The Flickering Myth writing team count down to Christmas by discussing their favourite festive movies; next up is Tori Brazier with White Christmas…
I have a confession to make. This is not actually my favourite Christmas movie, per se… I sort of forgot about It’s a Wonderful Life (yes, I know, and I’m a huge Jimmy Schtewart fan!) when we were claiming films for this feature. Having said this, I was also determined that there should be a good, old-fashioned, un-abashed Hollywood musical present, and, by Jove, this is it.
There is always a plethora of classic musicals shown on television over the festive period- often MGM ones such as Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris and Meet Me in St. Louis or Rodgers and Hammerstein ones like Oklahoma! and The King and I (all present and correct this year, don’t you worry). Many of these either do not take place or Christmas or only do so partially, and so this is where White Christmas swoops in in all of its entirely Christmas-based, cockle-warming glory. Featuring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen and a patriotic Irving Berlin song book, this is traditional American musical schmaltz.
Crosby and Kaye play U.S. Army buddies Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, giving a show to the troops of the 151st Division somewhere in Europe on Christmas Eve of 1944 at the film’s opening. Morale is in particular need of a boost as their popular commanding officer, Major General Thomas F. Waverly (Dean Jagger), is being relieved of his command. After the General delivers an emotional speech and is seen off in rousing musical style, the troops are surprised by enemy artillery and in the ensuing chaos, Phil saves Bob’s life. Injuring this arm in the process, Phil uses this as the perfect leverage to persuade established entertainer Bob to set-up a double act with his inexperienced self. Their double act then goes on to enjoy immense success in nightclubs, on the radio and finally on Broadway after the war’s end. This is when their path crosses with that of the delightful Haynes sisters Betty and Judy (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen), auditioning them in Florida as a favour to another old wartime buddy, their brother. And what do you know: the foursome match up perfectly, dancer to dancer (Kaye and Vera-Ellen) and singer to singer (Crosby and Clooney), helped along further by the machinations of Phil and Judy who want to see their counterparts settle down happily. The boys help the girls out of a sticky situation (the infamous, blue feathery ‘Sisters’ lip-syncing routine) and the group find themselves on the same train (Phil again) to an inn at Pine Tree, Vermont for the holiday season and ‘Snow’ (a song too, of course).
Upon arrival at the amazingly kitsch hotel (log cabins, crackling fires, antler-themed interior décor) the group find themselves minus the expected snow but plus a retired General Waverly, who it turns out is the owner. The General has not had the best of seasons due to the unseasonal warmth (ergo no skiers), and his spirits are only lowered further by a rejection from the army when he decides to rejoin. Army ties again lead Bob and Phil to take action and they decide to set up their show at the inn for Christmas, including Betty and Judy where they can, and invite as many of the 151st Division as can come for Christmas Eve as a surprise to show General Waverly that he is not forgotten. Another army pal Ed Harrison, now the successful host of his own televised variety show (and very clearly a take on Ed Sullivan), provides Bob with the platform for his nationwide appeal. Will it work? Will Bob and Betty, victims not only to a series of misunderstandings but also unhelpful yet well-meaning meddling from Phil and Judy, have their happy ending together? Will Phil and Judy stop sticking their oars in long enough to realise that actually they’d work pretty well as a couple too? WILL IT SNOW?
Enjoy Danny Kaye’s excellent physical comedy, Vera-Ellen’s astounding tapping and gorgeous duets from Crosby and Clooney, who forged a successful and long-running professional relationship after this film. There are some cracking numbers, particularly ‘The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing’, ‘Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep’, ‘Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me’, ‘Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army’, the big Minstrel number and, of course, ‘White Christmas’, which just happens to be the best-selling single of all time.