Classic Christmas Movie Review #5 – White Chrstmas
(Well I had expected to have these reviews finished before Christmas but unfortunately my schedule didn’t permit it. And since I promised to write them I will write them anyway. Ordinarily, I would be angry at myself for missing a deadline, even if it was only one I gave myself. But I am learning through all this how to balance my schedule and just how much I can write within the time frames I give myself. I seem to be a slow learner when it comes to finding my writing groove but one of these days I’ll get the hang of it.)
Now for the fifth review. I must admit, this is one of my absolute favorites. I really couldn’t wait to do it, and here it is: White Christmas. Put out in 1954, this is a musical with the ever funny and talented Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. Also in the movie are Dean Jagger and Mary Wickes. Before I start the movie summary I’d like to add that this movie has an amazing score and wonderfully choreographed dances. We watch it every year and never tire of it. But I won’t go into my opinion just yet.
It’s World War II and despite the ever present danger, well-known singer Bob Wallace and amateur performer Phil Davis give the boys a special performance to lighten the mood and in honor of General Waverly, soon to be retired. During the celebration, they are attacked by enemy planes sending everyone running for cover. In the melee a wall topples and Phil quickly rescues Bob, injuring himself in the process. The two become friends and Phil convinces Bob the two of them could do great in show business together.
When the war is over, the two performers go into business together. They become famous as a singing team, everywhere from nightclubs to shows, and recording on the side. But for Phil its not enough. Before long, Phil gets them into producing a show called “Playing Around”.
When the Christmas season arrives, Phil and Bob close up the production for the holidays. Before going to Radio City in New York for a publicity plug, they stop by a nightclub to see a sister act recommended to them by a former army pal. The sisters are Betty and Judy Haynes, and they immediately catch the eye of the two famous performers. (The number they do in the photo above is the famous “Sisters” duet.)
Phil and Judy leave Bob and Betty at the table to dance and find they like each others company very much. Here they are doing the number “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing”. Little do they know, Bob and Betty have gotten off on the wrong foot after Betty admits it was not their brother who had written to Bob and Phil but Judy, asking them to see the act and give them pointers. Bob lightheartedly calls it an angle and Betty takes offense at his implications.
While the evening is still young the girls have to make a mad dash to the train to escape the landlord’s accusations. To stall the sheriff and landlord, Bob and Phil pull out the girls’ recording of “Sisters” and give the audience an unexpected surprise. (In this number you can see Bing losing his composure as Danny hams it up. Hilarious!)
Bob and Phil finally catch their train to New York which happens to be the same train taking the Haynes’ to Vermont. Bob realizes Phil gave their drawing room tickets to the girls and starts to accuse Phil when the girls show up and thank Bob for his thoughtfulness. Instead of losing his temper, Bob invites the girls to have a seat. Here they sing Irving Berlin’s “Snow”.
Having convinced Bob to change their plans to stay in Vermont with the girls for a while, Phil and the rest are surprised to find Pine Tree Vermont a little warmer and less festive than they expected.
When they reach the inn where the Haynes are booked to perform, they soon find out the inn is owned by their very own General Waverly.
They hear the general is having a hard time keeping the inn going and dream up a plan to save it by transferring their production to the inn. The days leading up to Christmas are full of rehearsals, set designing, costume fittings, and all the work that follows a production.
After coming back from a mail run, Bob gives the general a letter from an army pal. General Waverly admits to him that he has hopes of going back into the army and this is the letter he had been waiting for. Unfortunately, the general is turned down. Seeing how hard it is on him, Bob has another great idea to help the “old man” out.
He phones his friend in the television business telling him he wants to contact all the men under the general’s command during the war and invite them all out to Pine Tree Vermont for a special show in honor of the general.
Emma, the housekeeper, listens in on another line but only hears the man encouraging Bob to televise the whole thing and play off the old man’s hard luck. What she doesn’t hear is Bob’s refusal to do such a thing to the general and she tells Betty what she thought she heard.
From then on Bob and Betty’s relationship goes steadily downhill as Betty continually gives him the cold shoulder.
Ever trying to fix things up, Phil and Judy come to the conclusion the two are in love but Betty is unwilling to walk out on Judy and the act. So they agree to a temporary engagement, hoping it will give Betty the freedom she doesn’t feel she has.
Betty takes it differently, though she is happy for the two of them. She catches a train for New York where she has taken a job at the Carousel Club. While at the train station to inform them of the heavy crowd they should expect on Christmas Eve, Bob sees Betty and tries to stop her.
Obviously their plan didn’t work and Judy is heartbroken. They confess all to Bob who reprimands them on their foolishness. Going to New York as well for the television spot, Bob assures Judy he’ll try to bring Betty back.
Oce in New York, Bob tells Betty the truth about Phil and Judy’s engagement. But, although cordial, Betty refuses to come back.
In an effort to keep the general away from the television where Bob is giving his invitation to all the boys, Phil claims to have fallen down the stairs and broken his leg.
In New York, Betty hears Bob’s speech to the men in the general’s division and realizes that she was wrong about him. She jumps on the next train to Vermont and arrives in time for the show to everyone’s joy. Its not long before Bob and Betty are back together.
Through a shrewd move on the part of Emma, the general wears his uniform to what he believes to be the opening of the show. To his surprise, the spotlight is on him.
Like the show they did years before, the men sing “The Old Man” number all dressed in uniform. The general, obviously happy to see them all, shakes the men’s hands and thanks Bob and Phil.
The show ends with Irving Berlin’s hit “White Christmas”, revealing a truly white Christmas after all.
As I said at the beginning, this is one of my all-time favourites. The music is memorable, the dancing is the best, and the plot is totally remarkable. Not forgetting the excellent costume.
Just so you know, my favourite song is the one Rosemary Clooney sings at the Carousel Club called “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me”. I like all the music, but this one fits my style of singing, which is more jazz/slow-love-song type.
Interestingly, the part of Phil Davis was written for Fred Astaire as a comeback for the two after doing so well in Holiday Inn together, but by that time Fred had retired. So the part was rewritten for Donald O’Connor. But O’Connor was fighting a bout with pneumonia and pulled out. Danny Kaye was the next and eventual choice.
Anyone who knows anything about old movies should recognize Betty and Judy’s brother (merely a picture Judy shows to Bob and Phil) as Alfalfa, Carl Switzer, who also happens to be the jilted lover in It’s a Wonderful Life.
Finally, the unscripted laughing of Bing and Danny isn’t all the joke. In fact, the whole mock dance by the two men was the result of them clowning around backstage. Evidentally the director thought it good for the plot and decided to write it in. Neither Danny nor Bing could keep a straight face, resulting in many takes. The one in the movie was the best they could do.
For more White Christmas trivia, click here.
And that wraps up this review. Thanks for reading. And since its too late to say Merry Christmas, I’ll instead wish you a Happy New Year! My next, and last, Classic Christmas Movie Review will be It’s a Wonderful Life.