Classic Christmas Film Talk: ‘White Christmas’ (1954)

I love Christmas movies that are simple in nature with good characters and a nice story. They make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, sometimes even bringing a tear to your eye. After all, this is the one universal time of year where wishes for peace, prosperity, and reconciliations are both abundant and seemingly attainable. Even though real life is often much different, these films allow us to keep dreaming and hoping for good things to happen. Join me as I explore the magic in some of these vintage seasonal Classics.

 

Today we get into a festive spirit and reminisce about

White Christmas (1954)

Directed by Michael Curtiz

Starring: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen

 

Bob and Phil

Betty and Judy

Bob Wallace (Crosby) and Phil Davis (Kaye) are successful song and dance men who have been touring the country with their act since the end of the Second World War. Both men were stationed in the same regiment under Major General Waverly. One day, they receive a letter from Betty (Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) Haynes, whose brother Benny was a fellow soldier in their outfit, to come and check out their performance at a local club. Though Bob and Phil are scheduled to leave for New York quite soon, they decide to go and see the Haynes sisters as a favour to their old Army pal. Bob, a restless bachelor, immediately falls for Betty while intense sparks fly between Phil and Judy. In between their acts, Betty and Judy are notified that the landlord of their apartment has called the sheriff because they have supposedly burned a hole in the rug (which is untrue). Feeling sorry for them, Bob and Phil decide to give them their train tickets and enough time to flee by doing a rendition of their “Sisters” act. The men eventually make it to the train, deciding to bypass New York and head to Vermont where the girls have been booked for the holidays in Pine Tree, Vermont at the Columbia Inn.

Upon arriving, everyone is shocked to find out that there is no snow. Moreover, Bob and Phil are stunned to discover that the owner of the Inn is none other than Gen. Waverly. Due to the lack of snowfall, no one has kept their reservation at the Inn, putting Waverly into a dire financial situation. To help him out, Bob and Phil decide to bring in their troupe from New York and put on a big Christmas show to attract guests. They spend the next several days rehearsing and organising it so that the show can be broadcast on television. At the same time, Bob and Betty fall in love though are temporarily separated because of a misunderstanding all the while Phil and Judy follow their own romantic path. In the end, the show is a rousing success and the snow arrives just in time for a white Christmas.

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“Snow, snow, snow!”

As the years go by, I find that I enjoy celebrating Christmas in a more modest fashion rather than an extravagant one. The holidays can easily become a time of year that leaves you feeling overwhelmed emotionally and overspent financially. Why not take the time to smell the mistletoe and go back to the basics: good food, nice company, cheery music, and lovely decorations. If these things make you happy, it is likely that White Christmas will do just the same. The film is light-hearted featuring a storyline without complexity and with some wonderfully orchestrated musical numbers.

White Christmas was Paramount’s most successful production of 1954 and topped the box-office over the studio’s critically acclaimed films Rear Window and The Country Girl. This is somewhat surprising but, then again, expectations for this film were high as it was initially considered a sequel to the beloved Holiday Inn. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire were supposed to reprise their on-screen partnership but it turned out that Astaire was not interested and left the project rather early on. After a bit of scrambling, Donald O’Connor was chosen as his replacement but he too had to drop out after falling ill with Q fever. Eventually, Danny Kaye was cast and the rest is history.

Phil, Bob and Gen. Waverly

One of the major attractions to this film is the ensemble of actors, both main and supporting. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye make a formidable duo and have a great deal of chemistry, being able to play off of each other’s jokes and convincingly perform numbers together. Crosby had been an accomplished hoofer back in the day and he indulges us with a few moments of tapping although you can clearly see that he is past his prime. Kaye has a lovely singing voice and I guarantee that most people with an untrained eye would not notice that he was not a trained dancer, even minimally so. It is true that most of the numbers he does are rather simple but his usual wonky and silly demeanour makes it so that he has fun with them, also displaying a huge array of confidence that is very attractive.

Vera-Ellen does some of her best dancing in this film, particularly in the numbers where she is dancing solo or around her co-stars. While it would have been nice to see her alongside O’Connor once more, it is also fitting to see her with Kaye. They make a beautiful couple. She and Kaye had shared the screen twice before while under contract with Samuel Goldwyn but she never ended up as his leading lady. Rosemary Clooney is very charming with unorthodox good looks and a stellar singing voice. She was admittedly uncomfortable with the few dance numbers she did but she, like Kaye, pulled them off nicely. If you have the good fortune of owning the disc version of this film, Rosemary does the commentary and she is a riot. She even goes so far as to mock her own character’s decision-making skills when she gets angry at Bob over a misunderstanding. In real life, she and Bing were very good friends and performed many duets together. It was Bing whom she credited for reviving her career after experiencing a slump due to personal problems. Dean Jagger and Mary Wickes are terrific supporting members. Jagger plays Gen. Waverly very sympathetically although there is a lingering layer of sadness to him that you wish to see lifted. It is unsure that simply bringing in business with provide a remedy but it could be that I’m reading a little too far into the character. As for Wickes, she is her usual sassy self and although she can get slightly annoying at times with her nosiness. It would have been somewhat satisfying to see the character ‘get hers’ in regard to the misunderstanding between Bob and Betty but this is Christmas movie, so all is presumably forgiven in time for the big day.

This movie best qualifies as a musical comedy so consider yourself forewarned if you are not a huge fan of song and dance numbers. There are several of them scattered throughout the movie, almost in the style of Singin’ in the Rain in that they just sort of appear without explanation in how they are going to be incorporated into the final show. When the final show begins, we see numbers that had not been previously shown in rehearsals. But who’s counting? They are fun to watch and many of the tunes are very catchy. Also, the costumes are magnificent, particularly for the women. Vera-Ellen’s wardrobe is stunning to say the least, clearly designed by a gifted designer with exquisite taste.  All in all, this is a feelgood movie that would definitely quality as cheesy these days but that has uplifting messages that still matter. Kate Winslet’s character in The Holiday says this after receiving an old-fashioned wrist corsage before a date: “I like corny. I’m looking for corny in my life.” I rather feel the same about many of the vintage classics that I see which is probably why they remain such an important influence in my life. If I had to watch White Christmas every day, it would be effortless.  After all, Vermont is lovely in the winter with all that snow! 🙂

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