White Christmas (1954) Paramount Pictures/Comedy-Musical RT: 120 minutes No MPAA Rating (nothing offensive) Director: Michael Curtiz Screenplay: Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank Music: Irving Berlin Cinematography: Loyal Griggs Release date: October 14, 1954 Starring: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen, Dean Jagger, Mary Wickes, John Brascia, Anne Whitfield, Johnny Grant.
Here's another classic Christmas movie that I never saw until this past week, White Christmas is a delightful romantic comedy/musical that brings together two very talented entertainers whose chemistry provides a great part of this movie's overall entertainment value. The lead actors in question are singer Bing Crosby and comic actor Danny Kaye, Chevy Chase referenced this movie in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) when he said, "....we're gonna the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby danced with Danny f**king Kaye." I can see what he was talking about as White Christmas is 100% holiday joy and cheer!
The action begins on Christmas Eve 1944 when Captain Bob Wallace (Crosby), a Broadway star, entertains troops alongside Private Phil Davis (Kaye), a wanna-be entertainer who has yet to achieve the same level of recognition as his buddy. After crooning White Christmas to the troops, their beloved commanding officer General Waverly (Jagger, Game of Death) delivers a touching farewell speech as he's being relieved of his command. An enemy artillery barrage ensues and Davis saves Wallace's life by pulling him out of the way of a toppling wall. Although he's only slightly injured, Phil uses his wound to convince Bob to join forces with him as an entertainment duo when the war finally ends. They become a huge success, ultimately putting together a hit Broadway musical (Playing Around) that runs for two years before being moved to Florida for the holiday season. The guys meet the two sisters of one of their Army buddies, Betty (Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Ellen), who have a nightclub act of their own. The guys go to see their act after receiving a letter from their old buddy asking them to help their careers along. It turns out that Judy actually wrote the letter and this causes an argument between Bob and Betty when he jokingly accuses them of using "an angle" to advance their careers. While the prospect of a romance between them appears doubtful, Phil and Judy hit it off right away and it looks like the start of a beautiful relationship. The guys are about to leave for New York to perform on a successful variety show while the girls are scheduled to appear at a Vermont inn. Phil manages to convince Bob to accompany the girls to Vermont and they make two starting discoveries upon their arrival: (1) there's not a single sign of snow which means that there are no guests at the inn and (2) the inn's owner is General Waverly, their old commanding officer. In order to help out their beloved superior officer, the guys bring their show to the inn and find ways to incorporate the girls into it.
Naturally, romantic complications rear their head and a misunderstanding puts a damper on the budding romance between Bob and Betty. Phil and Judy come up with a plan to reunite the pair, but because they don't understand the real reason for her sudden coldness towards Bob, the ruse fails and she leaves Vermont to perform in a New York nightclub. Bob has no idea why Betty is so angry with him, it's going to take a Christmas miracle to set things straight and reunite the lovers for a touching finale. Okay, White Christmas is absolutely corny! The plot is completely formulaic and anybody over the age of 6 already knows that everything will turn out right in the end. That's the nature of any romance-oriented musical, but it's a formula that works most of the time and that's most definitely the case here. It's enchanting, sappy, cheerful, funny, light, paper-thin and easy to take. Irving Berlin provides a terrific score and the musical numbers are pretty great. As always, some of them are better than others, but the overall effect is a positive one. One of my personal favorites is the Minstrel Number (no, nobody wears blackface here!) which is a medley consisting of I'd Rather See a Minstrel Show", "Mister Bones" and "Mandy". Kaye and Ellen glide around the dance floor to " The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" as an early display of their affection towards each other. All four leads participate in the anticipatory song "Snow" as their train approaches Vermont. Of course, the centerpiece song "White Christmas" is heard at the beginning and again in the finale as.........well, I'm not going to describe the situation, you'll have to see the movie for yourself if you haven't already. I've heard this song so many times over the years, but this is the very first time that I found it so moving and heart-warming. Bing Crosby was a magnificent singer and, as a kid, I always enjoyed watching his annual Christmas TV specials with my father. This is the first time that I ever saw him as an actor and he makes the short list of musicians who have made a successful transition to the silver screen. I found myself smiling a lot throughout the movie, especially during the musical numbers. After seeing a genuinely talented vet like Crosby perform, it makes me realize even more that the so-called "big" music stars of today are nothing more than pre-fabricated corporate products whose sole purpose appears to be emptying the wallets of gullible teenagers and the parents who have to shell out their hard-earned money to buy the CDs that their kids want for Christmas.
It's my first time seeing the hilarious Danny Kaye in a movie, he's got a real gift for physical humor and it shows in the scene where he feigns an injury to distract General Waverly while Bob arranges a special surprise for the man who feels that he's been forgotten by his friends in the Army. Kaye and Crosby work very well together, the former is the comic relief while the latter is the crooner. Phil writes the songs that Bob sings, it's a match made in heaven. It's yet another reminder of something that I used to hear all the time from my grandparents, "They just don't make 'em like they used to!" Off hand, I can't think of a contemporary comedy team that even approaches the level of greatness seen in the pairing of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. In additon, Rosemary Clooney (George's aunt) and Vera Ellen make excellent love interests for the guys, brassy Betty and sweet Judy are perfect matches for the two men. They sing as well as the make leads here, their "Sisters" number is actually quite good, their voices really blend well. This number leads to one of the funnier moments in White Christmas. While I won't explain the exact circumstances, Bob and Phil find themselves in a position where they have to perform this number for an audience at a Florida nightclub. Their performance in this particular scene could very well have been the inspiration for the classic 1959 screwball comedy Some Like It Hot. Dean Jagger delivers a very touching performance as the aging military man for whom old age is signified by one's desire to participate in a game of horseshoes. The cinematography is quite striking, the vibrant color scheme shines like a freshly-wrapped Christmas present. When originally released, White Christmas was presented in VistaVision, a process that involved using twice the surface area of standard 35mm film, this produced finer-grained film prints and even by today's high standards, the movie looks amazing! I can see why White Christmas is considered a film classic, this is an outstanding, albeit somewhat inconsequential, movie musical with generous doses of romance and comedy. Maybe it's a sign of aging, but I'm really starting to appreciate some of these classic films that I wouldn't have even considered watching twenty years ago. You know what, it's all good! I love this movie and it has earned a place on my Christmas annual must-watch list.