Our Holiday Favorites: White Christmas
[Welcome to Our Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors talk about the movies they watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.]
The Thanksgiving holidays are over, which means that Christmas is storming in, ringing in a barrage of holiday songs for the next four weeks. I grew up surrounded by music, and so the holidays were full of Christmas carols and sing-alongs. However, I was an adult before I ever watched White Christmas (1954), the title song of which is the number one performed secular holiday song, with more than 500 versions, according to ASCAP. It's actually the second movie to feature Irving Berlin's song -- I've yet to see the 1942 film in which it premiered, Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Crosby recorded the song, which went on to win the Best Song Academy Award of 1942.
In 1954, the film White Christmas was developed to further promote the popular song. What came about was a musical comedy featuring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, ex-army buddies who partner together for a song and dance act --becoming successful producers -- and later to save their retired general's failing Vermont inn from bankruptcy. While scouting for new acts they meet the Haynes sisters, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) and romance blossoms -- despite the obligatory miscommunication to ensure comedic and melodramatic mix-ups.
White Christmas was the first film produced in Paramount's "VistaVision" wide-screen process, but what's more noticeable to me as a viewer is the use of sets that make me feel like I'm watching a Broadway musical onstage. As off-putting as that may be, especially in the opening sequence on the WWII front lines on Christmas Eve, the songs and comedic writing keep me coming back to this movie time and again. Ironically I had no interest in seeing this film for years because I assumed it was full of Christmas-themed songs, but the title song is the only holiday tune. I've fallen for all the songs, especially "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" (sung by Crosby and Clooney) and "Sisters" (sung by Clooney with Vera-Ellen's voice dubbed by uncredited Trudy Stevens). Crosby and Kaye's lip-sync reprisal of "Sisters" is the funniest semi-drag routine in classic film.
White Christmas features an ensemble cast of favorites -- besides the top-billed stars, scene-stealer Mary Wickes plays the receptionist at the inn owned by General Waverly, portrayed by the formidable Dean Jagger. Danny Kaye has long been a personal favorite from the films of the 50s, and Vera-Ellen has legs that go all the way to her neck. However, it is Rosemary Clooney that fascinates me the most. I was familiar with the Clooney Sisters, having been exposed by my grandfather who was a big band orchestra leader. Clooney's characterization of Betty Haynes' strength and vulnerability speaks volumes. See the ensemble cast in action in this clip on IMDb.
Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, Mildred Pierce), it should be no surprise that White Christmas was the top-grossing movie for 1954. The film provided WWII nostalgia along with a bit of raciness between the stars. I absolutely adore the costumes by famous Hollywood designer Edith Head. This holiday season, I am committed to watching a double feature of Holiday Inn and White Christmas -- who's bringing the eggnog?
Want to watch? You can watch White Christmas in full glory on the big screen Monday, November 28 at 7 pm at The Paramount Theatre -- no online tickets the day of the show. According to the printed Alamo Drafthouse guide, the movie will screen at Alamo South Lamar from December 5- 8. You also can rent or purchase a DVD or Blu-ray. If you are going to buy, I highly recommend the re-mastered 2009 Anniversary Edition that features several special features including an audio commentary and retrospective interview with Rosemary Clooney, backstage stories, musical renditions from the stars (in HD on Blu-ray format) and trailers. Local video stores carrying White Christmas include I Luv Video and Vulcan, but be sure to double-check if you want to watch the special features -- the I Luv Video store I contacted had an earlier DVD release.