We are always looking to do something that feels special around the holiday season. This year we have had a plethora of films with Christmas themes available to us on the big screen. After having watched more contemporary fare like “Die Hard” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, it seems appropriate that we finish our pre-Christmas Cinema experiences with a classic. This screening was scheduled at the beautiful Disney Concert Hall, where just a few of weeks ago we saw “West Side Story” with a full orchestra. I was a little disappointed that there was no scheduled musical accompaniment. There was however a foreground banner with the lyrics to each song printed as the film rolled. So 2200 people were encouraged to sing along with the Irving Berlin songs.
Whenever I read reviews of “White Christmas” they seem to dismiss it as being a clunky piece of Hollywood schmaltz that is overlong and getting by on the reputation of the titular tune. I can’t really say that those assessments are inaccurate. The story does feel pieced together primarily to allow for some production numbers. The movie does go on for two hours, which seems a little long for a light piece of fluff. There are however more songs than the Christmas classic here. All of them are delivered with vim and vigor and they remind you of some of the reasons that old Hollywood was referred to as the Dream Factory.
The opening sequence set on the front in World War II, is a combination of cabaret entertainment from the era, with a war story setting. Two performers who have been put together by circumstances are trying to entertain the troops on Christmas eve before a major action. The troops need this morale booster, and the outgoing CO is willing to let them have a few moments, while the new guy thinks the whole shebang should be stopped immediately. It’s easy for us to see that the crusty but sentimental General, is the justifiable figure of respect in this unit. Now whether anything that follows makes any sense, it will depend on our willingness to grant him that status.
Bing Crosby was probably the biggest entertainer in the world for the preceding decade. An actor with an Academy Award, he was also the artist that most influenced the way people consumed their music starting in the 30s. Danny Kaye was a Borscht Belt performer who transitioned from two reelers and Broadway review shows to movie star. Originally this film was to be a rematch of Crosby and Fred Astaire from “Holiday Inn”. Astaire bowed out, Donald O’Conner was unavailable so the second role fell to Kaye who added a lot of his personality and rapid style delivery to the film. Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen are a sister act that the two Broadway Show producers get involved with and then it all comes back to the General at an Inn in Vermont.
The songs are glorious but definitely old fashioned. The acts that break up what story line there is are the kinds of review performances that were once popular but are largely missing from more modern entertainment. Danny Kaye gets to dance an athletic sequence with Vera Ellen that was clearly choreographed for Fred Astaire. Later in the film he does another dance sequence which actually mocks the choreography of dancing. Bing does a little dancing, a lot of crooning and between the four characters there are plenty of laughs that get bogged down a bit by a subplot that could clearly have inspired a decade of “Threes Company”.
The sets and costumes make a great impression, especially with the way the brilliant Technicolor photography pops off the screen. By the close, as the cast is singing the title tune in a winter wonderland, you will appreciate why Clark Griswold compares his holiday plans to this film. I hope you all have the ” hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f##king Kaye.”