Every Sunday, Film School Rejects presents a film that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents:
White Christmas (1954)
While walking through a major store the other day, I noticed that all of their Christmas gear had already been broken out, and I felt that that sent a central message to shoppers that Thanksgiving is easily overlooked. The hell with Thanksgiving. Bring on Christmas.
I’ve decided to join in the exclusionary spirit, completely bypassing Thanksgiving (as if my entries seem themed in the first place), and go straight to the source of holiday cheer that is the only holiday that can leave the streets and highways of Los Angeles empty.
And what better way than to spotlight White Christmas?
I recognize that for some modern audiences, this film will seem completely dated. It’s one of those films that was birthed from the stage show, from Vaudeville, and stands halfway between the musical genre (where people just burst out into song randomly) and a film genre where entertainers use real stages and real performances within the narrative to deliver musical numbers aside the usual plot progression.
Bing Crosby teams with Danny Kaye as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis – two Army veterans and entertainers who decide they want to put on a huge show for their former mentor and CO, Major General Thomas Waverly (Dean Jagger). Of course, this is only after their main plan to sneak away from work responsibilities with the gorgeous Haynes Sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen as Betty and Judy) turns sour due to a noticeable lack of snow in scenic Vermont. That lack has kept away the tourism trade that Waverly now depends on as an inn owner, so the huge show turns into a benefit not only for old time’s sake but for the future of the business as well.
Like I said, I can understand why it would seem dated, but the chemistry between Crosby and Kaye should resonate with any audience. Over fifty years later, we still have a huge number of films released every year that attempt to capture the buddy comedy spirit that these two men embodied here (and where Crosby and Hope helped pioneer in their Road To movies). You can see the roots of films like I Love You, Man and The Hangover buried deep in a movie like this. Crosby and Kaye are an odd couple, one free-spirited and reckless, the other refined and serious with a good sense of humor. Both are trying pretty hard to make romance work with two beautiful ladies. Both wear comically large santa hats in the finale.
And that’s really the entire point and an argument that modern audiences are already used to hearing. There are some serious issues with the movie – no depth, random placement of musical numbers, a nearly non-existent plot that gets stretched out. However, the movie is still wildly entertaining. To quote half of the commenters for Neil’s Transformers 2 review, “They weren’t trying to make Hamlet here.” [Spelling corrected]
It’s a fun movie that will probably wash right out of your memory as quickly as new fallen snow, but with some attractive people oozing charisma and performing some great Irving Berlin music while carrying out a funny, heartfelt task, the movie remains a fantastic entry into the holiday library.
And for film buffs who care about this sort of thing, White Christmas is the first film to ever use VistaVision – one of the original Hi-Def 35mm variants. I know, I know. It’s no Cinerama. But it was still game changing.
I grew up watching this movie with my mother, and it became a sort of tradition during the holidays. Although, I admit that I had trouble relating to it considering it had never snowed growing up on the beaches of sunny Texas. Still, White Christmas lies in that realm of filmmaking that won’t challenge the audience at all, won’t make them think, won’t display any greater human truths, but is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. It’s better than Thanksgiving, and if you really want an interesting afternoon, double feature it with the original Black Christmas.