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Alternatives for Rekindling Holiday Spirit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Christmas movie viewing has become routine. Every year, people dust off their well-worn copies of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “A Christmas Carol,” “White Christmas” and “The Bishop’s Wife” and pop them into their VCR. So this season, why not be a little daring and watch something different? There are plenty of other yuletide flicks available on video.

Why, even Jimmy Stewart made one before “It’s a Wonderful Life”! Six years before he met Clarence the angel, Stewart teamed up in 1940 with Margaret Sullavan for the wonderfully romantic “The Shop Around the Corner” (MGM/UA).

The two play single, squabbling clerks working in a Budapest shop. Unbeknown to them, though, they have fallen in love with each other through a lonely-hearts club pen pal correspondence. The Christmas finale makes one’s heart soar. Directed by the masterful Ernst Lubitsch.

“Remember the Night” (MCA/Universal) is another delicate, romantic bauble. Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in this underrated, sentimental comedy-drama, also from 1940, about a prosecutor who falls in love with a shoplifter during the Christmas court recess. Scripted by Preston Sturges.

The 1944 musical-comedy “Meet Me in St. Louis” (MGM/UA) is a colorful, cheery way to celebrate the season. Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien and Tom Drake head the cast of this enchanting Vincente Minnelli film about a family living in St. Louis, circa the 1903 World’s Fair. The best scene: Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

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Geraldine Page won an Emmy for her glowing, sensitive performance in “ABC Stage 67: Truman Capote’s ‘A Christmas Memory’ ” (Movies Unlimited). Capote co-wrote and is the narrator of this adaptation of his short story about his childhood memories of making fruitcakes and celebrating Christmas with his elderly distant cousin (Page). A three-hankie weepie.

A real baby boomer fave is “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” (Paramount Home Video). This clever musical version of the Charles Dickens’ tale originally premiered on TV back in 1962. The nearsighted Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus) goes dramatic as Ebenezer Scrooge with good results. The tuneful score was penned by Broadway composers Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.

Jack Benny fans should definitely check out “The Jack Benny Program Vol. 6: The Christmas Show/The Railway Station” (MCA/Universal). There are plenty of belly laughs in the 1958 Christmas episode that finds Benny and Rochester shopping for the holidays. Mel Blanc steals the show as a shop clerk who has the misfortune of waiting on Benny.

The 1983 “A Christmas Story” (MGM/UA) is one of the funniest Christmas flicks ever produced. Based on humorist Jean Shepherd’s story “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” this nostalgic comedy deals with a young boy’s (Peter Billingsley) obsession with getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon play his loony parents.

Even action-adventure fans can get into the holiday spirit with “Lethal Weapon” (Warner), the first two “Die Hard” (FoxVideo) movies and “Batman Returns” (Warner). Each of these blockbusters is set during the holiday season.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a big, stuffed, juicy turkey. And there’s no bigger holiday turkey than 1964’s “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (Family Home Entertainment). John Call, Leonard Hicks and a little Pia Zadora star in this hoot about a martian spaceship that comes to Earth and kidnaps Santa Claus and two kiddies. A definite must-see.

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Documentary: If you love the Navy, you’ll love “United States Naval Academy: 150 Years in Annapolis” (A&E; Home Video, $20), a colorful documentary on the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Kids’ Stuff: Leslie Nielsen stars in “Rent-A-Kid” (Republic), an OK comedy about a couple who “rent” three orphans for a week to see if they really want to have children.

Zachery Ty Bryan (“Home Improvement”) stars in “Magic Island” (Paramount), a not-so-magical low-budget tale about a boy who gets whisked into a book about pirates.

Ten episodes of Sid and Marty Krofft’s kiddie series “Land of the Lost” (World Vision/Republic, $10 each), which aired on ABC from 1990-93, are now available on video. Timothy Bottoms stars.

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A Killer B: John Sayles co-wrote “Men of War” (Dimension), a better-than-average straight-to-video action thriller. Dolph Lundgren stars as the head of a team of ex-Special Forces agents hired by con men to overtake an exotic island for its jade.

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New to Video: Catherine Deneuve stars in “Belle De Jour” (Miramax), Luis Bunuel’s acclaimed 1967 black comedy.

Alicia Silverstone received rave reviews for her work in “Clueless” (Paramount).

Bruce Willis, Samuel Jackson and Jeremy Irons headline the explosive “Die Hard With a Vengeance” (FoxVideo).

Also new: “Harrison Bergeron” (Republic); “Decoy” (Turner).


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