I love everything about Christmas. Cards and gifts. Lights and mangers. A smell of cedar. Bells that jingle. Carols sacred and silly. Church plays and choirs. Wassail and nog.
Last, but not least, the movies: Classic films. Modern morality plays. Cartoons. Even the endless retellings of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. ("Stay tuned for Like, You Know, A Christmas Carol , a very special made-for-TV movie starring Lindsay Lohan as an out-of-control young woman visited by the ghosts of three rehab counselors who try to show her the true meaning of Christmas.")
As more Christmases pass, though, I realize that some classic films simply can't be remade and still make sense. For better or worse, times change.
Take Miracle on 34th Street, released in 1947. This masterpiece blends comedy, drama, romance, mental illness, crass commercialism, fantasy and courtroom drama -- with cute little Natalie Wood thrown in for good measure.
The story centers on a jolly old fellow who believes himself to be the one and only Kriss Kringle. He must go to court to fend off committal to an asylum and, perhaps, prove his identity.
His attorney hits on a strategy after a few letters to Santa are delivered to the courthouse. He gives statistics that indicate "the Post Office Department, an official agency of the United States government" is an efficiently run organization." The state's attorney concedes that the department is "efficient, authoritative and prosperous." On this exchange hangs the story.
Years later, however, the Post Office Department was reorganized as a semi-independent agency and renamed the U.S. Postal Service. Since then, it has taken its hits over postage rates and complaints about post offices and postal carriers. It's still an amazing organization, mind you, but some no longer hold it in the esteem people did in 1947.
Miracle has been remade a few times, with horrendous results. In contemporary versions, the most critical point loses its impact.
Just as fine a film is It's a Wonderful Life, from a year earlier. Nice guy George Bailey gives up his dreams so that others might live theirs. He runs a building and loan association, the predecessor to today's savings and loans, but reaches the brink of suicide after he is overwhelmed by events he can't control.
If he lasted into the 1980s, he would have faced even more crises. That's when many of the nation's S&Ls became insolvent because of incompetence and fraud. A remake of his drama would have to take history into account and perhaps show him in less than a wonderful light.
A holiday film that grows more popular is A Christmas Story, the 1983 account of Ralphie, a cute kid who wants to find nothing but a BB rifle under his tree. Like Miracle and Wonderful , it is impossible to improve on.
How would a modern version of A Christmas Story differ from the original? In just about every way, I'm afraid.
To begin with, we no longer can appear to promote the use of weapons among our children. What if a modern-day Ralphie decides to take his air rifle to school after Christmas break? There would be a lockdown, and Ralphie would be wrestled to the ground and expelled before he could shoot someone's eye out.
The legal problems in A Christmas Story 2007 would not end there.
Any modern-day kid forced to suck on soap for swearing would haul his parents into court for abuse. If a child got his tongue stuck to a frozen flagpole, his parents would sue the school system. A man who put a leg lamp in his window would be accused of harassment and treated even worse than someone displaying the Ten Commandments. Finally, as for the Chinese waiters' rendition of Deck the Halls, well, the less said about that, the better.
Remakes? Bah! Humbug!
Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.