[The premise is to retell the plots of popular Christmas movies in ways that would be recognizable to the clear-minded businessman (or businesswoman). Here are examples.]
It's a Wonderful Life (1947, Frank Capra, dir.)
Arrogant young George Bailey has one thing right: Bedford Falls is a boring little town. George cannot bring himself to break free, however, preferring instead to salvage and maintain an inefficient family business.
Fate comes knocking in the form of wise Henry F. Potter, who, though confined to a wheelchair, has become the town's wealthiest entrepreneur. Henry offers George the employment opportunity of a lifetime, only to hear the young man haughtily reject it.
One Christmas Eve, as officers stand ready to arrest George in connection with a savings-and-loan scandal, he contemplates suicide and declares, "I wish I'd never been born." With the help of an admittedly second-class angel, George sees that, without his presence, the boring little town flourishes: Dixieland jazz fills its streets, city lights glisten, the taverns are full, law enforcement is swift and capable. George's mother controls a real-estate business operating at capacity. The woman George was to domesticate as his housewife has become fully self-actualized, with a career in public service.
George cannot accept that he has been living a lie. He cowardly opts for a return to the life he has known and the mediocrity which he realizes he was instrumental in perpetrating. Caroling follows.
A Christmas Carol (1951, Brian Desmond-Hurst, dir.)
The film, based on the classic business training manual by Charles Dickens, presents a unique problem: In the seven years since the death of business-partner Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge has struggled to keep his London concern competitive in an ever-changing market. Robert Cratchit, a disgruntled clerk, takes advantage of his company's vulnerability during the make-or-break fourth-quarter selling season to demand an immediate increase in vacation time.
Marley's Ghost then appears, advocating a reworked business model. The interjection of the supernatural is a clever device by which the filmmakers illustrate a shift in paradigms in the face of a labor action: Ebenezer skillfully buys off the agitator with the gift of a turkey. That will assure Cratchit's loyalty-or at least his attendance-through the close of the quarter, after which Ebenezer will be free to can him.
But will he? Surely not until a suitable replacement is found. (See the companion work on outplacement, Apocalypse Now.)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947, George Seaton, dir.)
Frederick M. Gailey, Esq., has it made: the likeable, well-dressed associate at a respected New York law firm lives on Central Park West, overlooking the park. When he falls for an embittered divorcée, however, Fred's life turns to tragedy.
So desperate is Fred to gain the affections of the aloof temptress, Doris Walker, that he is soon sharing his bedroom with a delusional old man Doris schemed to employ as a department-store Santa Claus so as to ingratiate herself with her CEO. When Fred elects to defend his roommate against the self-evident charge of insanity, he so embarrasses his firm, the partners force his resignation. Fred then loses his grip, attempting to win in court by proving the efficiency of the U.S. Postal Service. He is momentarily saved from his folly by the judge, who, firmly in the pocket of the Democratic machine, dismisses the case on a technicality at the bidding of his political handler.
The Pyrrhic courtroom victory mirrors Fred's personal defeat, secretly engineered all along by the very man he had tried to help: Fred will marry hard-hearted Doris and support her child. He will move from his prized Manhattan apartment to a banal house in suburban Long Island.
This sobering morality play on the perils of hubris remains timely-and a warning to us all.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966, Chuck Jones, dir.)
To those who are still growing up let's
Offer Yuletide cheer in Seuss-rhymed couplets
Which tell of those Whos whose joyful noise pollution
Drove their neighbor Grinch to a self-help solution
In grand theft Christmas of gifts noisy and still
(Though, for most, the Whos still had not paid the bill).
He pinched "Pop guns! And bicycles! Roller skates! Drums!"
He stole from the best and from the meanest Who-slums.
Peace and tranquility reigned, until like a shot,
Repented our Grinch--typical holiday rot.
The badness left him; his crime spree was stop-ed,
And he, the new sweetie, firmly co-opted,
Joined in with the Whos for roast beast and cold beer,
A duller Grinch for it, but--wait till next year.
White Christmas (1954, Michael Curitz, dir.)
Here is a high-spirited musical treasure celebrating that now-vanished time when you needn't ever leave the sound stage except to catch a train. The story: The Christmas spirit so fully inhabits two middle-aged men, they realize they are, at last, old enough to marry. The objectives: Save an innkeeper from the perils of low liquidity, recoup investment in stage show, fine true love, et cetera. The mystery: Will snow fall in Vermont in the winter? The holiday message: Never let transitory discomforts-imminent financial ruin, the forces of nature, World War II-get in the way of singing and dancing. The climax: Snow falls in Vermont in the winter. Who said those old musicals were trivial?
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, Bill Melendez, dir.)
Lucy has a spiritual awakening and discovers that all she really wants for Christmas is real estate. Attagirl.
From "The Businessman's Guide to Holiday Movies," originally published in Forbes FYI. Copyright © 2000, 2002 by Alan Behr