Searching for Christmas films to show friends and family they haven’t seen 15 times already? How about a few overlooked cinematic gems appropriate throughout all Twelve Days? Each contains a redemptive note or two and is conveniently available on DVD or Blu-Ray.Starting off with a bang, “Auntie Mame” (1958) is a splendid two-and-a-half-hour romp describing some 25 years in the life of free-spirited Mame Dennis whose young nephew, Patrick, is plopped onto her lap when her millionaire brother suddenly dies. It’s love at first sight. Mame raises Patrick with the help of equally madcap friends: an acerbic New York actress, the publisher in love with her, and a progressive nudist schoolteacher in a series of sidesplitting adventures. As Mame tries to save Patrick from the clutches of the snobbish, bigoted banker in charge of the boy’s investments and schooling the sweep of the story carries viewers from the end of the Roaring ’20s, through the Great Depression and into the hopeful, postwar 1950s. “Auntie Mame,” comedy that it is, is not without standout, heartwarming moments such as when Mame, fired from a Christmas job at Macy’s, finds herself on the boulevard hailing a cab. Reaching into her purse and finding nothing but a dime Mame waves the driver away. With great dignity she soldiers into the falling snow, cheerfully dropping the dime into a Salvation Army kettle. Shades of the widow’s mite! The versatile Rosalind Russell starred as Mame for two years on Broadway. The film version was her greatest cinema hit and she imbues Mame with wit, glamour, pathos and charm. “Auntie Mame” netted both Tony and Oscar nominations for her as Best Actress. In sum, the film captured six nominations including Best Picture. Nearly 50 years ago, with FM radio in its infancy, I heard a DJ suddenly announce that for the next three hours he was putting on long-playing records while he watched “Auntie Mame.” He invited his audience do the same because he thought it the most wonderful film ever made. See if you agree.In “Meet John Doe” (1941) viewers find director Frank Capra’s most darkly-etched politi¬¨cal anxieties. More than in “Mr. Smith Goes to Wash¬¨ington,” Capra skewers the haves who beat up and manipulate the have-nots. He also feared radicals. With the German-American Bund extol¬¨ling Hitler’s virtues throughout the Depres¬¨sion-ridden 1930s and Com¬¨munists encouraging so¬¨cial revolution to attain Utopia, Capra saw Americans being influenced by charlatans. Recent political events have borne out his fears, making “Meet John Doe” quite pertinent today. “Long John” Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a washed-up, bush league baseball pitcher, is hired to appear on radio pretending to be the writer of a series of letters appearing in a local newspaper, ostensibly by “John Doe.” Homeless and unemployed, Doe bemoans political and industrial greed. In protest he vows to jump off the top of city hall on Christ¬¨mas Eve. The letters were really concocted by Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) in an effort to save her job. John Doe Clubs spring up; neighbors are encouraged to get to know each other and help the needy. Everyone’s welcome to join save industrialists and politicians — who complain about droves of people learning to support themselves and leaving welfare rolls. Their votes can no longer be bought with government assistance. I told you the movie is relevant. Newspaper owner D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold at his most sinister) sees an oppor¬¨tunity to use the John Doe clubs as a third party to shape the U.S. to his vision. When Ann and Long John refuse to debase the movement to foster one man’s political ambitions, Norton exposes him as a fraud at a John Doe convention. Members turn on Long John. His exit from the sta¬¨dium, under a shower of popcorn, wadded-up newspapers, vegetables and trash, evokes echoes of Christ making his way to Calvary. Crucified by the press, Long John vanishes. On Christmas Eve, Norton wonders if he’ll reappear and actually jump. So does Ann. Capra, dissatisfied with “Meet John Doe,” shot four endings before deciding on a com¬¨promised but still a powerful finish. Watch and see if you’re satisfied. In “The Apartment” (1960), starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley McLaine and Fred MacMur¬¨ray, Christmas