Here's the deal, I know I'm on the losing side of this battle. It's a Wonderful Life is the Christmas classic, White Christmas is a bit of 1950s ephemera. But White Christmas is my favorite Christmas movie, so I am here to defend it. (Note: I will not defend that from that very regrettable and ultimately irrelevant production number in which Bing, Danny, and Rosemary sing about minstrel shows.)
Both It's a Wonderful Life and White Christmas are Christmas movies that, in some ways, don't have a lot to do with Christmas throughout most of the movie, but have a grand Christmas-y ending. Most of It's a Wonderful Life charts, well, George Bailey's life and financial troubles. White Christmas is about putting on a show to help a down on his luck general who owns an inn in Vermont. Now, tell me, would you rather be watching a movie about the housing market in a small town and a man's crushed dreams that is engineered to make you sob at the end, or a movie about show business that is engineered to make you smile at the end? Shouldn't we be smiling on Christmas?
Really though, knowing that most will side with Joe here, here's what I will argue: it's about the music. Christmas is synonymous with Christmas music and White Christmas was, in a way, built to showcase Irving Berlin's classic tune, also sung by Bing Crosby in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn. So why is White Christmas the Christmas-ier movie? Because it's a movie that celebrates music—okay, okay "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" isn't really a Christmas song, but still—and that's part and parcel with this season. The plot (yes, there is a plot that's not just singing and dancing) is about helping those people that have had an impact on your life, the people that you may have forgotten. Bing and Danny's characters, Bob and Phil, do everything they do to help the man who led them during WWII. (This is a quintessential piece of post-War entertainment.)
Plus, every Christmas movie should have a Martha Graham parody dance number. That's just a fact.
It's a Wonderful Life
I'm not sure what this is, Esther. Is this a trap? Are you admitting defeat early so that I will go easy on you? Only to spring a trap on me at the last minute? Well, I won't fall for it.
Like, okay, you're right about the music. Your movie is filled with toe-tapping numbers, and "White Christmas" itself is a superior song to anything that It's a Wonderful Life has to offer, which ultimately boils down to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Buffalo Gals Won't You Come Out Tonight."
I think what we have here are two very different visions of Christmas for two very different kinds of people. White Christmas is for people who see Christmas as a cause for celebration, extroverted merry-making, good times with good friends, and showing off your talents. It's a Wonderful Life is a movie for people who see Christmas as a time for self-reflection, for taking inventory at the end of another year, and for thinking about what's important in your life. It's certainly a less-fun way of celebrating the holiday, but I think it's the more enduring holiday classic because deep down, we're all a very self-obsessed people. Ultimately, we all want to know that the world would suck immeasurably if we were not in it.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.