught myself with doubles of some of them because some marketing booger changed up the packaging and I bought it thinking I was getting something new. Luckily, though, the VIRTUAL FIREPLACE is something I’ve never had before, so it was nice to have this “new” one for my library.

As for SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS – well, it IS one of my favorites. I’ve come to the conclusion that one can NEVER have too many prints of this movie. Wonder if Pia Zadora shows this to her grandkids nowadays? “Look, kids, it’s Grandma when she was a little girl playing ‘Girmar’, the girl Martian. Didn’t I look adorable in green makeup?”

Also included here is that infamous Kiddie Matinee favorite, SANTA CLAUS, from Mexico. Producer K. Gordon Murray bought this film, re-dubbed it, provided all the narration himself and turned it into this incessant little “anti-masterpiece”. I have to plead guilty to having seen this in theaters for something like a 35 cent admission; as to whether the movie is ultimately annoying, well, on that one I must plead the fifth (and probably drink one as well in order to work up the courage to sit through it again).

The SCROOGE film here is from 1930 and is probably one of the worst movie versions I’ve ever seen. Worst TV version was one starring Basil Rathbone and hosted by Fredric March. My favorite version? Easy! It’s the 1938 version with Reginald Owen and a very young June Lockhart, but that one’s not in the Public Domain and so couldn’t be included on this set.

THE LITTLEST ANGEL is here. I’m talking about the Johnny Whitaker live action TV series that was sponsored originally by Hallmark Hall of Fame. How they let this one slip into the Public Domain is beyond me. The story concerns a little boy who dies in a fall and goes to Heaven in time to witness the arrival of Jesus in the manger on Earth. Fred Gwynne plays sort of a guardian angel to the littlest angel; almost expected him to do that deep, silly Herman Munster laugh, wave his arms around and call for Lily.

Although it says that MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET is one of the movies here, don’t be fooled. It’s a one-hour TV version starring Thomas Mitchell (“Uncle Billy” from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE). Sometimes folks get confused when different tellings of the same story appear on these compilations; they’re usually NOT the ones you’re thinking they are.

Some of the other movies here are ones I’ve never seen before. Case in point: any of the LITTLE WOMEN stories. Was never that much into Louisa May Alcott and all her “Little” tales.

As for THE NATIVITY and THE PILGRIMAGE PLAY, I’m kind of curious to see what they are; they were part of the reason I forked over 5 bucks to get this set. I suppose that I will have to sit down over the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday and check ‘em out.

From what I’ve seen so far, this would be a good DVD compilation to have in your home. The kids, however, might get bored with some of the cartoons contained here (as they are dated), but give them SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS and maybe they’ll like it for all the bright colors. Or maybe it’ll warp ‘em for life. That’s the chance you have to take.