For me, the holiday season is synonymous with White Christmas. I grew up with this movie, watching it at least once a year. I know every word to every song. My sisters and I regale our family with renditions of Sisters. Rosemary Clooney’s outfit in "Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me" kick-started my obsession with elbow-length gloves. If pressed, I could probably recite most of the movie from memory. My love of White Christmas, however, goes beyond nostalgia for Christmases past. The cast stars musical legends Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney performing some of Irving Berlin’s most memorable songs, and even though some people find the plot thin, I think that more soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan will be able to relate to the plight of General Waverly than one might initially expect.
In White Christmas, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) are former brothers in arms who team up after the war and become a highly successful song-and-dance team. Bob is married to his job working non-stop, and Phil just wants Bob to settle down, marry a nice girl, and have nine kids so he can have 45 minutes all to himself. Bob and Phil’s working holiday plans are thrown for a loop, however, when they check out a sister act starring Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera Ellen) who are the sisters of Eddie Haynes, an old pal from the Army. Bob and Phil redirect their holiday plans to an inn and ski lodge in Vermont where Betty and Judy are set to perform. When they arrive, Bob and Phil discover that the inn is owned by their former general Thomas F. Waverly (Dean Jagger), and his inn is going under unless it snows and business improves. Bob, Phil, Betty, and Judy decide to put on a show in the lodge’s barn to bring in business and save the inn.
Before I get into the merits of the film, I need to take a moment to point out the caliber of talent in White Christmas. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen are all extraordinarily gifted performers who can not only act but also sing and dance as well. When was the last time that a film’s leads were all triple-threats? Even with the resurgence of movie musicals, most of the leads only shoot for two out of three. If they can’t dance, quick editing cuts can make it look like they can. In White Christmas, the full-length shot framing and longer shot lengths in the music numbers do not give any room for a sub-par performer to hide.
Moving along to the film itself, White Christmas for the most part follows the formula of the putting-on-a-show musical comedy perfected by Summer Stock and the collaborations of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. At first, their goal is straightforward and simple. They are putting on a show to help an old friend save his inn without damaging his pride, and the fact that Bob, Phil, Betty, and Judy are all professional singers and dancers makes the whole premise more plausible. Irving Berlin’s score strikes a balance between songs like "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" that come from the story and songs like "Minstrel Number" and "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army" that fit into the show within the show. There is a heavier reliance on the songs in the show within the show which might annoy people who aren’t traditional musical fans and expect any music numbers to derive from the story. Of course, I have to ask why someone who doesn’t like traditional musicals would even bother with a movie like White Christmas in the first place.
What makes White Christmas different from other putting-on-a-show musical comedies is that partway into the film, the goal changes. General Waverly figures out what Bob and Phil are doing, and instead of being mad or insulted, he laughs it off. He confides in Bob that he is trying to get back into the army and doesn’t expect that he will be in the innkeeper business much longer anyways. Unfortunately, his army dreams are quickly dashed by a well-intentioned letter that hints the general should be enjoying his retirement instead of trying to get back into the service. General Waverly is crushed to hear that the army no longer needs him or wants his service. The story changes from saving the inn to helping military personnel find their place in society when they return from war. Bob and Phil decide to pull off one last big scheme to let the General know he isn’t forgotten, and the payoff for the audience is sweet.
If you are like my family and have nearly worn out your old VHS copy of White Christmas, I fully recommend investing in the new Blu-ray release of the film, and if you haven’t seen White Christmas before, the Blu-ray transfer is a great way to see it for the first time. Christmas may be a little ways off yet, but it is not too early to pop in White Christmas and dream of snow, snow, snow.
EXTRA SPECIAL BONUS
If you love the latest lip-synch craze, check out Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s performance of Sisters. They were some of the first lip-synchers and still some of the best.
Blu-ray extras include featurettes on the lives of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney as well as a look at the stage show White Christmas, theatrical trailers, and a general making-of featurette with stories from behind the scenes. There is also an audio commentary for the film featuring Rosemary Clooney herself.
"White Christmas" is on sale November 2, 2010 and is not rated. Comedy, Musical, Romance. Directed by Maureen Teefy, Michael Curtiz. Written by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, Melvin Frank. Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen.