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Classics re-illustrated: a new spin to old Yule logs

THOSE WITH CABLE have to be amazed each year by the crush of well-worn holiday movies and specials that keep recycling through their living rooms.

Remarkably, these holiday perennials rack up ratings year after year, whether it’s “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (this year, a 13.3 rating, 21 share), “Frosty the Snowman” (14.1/22) or the multiple airings of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” If an angel got his wings every time that movie aired during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, angels would be caroming off each other up there.

Big-budget movie versions of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Addams Family” remind us that such a ready and willing built-in audience can’t be easily ignored, and it seems only a matter of time before some of these holiday favorites get the wide-screen treatment.

Unfortunately, it’s also Hollywood’s penchant to try to augment, update or, heaven help us, seek to add social relevance to such material. That means those beloved franchises would probably look a little different once the current regimes at Touchstone, Warner Bros. or Fox got through with them. For example:

“It’s a Wonderful Life”– Original cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers. Remake: Alec Baldwin, Sharon Stone, Hal Holbrook, Charles Durning, Jerry Van Dyke. George Bailey learns the true value of his life as a bumbling angel-in-training wearing a football helmet leads him through an alternate world where he was never born. In that future, Mary Bailey, now a bisexual temptress, goes after George with an ice pick.

“The Bishop’s Wife”– Original cast: Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young. Remake: Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore. An angel teaches a misguided clergyman the meaning of Christmas by reawakening his wife’s sexuality for him. Instead of building a church, the goal is to erect a boys’ club, and the angel must intervene when the bishop is accused of molesting an altar boy.

“Miracle on 34th Street”– Original cast: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood. Remake: Geena Davis, Andy Garcia, Carroll O’Connor, Christina Ricci. An old coot claiming to be Santa Claus awakens the spirit of Christmas in a woman and her daughter — who, it turns out, has psycho-kinetic powers and inadvertently keeps blowing things up.

“Christmas in Connecticut”– Original cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet. Remake: Susan Sarandon, Mickey Rourke, Marlon Brando. An odd sexual triangle develops among a war veteran, a writer and her boss when they are forced to share an apartment for the holidays (Rating: NC-17).

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”– Jack Nicholson stars in this live-action version of the children’s story, not only stealing the Whos’ Christmas gifts but also cavorting with their wives. Also featuring Quinn Culkin as Cindy Lou Who, who, in this case because of a CAA package, is a little more than two.

“Frosty the Snowman”– Tim Burton directs this darkly comic telling of the popular animated special, with Danny DeVito in the title role. Title song sung by Harry Connick Jr.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”– Director Jean-Jacques Annaud (“The Bear”) directs this spellbinding live-action version of the popular children’s tale. Pic will use real deer and elk, making their lips move via the old “Mr. Ed” technique. With George C. Scott as Santa Claus, John Goodman as Yukon Cornelius and Macaulay Culkin as the voice of Rudolph.

“Beavis and Butt-Head’s A Christmas Carol”– The beloved animated duo learn a valuable lesson after setting a Christmas tree on fire, as various ghosts show them that Christmas doesn’t suck and is, in fact, cool.

BRAVO, MARIO: After filling this space on more than one occasion with babble about television violence, it was particularly annoying to see essentially the same case made more intelligently and succinctly — by a politician, no less — in a column penned by New York Gov. Mario Cuomo last week.

Cuomo questioned who would be authorized to censor the media for violence, then pointed to the success of tawdry fact-based TV movies, citing the nation’s “extraordinary contradiction — this desire for what disgusts us, this disgust for what we desire.” Perhaps it’s time to admit, Cuomo asserted, that in regard to curbing TV violence “all our protestations are mostly pretense.”

To amplify that point, Cuomo has hit upon the public’s inconsistency when it comes to seeking out representations of sex and violence and supporting their limitation, but omitted that the response is probably based in large part on how the question is phrased.

When asked about limiting media violence, most people who say yes seem to be thinking about other people, as opposed to the restrictions such actions would impose on their own habits. Sure, of course, they say. It’s a violent society, let’s keep those violent people out there from seeing more of it, or so the thought goes.

The answer would be different, however, if the proposition were turned around: Do you think it’s necessary or desirable to have the government or a satellite agency set restrictions on what material you, personally, can watch? Heck no, most would say, except for “NYPD Blue” fans, who may use even more colorful language.

At any rate, Cuomo merits praise as an island of reason on an issue that has produced far more rhetoric than common sense. With pols on both sides of the aisle lining up to board the anti-violence bandwagon, the governor has exhibited the rare courage to walk alone.

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