Saturday, December 12, 2009
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) vs. A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)
Brent Musberger: We are…LIVE from Pauley Pavilion for the finale of the 64 film tournament as the battle for the definitive Christmas movie sweepstakes has reached its highly anticipated climax.
To recap: A Christmas Story defeated Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Black Christmas (which forfeited for being directed by A Christmas Story director Bob Clark and therefore creating a conflict of interest), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Holiday Inn to reach the final four where the instant classic last second victory over the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol earned the coming of age story of Ralphie and his hunt for a Red Ryder BB gun a spot in the finals.
In the other bracket, It’s a Wonderful Life defeated Ernest Saves Christmas, Elf, Jingle All the Way, and Christmas in Connecticut to reach the final four where the story of George Bailey defeated Miracle on 34th Street in double overtime.
Onto the final: It’s a Wonderful Life vs. A Christmas Story:
It’s a Wonderful Life: George Bailey
George’s best moment: Loans out money to Bedford Fallians to prevent Potter from taking over the building and loan.
George’s worst moment: yells at his kids after Uncle Billy loses $8000.
A Christmas Story: Ralphie Parker
Ralphie’s best moment: Saves his family from Black Bart
Ralphie worst moment: He says THE word and it wasn’t fudge!
Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. The everyman is just more sympathetic than the everyboy.
It’s a Wonderful Life: In the person of Mr. Potter and in the set of circumstances that keep George in Bedford Falls.
A Christmas Story: The heavies here are assorted bullies, teachers, parents and grownups whose sole purpose seems to be preventing getting Ralphie his Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!
Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. Mr. Potter (the very definition of evil) is the difference here.
Potter to George: “Look at you! You used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me a warped frustrated old man. What are you but a warped frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help…Why don’t you go to the riff raff you love so much. You know why? Because they’d run you out of town on a rail!”
Evil. Evil. Evil
It’s a Wonderful Life: Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy or Henry Travers as Clarence.
A Christmas Story: Darren McGavin as Dad
Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. McGavin is most funny as the long-suffering, cursing dad with the obsession for leg lamps, but he did steal the fra-jilly joke from The Marx Brothers.
Nobody does nincompoop like Mitchell and nobody can order “Mull wine, heavy on the cinnamon, light on the cloves” like Travers.
Auteur curriculum vitæ:
It’s a Wonderful Life: Frank Capra directed Arsenic and Old Lace, Meet John Doe, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon, It Happened One Night, and You Can’t Take it With You. One of the most famous American directors with one of the most impressive resumes.
A Christmas Story: Bob Clark’s less impressive film output includes: Rhinestone, From the Hip, Porky’s I and II, Baby Geniuses I and II, and of course the TV movie classic Karate Dog.
Winner: A Christmas Story. Seems like no comparison, but since Mr. Clark dug so deep to come up with one classic within a career of such mediocrity, that I think even Mr. Capra would love this underdog story. Imagine Ed Wood pulling off Lawrence of Arabia.
Recreation of the era:
It’s a Wonderful Life: Most of the story is set in the 1940’s and the film was made in the 1940’s.
A Christmas Story: Entire story is set in the 1940’s
Winner: A Christmas Story. The recreation of a simpler time at a simpler age is what makes the film work. It may not be a fair comparison since It’s a Wonderful Life was set in its own time, but George Bailey knows that life is not fair.
It’s a Wonderful Life: Lots of candidates, but “Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings” is probably the best. It’s certainly better than Sam Wainwright continually saying “HEE-HAW”
A Christmas Story:”You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”
Winner: A Christmas Story. Close call, but “You’ll shoot your eye out” defines A Christmas Story.
It’s a Wonderful Life: Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett
A Christmas Story: Jean Shepherd
Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. You’d think I’d know who wrote the screenplay for a movie I’ve seen twenty times, but I admit to having to look it up. As retribution I’m giving this to Frances and Albert. Sorry, Jean.
The strange cameo competition:
It’s a Wonderful Life. The guy that opens the gym floor to make George and Mary go into the water is Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer of Our Gang.
A Christmas Story: Ubiquitous screenwriter Jean Shepherd has the wonderful credit line of Man in line for Santa.
Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. How can you beat getting dunked by Alfalfa! Sorry Jean, that’s 0-2.
It’s a Wonderful Life: Mostly Henry Travers as Clarence
A Christmas Story: Jean Shepard
Winner: A Christmas Story, Well Jean, your narration style that was later copied for The Wonder Years finally gives you a win.
It’s a Wonderful Life: Buffalo Girls
A Christmas Story: Deck the Halls from the Chinese restaurant.
Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. As funny as “Deck the Halls with boughs of horry” is, Buffalo Girls is sung by George to woo Mary and later played as George asks Mary to marry him. George lassos the moon on this one.
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Christmas classic since the advent of television
A Christmas Story: A Christmas classic since the advent of cable
Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life: It may not be fair to punish A Christmas Story for only being 25 years old, but you know-sometimes you get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas and sometimes you just got to drink your Ovaltine and like it!
It’s a Wonderful Life: Bedford Falls has Christmas lights, bells, carolers, a movie theater showing Bells of St. Mary’s, and the wonderful old Building and Loan.
Pottersville has bars, blaring sirens, night clubs, pool halls, fights every Wednesday night, pawn brokers, girls-girls-girls burlesque, and a Dance Hall where Violet Bick gets picked up for prostitution!
A Christmas Story: The leg lamp or the bunny suit
Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. But you got to admit that sometimes it’s more fun to live in Pottersville than Bedford Falls.
Hot mom award:
It’s a Wonderful Life: Donna Reed
A Christmas Story: Melinda Dillon
Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. Melinda Dillon was much more attractive in other movies such as Slapshot and Close Encounters as she was a bit frumped up here to be believable as Darren McGavin’s wife.
Donna Reed was at the height of her beauty here, at least when she’s not closing up the library!!!
Citation for scene disparaging to libraries:
It’s a Wonderful Life: When George asks Clarence where Mary is in the reality in which George was never born, Clarence informs him that the ultimate tragedy has happened: First she’s an old maid and even worse: “She’s closing up the library!”
I’ve got to dock It’s a Wonderful Life for this one.
Winner: by default is A Christmas Story
It’s a Wonderful Life: Mrs. Welch gets admonished by George when she checks on Zuzu. Mr. Welch later punches George. Should Mrs. Welch suffer for the sins of Mr. Welch?
A Christmas Story: Ralphie’s teacher can’t seem to understand the importance of the Red Ryder BB gun!
Winner: A Christmas Story. Sorry, Mrs. Welch. Nobody punches out George Bailey and gets away with it!
It’s a Wonderful Life: I know I shouldn’t keep punishing for the sins of others, but the 1978 television remake with Marlo Thomas as the female equivalent of George Bailey and Cloris Leachman as the female equivalent of Clarence was just wrong and someone should be held responsible!
Winner: A Christmas Story, but I just found out it has a sequel of it’s own called It Runs in the Family from the 90’s. I’ve already awarded the round, so A Christmas Story may have gotten away with one here.
Unsympathetic authority figure:
It’s a Wonderful Life: Gower the druggist smacks George on his bad ear. Booooo!
A Christmas Story: Santa Claus can’t seem to understand the importance of the Red Ryder either. Booooo!
Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life. Mr. Gower wins because he does become a good guy and a friend to George (Except in the world without George where he is an alcoholic child murderer!) Ahem. Wait a second. George isn’t born and Gower becomes a drunken killer? On second thought, A Christmas Story wins. Santa just doesn’t want him to shoot his eye out, after all. He doesn’t kill anybody!
I discovered it:
It’s a Wonderful Life: It’s just been around forever so gets no credit for discovery for me.
A Christmas Story: I was the one to discover this movie. Okay, not really. But I was one of the first to appreciate it. “Why wasn’t this more popular?” I said when it first came out. Now it is.
Winner: A Christmas Story
Dumbest kid stuff dealing with ice:
It’s a Wonderful Life: Harry Bailey sleds onto thin ice and almost drowns.
A Christmas Story: Ralphie’s friend sticks his tongue to a frozen flagpole.
Winner: A Christmas Story. Equally stupid thing for a kid to do, but funnier in A Christmas Story.
It’s a Wonderful Life: George’s friends bail him out, his family embraces him and they sing Auld Lang Syne.
A Christmas Story: Ralphie dreams of making hip shots with his gun.
Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life: A Christmas Story’s ending is OK. It’s a Wonderful Life’s ending might be the most inspirational ending in filmdom. A no-brainer for It’s a Wonderful Life.
Brent Musberger: And the winner in the definitive Christmas movie sweepstakes is…wait a minute, here comes Tiny Tim Cratchit and the Little Match Girl…What could they want? Tiny Tim seems to be trying to tell me something. Excuse me…we seem to have a new development. Little Match Girl, are you in agreement? All right then. Everyone grab hands. George, Ralphie, Uncle Billy, Mr. and Mrs. Parker, Bert, Ernie, Flick, Mary, Department Store Santa...come on out. Form a line.
The final decision from these two adorable little children is that you the viewer need to find room in your holiday season for both of these Christmas classics.
Merry Christmas everybody! This is Brent Musberger reporting.