takes yet another dark turn before goodness triumphs. To get ahead, corporation-wise, C. C. Baxter allows four department heads to use his apartment for secret, adulter¬¨ous trysts. His key circulating among executives, Baxter is drawn to the wholesome, pixyish, eleva¬¨tor operator, Fran Kubelik. Fran likes him, too, she says, because he’s the only man to re¬¨move his hat in her elevator. Soon vice president Jeff Sheldrake calls Baxter to his office. He’s gotten wind of the traveling key. Baxter vows it’ll stop. Sheldrake agrees — if he’s the only one using the key for his own assignations. Baxter agrees. Pro¬¨moted to an executive position, his machinations have paid off. At the company Christmas party, crushed to discover just who Sheldrake is cheating with, Baxter begins reassessing his actions. “The Apartment” pushes many emotional buttons with sharp, stinging, sardonic dialogue. It won five Oscars out of ten nominations including Best Director and Best Picture. Written by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond, it remains a trenchant ex¬¨amination of domestic sin and redemption. Remarking on the script, Lemmon compared it to a flower blooming in a trashcan; everyone’s so sleazy the audience doesn’t know who to root for. Watch for excellent performances, a biting satire on office politics — and to find out who’ll get sent a fruitcake every Christmas. “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (1942), written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in 1939, is a scathing portrait of their friend, Alexander Woollcott, a sometimes malicious mag¬¨azine columnist, snarky theatre critic and tear-inducing radio sentimentalist. The part was actually offered Woollcott but his schedule interfered. Same with Orson Welles, who eventually played the role on TV. Charles Laughton, Laird Cregar, Robert Benchley and John Bar¬¨rymore, excellent actors all, were screen-tested but the role fell to the man who originated it on Broad¬¨way, Monte Woolley, and he’s deliciously obnoxious.Sheridan Whiteside, a prickly, egocentric New York writer and radio per-sonality, on a book tour in Ohio with his indispensable assistant, Maggie Cutler, is forced to endure the hos¬¨pitality of Midwestern Americans whose goodhearted lack of sophistication he cordially abhors. Invited to dinner at the home of wealthy factory owner, Ernest Stanley and his family, White¬¨side slips on a patch of ice outside the front door. The local GP’s x-ray shows Whiteside’s hip is broken. Confined to a wheelchair, he announces his intent to sue the Stanleys for $100,000.Weeks pass. Whiteside tyrannizes the Stanleys, taking over their living room and master bedroom, forcing them to use the back door so they won’t bother him: Whiteside runs up their phone bill and receives every manner of get-well gift including a crateful of penguins. On Christ¬¨mas Eve, Whiteside invites a number of murderers from the local prison, about whom he’s writ¬¨ten, to breakfast with him. The rest of the day is devoted to setting up in the Stanley living room a remote broadcast on the joys of Christmas, complete with cassocked choirboys.Maggie reveals her love for Bert Jefferson, the local newspaper editor, intending to marry him and stay in Ohio. Whiteside panics. Maggie is essential to his well-being. Bert has written a play which Whiteside knows is good so he calls famous Broadway actress and man-stealer, Lorraine Shel¬¨don, to vamp Bert while helping “rewrite” the play. Maggie’s devastated. Eventually Banjo (a take-off on Woollcott’s friend, Harpo Marx) arrives and sets things right, packing Lorraine off to Nova Scotia locked in an Egyptian sarcophagus, and showing Whiteside what a selfish oaf he’s been. Bette Davis begged Warner’s to make the film so she could play Maggie and escape the neurotic melodramas she’d appeared in for years. It is refreshing to see her giggle and have fun with a decidedly secondary role. Monte Woolley became a sought-after character actor in Hol¬¨lywood. Ann Sheridan (the “Oomph Girl”) plays the vain Lorraine with wondrously arch theat¬¨rics, and Jimmy Durante as Banjo steals every scene he’s in. (It must be said that Woollcott did get a chance to play Whiteside in a West Coast production, with Harpo playing Banjo. One re¬¨viewer opined, however, that Wooll¬¨cott didn’t play himself very well.)Having