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

Today we get into a festive spirit and reminisce about

White Christmas (1954)

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Directed by Michael Curtiz

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

* Published in participation with The Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by Pure Entertainment Preservation Society *

Synopsis

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Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny 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 (Dean Jagger). One day, they receive a letter from Betty (Rosemary 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.

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An unmissable sequence where Bing and Danny ham it up in drag as the Haynes Sisters!

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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Background & Thoughts

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.

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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 at Columbia Studios but she never ended up as his leading lady.

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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.

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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! 🙂

The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing

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10 thoughts on “Merry Classic Film Talk: ‘White Christmas’ (1954)

  1. Ah, beautiful! I’m with you on so many levels here, especially celebrating Christmas in a modest fashion. I’ve loved this film for years and haven’t thought about that aspect, but this film does deliver just that as you say. 🎀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! 😊 My husband and I definitely overdid it with our kids when they were younger but now we see that they have plenty of toys, games, and clothes. We don’t find the need to go all out anymore, at least with spending/gifting although we do enjoy the spirit and traditions of this time of year. Movies like this are just what we need. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great movie and a lot of fun. As a historian I run the risk of over-thinking “White Christmas” because it has so many interesting observations to make (unwittingly) about the time it was made, the gender dynamics of the 1950s, and the memorialization and memory of World War II. (The whole story changes of you consider the possibility that Gen. Waverley’s real problem isn’t lack of snow or that he’s a bad innkeeper, but PTSD). I also included the film on my list of 10 movies that didn’t realize they are about climate change. https://seanmunger.com/2014/12/19/reel-climate-10-movies-you-didnt-know-were-about-climate-change/ Thanks for the interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Sean and thanks for your taking the time to comment. 😊
      I tend to sometimes overthink films as well but that is also part of the fun in it. Though it can be a bit frustrating because you find double meanings with everything. You really bring up some great points about this story which are important to remember. I never thought about Gen. Waverley having PTSD but you are absolutely right. He believes that going back into the Army will help him find “his place” again, hence how let down he was when he realised they had no need for him. Perhaps buying the Inn was a way for him to subconsciously lead a more picturesque life in a ideal, quiet environment.
      The link with climate change is another interesting point. Personally, I never looked at the lack of snow in that way because its arrival was supposed to be a miracle of sorts. Betty coming to her senses and getting back with Bob, Judy and Phil having a real relationship, and Gen. Waverley being spared bankruptcy all come full circle to create that ultimate Christmas wonder. 👼🏼

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  3. As a huge fan of the company involved, I should have become a bigger fan of this movie long ago, but it took a while. I’m more of a Holiday Inn gal. Nonetheless, it has grown on me in large part to a comment by my daughter who was about 10-years-old at the time. She said that White Christmas was the “best Christmas movie” because there were no kids or angels. It was about people wanting to do something nice for someone. Indeed, out of the mouths of babes.

    Merry Christmas, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also love ‘Holiday Inn’, Paddy, especially the teaming of Crosby and Astaire. It’s just wonderful! Thinking back, I believe that it wasn’t love at first sight with ‘White Christmas’ but after many a repeat, I just started adoring it. My daughters are the ones who loved this film as well, especially the spectacular dance sequences and, of course, the Sister act.
      Your daughter had absolute choice (and beautiful) words to describe her appeal for the film. “Let’s just say we’re doing it for an old Army pal.” 🥰

      And a very Merry Christmas to you, my friend! 🤶🏻 🎅🏻

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  4. Good review, Erica.
    When I first saw White Christmas, I was expecting to dislike it, but I ended up enjoying it. I think the endearing actors played a part in this.
    Of course, to balance out the uplifting holiday cheer, I watched it as a double feature with Black Christmas. 🙂

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  5. I love White Christmas for its subtle comments on gender relations, Defense policy, homophobia, and racism. And of course, there’s the music and dancing. Merry Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

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