Tradition is a part of the holiday season, and every year, for reasons that may require therapy, we watch the same films and TV specials because it’s better than reading the news, or being trapped in the conspiracy fogs of social media.
One of those classics is White Christmas, the Bing Crosby musical from 1954, based on the classic holiday song. The song was first used in the 1942 film Holiday Inn, and Irving Berlin felt the need to rehash it for a post-war audience. And having watched it religiously for the last decade, I have a few thoughts.
*Warning* some of this might be spoilers, but I can’t see how. Also, as a writer, I feel the need to comment on plot, pacing, and the ironies running through the entire film.
If you haven’t seen the film, it’s a hodgepodge of plotlines and genres that once you know the story through and through lend themselves to lots of questions. Briefly, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) are a successful singing/dancing duo who met during WWII, where Phil saved Bob and then guilts him into becoming his partner. While breaking their show for Christmas, in Florida, they checkout the Haynes sisters (Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney), who it turns out, are going to work at a Vermont ski lodge, which turns out to be owned by the guy’s former general and there’s been no snow, which is bad, so they decide to save the general’s business by staging their show there, but misunderstandings happen between the guys and gals, which necessitates hijinks followed by everything working out at the end.
The problem with the film, in this grump’s view, is that the Betty Haynes character (Clooney) takes Bob’s efforts to help the general as a angle to tout their show, far too seriously (This is abetted by the nosy innkeeper’s eavesdropping on the phone, which she misconstrues, but blabs about anyway.), which tarnishes Bob’s image for the love-struck Betty. It’s a real mood killer for what is supposed to be a light-hearted musical with a few laughs. It’s as if a dark morality play about a scoundrel, who is secretly married and knocks her up, is plopped in the middle of a breezy romp. And it’s disconcerting to go from musical number to uptight put-out Betty to musical number. And why is she so surprised? Bob, when they meet, notes that angles are part of the biz–her sister, Judy (Vera Ellen) suckers Bob and Phil to their show with her own ruse. Makes you wonder why this moral scold is in show business to begin with.
There’s also the idea that somehow telling the world that the general is going broke on national television is ok so long as Bob and Phil don’t use it as a plug for their hit broadway show, even though they’re footing an enormous bill to drag everyone associated with the show up from New York. Like that’s not going to happen whether they say it out loud or not.
There are little things as well. Like how is it that an old inn in Vermont has a big enough stage for a broadway show? Why would the front page of Variety–in the heyday of film–feature a story on Wallace and Davis playing the Bistro circuit rather than the latest biblical cinematic masterpiece or Bogart’s next movie? And why is a 51 year-old Crosby romancing a 26 year-old Clooney? Kinda creepy.
So, at this point, assuming you’re still with me, is why are you (me) still watching it? Simple. The songs are wonderful and the dancing is fantastic.
Even for an old humbug like me.
©2020 David William Pearce