meandered into the murky and mordant reaches of human experience, let’s close on a bright note with “Come to the Stable” (1949). Sisters Margaret and Scholastica arrive from France having vowed to build a children’s hospital in America if their children’s hospital was spared during the bombing of Nor-mandy in World War II. Trudging through snow they come upon a stable complete with Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds in Bethlehem … Connecticut, that is. The group is posing for a painting in the studio of Miss Amelia Potts, a shy, pious woman known for her sacred art. The nuns sought her out because one of her paintings was re¬¨produced on a postcard, deciding that the hill so charmingly depicted was the very spot for their hospital … it could happen.Well, the hill belongs to Luigi Rossi, a notorious racketeer. The nuns get past his goons to talk to him and, because his son died in Normandy during the war, he donates the land. The nuns then take out an option on an old witch hazel manufactory to make into a chapel. They think by giving the owner $50 they have received some kind of annuity worth $30,000. This is where the bishop steps in, being familiar with property deals. Seems the nuns re¬¨ally owe $30,000 with a 30-day option before making a $5,000 down payment. His Ex¬¨cellency wants to void the contract but the nuns implore him to allow them the 30 days to come up with the $5,000. Their faith impresses the bishop but he’s leery. After they depart he confides to a monsignor, ”Something tells me an irresistible force has been let loose in New England.”The plot thickens. Sister Scholastica enters a tennis match to win the last $500 needed to reach their goal. She plays excellently, swinging her racquet in habit, having been an Olympic athlete before the call. There is a legend that the tennis scenes were shot at La Casa de Maria in Montecito, then the novitiate of the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Obviously prayer wills out but not until we hear the latest creation of songwriter Steve Mason, Miss Potts’ landlord, who has allowed the nuns to use his Jeep to travel about but doesn’t want a hospital in his backyard. The song, “Through a Long and Sleepless Night,” sounds very much like … no, I won’t tell. Watch the movie. This story was the brainchild of Congresswoman Claire Booth Luce, whose earlier works, like the oh-so-catty “The Women,” did not presage “Come to the Stable” at all! In between the two stories, Mrs. Luce was famously converted by then-Msgr. Fulton Sheen. The story is based on a real incident concerning two French nuns of the Benedictine Order. More about their story will be found online at Articles at Young beat out Rosalind Russell and Irene Dunne, good Catholics all, for the role as Sister Margaret (if you visit Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood you can see the chapel donated by Miss Dunne; many famous actors once attended Mass there). Celeste Holm is sprightly and spot-on with her French accent as Sister Scholastica. She and Miss Young were nominated for Best Actress and, as usual in such circumstances, cancelled each other out. Elsa Lanchester won a supporting actress nod for her sensitive portrayal of Miss Potts. Thomas Gomez is impressive as Rossi the gangster; Hugh Marlowe is fine as Steve Mason; and Dooley Wilson (Sam from “Casablanca”) is a standout as Anthony, his valet.(Students in 1957, watching the movie at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Hollywood, all thought Basil Ruysdael as the bishop closely resembled James Francis Cardinal McIntyre. Honest!)By an odd coincidence, most of these films will be shown on Turner Classic Movies on Christmas Eve. And it’s a decidedly Catholic Christmas Day on TCM beginning at 2:45 AM (PST) starting with “Boys Town” and continuing with “Going My Way,” “Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima,” “The Nun’s Story,” “Song of Bernadette” and “King of Kings.” Check local listings for times.Sean M. Wright, a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Santa Clarita, conducts workshops and enrichment courses at parishes in the archdiocese on the Holy Eucharist, Catholic symbolic art, films and other topics. He replies to emails sent him at [email protected]. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1221/chrfilms/{/gallery}