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3 Classic Thanksgiving Movies from 1942-1969 for Baby Boomers
Happened at Thanksgiving
These are full-length flicks from “our era” whose plots either involve Thanksgiving or occur at Thanksgiving time. They were not made-for-television children’s specials or “the Thanksgiving episode” of popular television series back in the day. No, they are films we watched in our lifetimes. Today the first two would be rated G and can be shared with anyone in our family. The last movie reflects our teen years’ during the time of social upheaval in the Hawk-Dove, Vietnam War, Hippie era. If you share that one with the grandkids, you might need to prepare them by explaining the draft lottery and all sorts of historical trivia. (Yes, we lived through history. Deal with it, sweetie.)
Miracle on 34th Street
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) B & W. 96 minutes.Comedy fantasy.
Be sure you get the 1947 version, not a later one.
You couldn’t ask for better actors and actresses or a more enduring story. Is there really a Santa Claus? Must logic and evidence overrule faith? And, of course, since many people in America consider the long Thanksgiving weekend as the official start of Christmas shopping (insane notion, that), how much commercialism is too much?
Maureen O’Hara is brilliant as usual as the single working mother raising the precocious Natalie Wood. The Kris Kringle character, played by Edmund Gwenn, displays a perfect balance of reasonableness and mystery. Sprinkle in a few excellent character actors and side stories, and this is a winner of a movie. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade provides the vehicle to introduce characters and to thrust “Santa” into their lives. Then, the rivalry between retain magnates Macy’s and Gimbels is used (but with happy results.) This movie used product placement before its time.
I have always wondered if it was risqué in 1947 to have the leading female character in a movie be divorced, not widowed. If anyone has the back story on that, please respond. In the meantime, I get goosebumps every time I hear the lively movie title music complete with sleigh bells. It is a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving and rev up for Christmas simultaneously.
Holiday Inn (1942) B & W. 100 minutes. Musical comedy with a touch of real-time WWII propaganda.
This black and white film is the “father” of the later color movie White Christmas. It features Bing Crosby and the impressive Fred Astaire as buddies who become frenemies when it comes to wooing a hard-working, talented, unknown singer-dancer. The music was written by Irving Berlin: 12 songs relating to American holidays. Most people know “Easter Parade,” which was written earlier, and “White Christmas,” which was written specifically for this film.
As it was actually filmed at the end of 1941 into early 1942, the United States had just officially entered World War II and the outcome was in no way certain. During a Fourth of July song and dance number, clips of planes, ships, armament factories, and the like are displayed to encourage the Home Front to support the war effort.
This wonderful movie contains stereotypes regarding African Americans. There is a blackface minstrel number (“Abraham”) and a plump Aunt Jemima-like housekeeper. The blackface and “Mamie” and her children thing may be offensive to politically correct boomers in the 21st century, but it must be taken in context. It is like reading Tom Sawyer – one needs to know times and accepted mainstream mores to understand how these could be included.
There is a Thanksgiving song and scene, and similar to the preceding film, this one also can pump one up for Christmas.
Alice’s Restaurant (1969) Color. 100 minutes. Musical comedy, political farce.
This movie widely departs from the spirit of the first two. However, it is definitely a ghost of Baby Boomers’ Thanksgivings Past.
The impetus for making the film was a song on a 1967 record album by singer Arlo Guthrie. It was an 18-minute long combination song/monologue called “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” I’ll bet you are already singing the chorus in your head: “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant…”
The song and the eventual film chronicle real-life misadventures that Guthrie encountered in 1965. Apparently, conviction of a crime – even as minor as littering – could prevent an American male from being drafted during the Vietnam War era.
In that silly manner of the Hippie movies such as Easy Rider, there seems to be some embellishment with brotherhood and symbolism. However,watching Alice’s Restaurant could easily become a Thanksgiving family tradition.
Grab the Mocha, Snuggle Up, and Remember
If the little ones are looking for something to do, or all the big people are sated, stuffed, and ready for a sedentary diversion after the Turkey Day feast, these movies are fun to view. So, grab the blankets and let the dirty dishes wait. Enjoy one of these classic movies with your peeps at Thanksgiving.
Photo and text copyright 2011 Maren E. Morgan.