Well, Christmas is coming again. You know, it happened once a year! 12 months ago, almost to the day, I published an article about the invention of Christmas. Of course, I can’t do it twice, but I wanted to write something about this season anyway.
And yesterday, I watched Miracle on 34th Street (the original). This was not the first Christmas movie I rewatched this year. A few days ago, it was It’s a Wonderful Life, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and The Ref. More to come. Anyway, the question here is:
What Was the First Christmas Movie?
If you already read my article Who Invented Cinema?, you probably know that movies are a bit older than you might think at first. Indeed, for the first “movies,” we need to go back to the 19th century. Strangely enough, when you talk about watching old movies, people tend to think about mid-20th-century films. I do the same.
In the case of the first Christmas movie, we have to go back earlier. But was it really a movie?
Directed by George Albert Smith, the earliest known Christmas film is 1898 Santa Claus, but it’s not a feature-length movie, it’s only 90 seconds long. Technically, this British short silent drama film is the answer I was searching for when I asked the question, but it’s not really the one I expected.
Other Christmas movies came quickly after. We’ve got Georges Méliès’ 1900 The Christmas Dream, W.R. Booth’s 1901 Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost, Edison Porter’s 1905 The Night Before Christmas, J. Searle Dawley’s 1907 A Little Girl Who Did Not Believe in Santa Claus, and more like an adaptation of A Christmas Carol in 1908, and another one in 1910… But all of those were short films, less than 15 minutes long!
What Was the First feature-length Christmas Movie?
One of my favorite movies is 1934 The Thin Man, a delightful crime comedy that is set around Christmas time. I’m not sure it is a proper Christmas movie. But what is a Christmas movie? Everybody seems to have an opinion about that. I personally think it’s at least about Christmas—not just set during the season.
It’s hard to find and, maybe someone will provide a better answer. My research led me to the 1934 Laurel and Hardy musical Babes in Toyland. (Very Loosely) Based on Victor Herbert’s popular 1903 operetta of the same name, this movie was directed by Gus Meins and Charles Rogers, and produced by Hal Roach. The original cut is 79 minutes long.
Naturally, we found another adaptation of A Christmas Carol soon after. The simply titled Scrooge is a 1935 British film directed by Henry Edwards. It was the first sound version of the Charles Dickens classic (except maybe a lost 1928 short).