Charles Dickens invented most of the narrative structures that we use in modern fiction, and the Christmas story is no exception. The two necessary elements established in “A Christmas Carol” are:
1) An unhappy man who has let his loneliness turn him into a misanthrope
2) Some dramatic collision between said misanthrope and the world of happy people, which results in his recognition of the goodness of mankind and an understanding of the true meaning of Christmas.
Sadly, modern impulses towards consumerism and lily-gilding have resulted in the Christmas Movie, which takes the structure of A Christmas Carol, plasters it with elf-fart-scented mistletoe and drives it straight down the American public’s throat in a reindeer-led parade float. However, three epic action movies released a generation ago are set during Christmas without descending into Santa worship. You may remember that era from such hits as jean jackets and Hammer pants. Let’s take a look back at this golden age of cinema.
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Christmas Message: Mel Gibson stars as Martin Riggs, a cop with suicidal and homicidal tendencies as a result of his wife’s death. Along with his partner, Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), Riggs beats up some bad guys (including Gary Busey in a breakout role) and gives up his death wish. In the final scene, Riggs, in the spirit of a reformed Scrooge, shares Christmas dinner with the Happy Murtaugh Family.
Style Highlights: After the last few bars of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ play over the opening credits, the first character to appear on screen is a half-naked chick who snorts coke and then swan dives off of a hotel balcony onto a parked Cadillac Seville in what might be the most 80s movie opening ever. Then Danny Glover comes on screen. Naked. Then Mel Gibson. Also naked. This is an early tipoff that the movie will not offer too much in the way of steez.
Moment that Looks Most Dated: Gibson drops a casual f-bomb of the three-letter variety, which, in 2014, jars in a way that I imagine it didn’t in 1987. Although Gibson himself may not have progressed, the country has.
Die Hard (1988)
Christmas Message: The movie opens on John McClane (Bruce Willis) traveling to LA in order to make things right with his estranged wife. Inexplicably, the act of fighting Teutonic bad guys in partnership with the jovial-but-clueless Big Guy Winslow from Family Matters convinces McClane that he shouldn’t have been such a jerk about his wife moving for her career.
Style Highlights: Willis spends the whole movie topless in a pair of dress pants. They fit well. It’s really a testament to the value of simple, well-fitting clothing. There’s no need to worry about pattern matching when you’re dodging machine gun fire. Also John McClane’s fashion-cluelessness allows him to correctly identify the continentality of his antagonists (Actual quote - “These guys are mostly Europeans judging by their clothing labels”). John, amico mio, Europeans have been selling clothes in the US since before you were born.
Alan Rickman’s bad-guy suit has a nice silhouette, but then you realize it’s a DB with notch lapels, which was kind of popular in the 80s. That style has now gone to a better place. The long-haired-blond-German-henchman-in-black look reappeared ten years later ordering pancakes in The Big Lebowski.
Most Styleforum moment: When Rickman says to his head hostage, “Nice suit. John Phillips, England? I have two myself. Rumor has it Arafat buys his there.” That’s about 5 minutes before he shoots said hostage in the face.
Batman Returns (1992)
Christmas Message: In some ways, this movie is the most direct heir to “A Christmas Carol;” in other ways it’s the polar opposite. In a dark, crumbling, Dickensian dystopia reside Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck, our plutocratic money-loving villain, and the Penguin, who shares with Victorians an obsession with birth order (a first-born son abandoned at birth, he says of his parents, “I was their number one son, and they treated me like number two!”). Max Shreck and Penguin’s human name, Oswald Cobblepot, have a Dickensian vividness.
However, there is no poor-but-sympathetic family-loving foil - the part Scrooge’s nephew plays in “A Christmas Carol”. The only possible heirs to this role, Catwoman and Penguin, respond to the injustice visited upon them neither by receding from the world, like Scrooge, nor by embracing what little remains to them, like Scrooge’s nephew. Instead they decide they just want revenge. Scrooges are not rehabilitated, they are destroyed. There are some nice holiday scenes of Batman and Catwoman under the mistletoe, though.
Style Highlights: Batman may have been the original goth ninja, and remains the greatest. Catwoman is a de Sade wet dream in skin-tight latex bodysuit with Carol Christian Poell-esque exposed stitching. Christopher Walken struts around in wing collars and awning-stripe double-breasted suits; the costume designers claim they modeled Walken’s wardrobe on J.P. Morgan’s, but it reads more Nucky Thompson.
Most Styleforum Moment: Selina Kyle’s first act as a rabid feline heroine is to ransack her closet for that black latex slicker that she’s been keeping for just this occasion, cut it apart, and resew it into the now-famous Catwoman costume. If she had taken pictures of every step she would have gotten, like, a million Tumblr reblogs.
All these movies are perfect for Christmas Eve family viewing. So what if there’s gratuitous foul language, violence, and nudity? At least it’s not Love Actually.