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by Jeff Wilkin

Type A To Z

A Daily Gazette life blog
Features reporter Jeff Wilkin on pop culture

Christmas Eve with Jimmy

Christmas Eve is here, and I’ll bet bunches of people are going to spend the night with NBC and Jimmy Stewart.

The network is showing “It’s a Wonderful Life,” probably America’s favorite holiday movie, tonight at 8. The 1946 movie is semi-famous for its pop culture boom during the 1980s. The film had fallen into public domain, which meant any TV station could broadcast it without coughing up any dough.

That’s what happened. George Bailey, Uncle Billy, Clarence the angel, Mr. Potter, Sam Wainwright and my favorite, Violet Bick, showed up all over the dial at 10 a.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m., midnight, 3 a.m. and all times in between.

The Frank Capra film kind of pushed another longtime perennial out of the limelight. Seems like every Christmas season, it gets tougher and tougher to find Alastair Sim’s 1951 version of “Scrooge.”

I’m glad NBC has locked up the rights to “Wonderful Life,” and treats the film with reverence. The suits have decided to show it only a couple times a year. Once in a while, Thanksgiving Night gets the call. Sometimes, it’s mid-December. But it’s always Christmas Eve.

Of course, the suits see the dollar signs. The 2 hour and 10 minute movie will be padded to three hours — gotta find room for all those commercials!

And while I will probably tune in for parts of this “sentimental hogwash,” I was kind of interested to see how Turner Classic Movies would counter-program on Christmas Eve. If you’re not in the mood for Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed falling into a high school swimming pool, Nick the bartender giving out wings at the cash register or that fool, Uncle Billy, handing over eight grand of Jimmy’s hard-earned bank funds to that crumb, Mr. Potter, TCM is the only other place guaranteed to run an old-time Christmas-themed movie.

This year, I’m afraid TCM has “Christmas in Connecticut” for the prime time event. Not a bad little film, holiday romance, a snowy lodge and Sydney Greenstreet as a nutty publisher. I was really expecting my favorite Christmas movie, Cary Grant’s “The Bishop’s Wife” from 1947, but that’s not happening until 1:15 a.m. Christmas morning. I’ll be with the sugarplums by then.

If I had any clout with TCM, I’d have lobbied for 1940’s “The Shop Around the Corner,” Jimmy Stewart’s “other” Christmas movie. He’s a store clerk at a small Budapest gift store, and holidays and romance are both key components in the story. Turner showed the movie Sunday night.

Even 1949’s “Holiday Affair” with Robert Mitchum — and the annoying little kid “Timmy” played by Gordon Gebert — would have been OK.

Christmas Eve revelers on TCM are going to have to slog through the 1947 “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” at 6 p.m. For people who don’t know the sappy story, Victor Moore plays a too-cute tramp who sneaks into a New York City mansion boarded up for the winter. The owner, a Scrooge-like customer, is down south. The tramp invites bunches of homeless friends to share the joint, old Scrooge infiltrates and becomes a better man, and the tramp leaves happy and content after the New Year. The end.

It’s damn near unbearable, unless you’re a Don DeFore fan. And Don was most famous for being the boss man — “Mr. B” — in the old “Hazel” TV show.

I kind of think TCM is trying to build support for these lesser-known holiday films. Good luck. I don’t think NBC is ever going to give George Bailey the boot in favor of house crasher Aloyisius T. McKeever.

I’d tune in for “Holiday Affair” and even the kind of sad “Tenth Avenue Angel” for their nostalgic Christmas moments. If Alastair Sim is in the airwaves anywhere, I’m going to watch him as ghosts of Christmas scare the hell out of him.

Still, I’d hate to miss Jimmy diving off that bridge to save old Clarence the Angel. I figure that will happen at about 10:30 tonight.

And I just can’t miss my annual visit with Violet Bick!

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