The Gift (1978)
Set in the depression of the mid-1930s.
A 12-year-old boy who has very little money decides to get up early on Christmas morning to do the farm chores for his dad. It is a gift that lasts a lifetime.
Nora’s Christmas Gift (1989)
A lonely elderly lady named Nora is depressed when she faces blindness and hearing problems at Christmas time.
The Story of the Other Wise Man (1989)
An animated version of Henry Van Dyke’s Christmas story.
Mr. Krueger’s Chistmas (1980)
On a cold Christmas Eve an elderly widowed janitor named Willy Krueger returns from work to his basement apartment, alone except for his cat. Various events in his evening initiate Walter Mitty-like fantasies, in which Mr. Krueger sees himself rich, loved, and included; these include an ice dance at Temple Square, a sleigh ride, and, perhaps most famously, Mr. Krueger leading the Tabernacle Choir. In the real world, a group of carolers visit him but quickly take their leave. One little girl leaves a mitten, which Krueger places with the nativity. The film’s emotional climax is Krueger’s imagined visit to the baby Jesus, followed by the girl’s return and an invitation to join the group for caroling and supper.
Mr. Krueger’s Christmas was the result of several years of evolution in the Church’s new broadcasting arm Bonneville Communications. The company’s first attempt at a program for outreach (beyond its popular Homefront spots) was A Christmas Child in 1974. Possibly because subsequent programs were less successful, Bonneville consciously attempted to make Krueger succeed through three means:
First, it returned to Christmas-centered content, thus maximizing the leverage available from the Tabernacle Choir and ensuring annual repeat broadcasts.
Second, it pushed Krueger with the Church’s largest advertising campaign to that time, with ads, notices, and announcements to Church members and general audiences alike.
Third, it sought to enlist the best talent possible, including director Kieth Merrill, who had associated with BYU screenwriter Scott Whitaker but had never previously worked for the Church.
The crowning jewel came when Merrill succeeded in casting James Stewart in the title role; to this day he remains the biggest Hollywood star to ever work on a Church production.
Merrill, a vocal fan of Frank Capra, probably had It’s a Wonderful Life (which became a perennial television favorite after entering the public domain) in mind in casting Stewart, but in any case the timing and the choice were perfect. Stewart not only gave an incredible performance, but his star charisma amplified–or perhaps catalyzed–the Church’s publicity efforts. By all counts, the initial broadcast in December 1980 was a success, both in terms of viewership and spiritual impact, with several reports of conversions coming into Bonneville’s offices.
The film was rebroadcast for years, although in 1981 it was reedited to remove some LDS-specific content of a young boy growing up to be a missionary. This second version has been available on video in various releases since the mid-80s, including a 25th Anniversary DVD included in English-language Church magazines in 2005 (with rerecorded audio for the Choir’s portions). Krueger also begat a healthy progeny of holiday-centered films by Bonneville, including The Last Leaf (1984) and Easter Dream (1990) for Easter and Nora’s Christmas Gift (1989)–again with a minor Hollywood star and the Tabernacle Choir–for Christmas. Despite these and many other productions, Mr. Krueger’s Christmas could arguably be said to be Bonneville’s best-known and most popular film of all time.
The little girl who plays Clarissa is Kieth Merrill’s daughter and may also be seen in the documentary The Mouths of Babes from the same year.