I Have Never Seen ‘White Christmas’

By  · Published on December 24th, 2014

Paramount Pictures

Classic Christmas movies have never been my bag. I’ve still not seen It’s a Wonderful Life and I’m iffy on musicals, too. I don’t dislike them or anything, there’s plenty I’ve enjoyed. I just haven’t seen a lot of older ones. But hell, White Christmas is my sister-in-law’s all-time favorite, apparently, so I decided to give it a shot.

Here’s what’s weird about White Christmas: It’s oddly modern. By that, I mean it does a lot of things that people decry as the death of Hollywood ideas today. For example, it’s a remake. Specifically, it’s based on Holiday Inn (yes, like the hotel chain – they’re named after the film) which was another Irving Berlin movie and also starred Bing Crosby. That famous song, “White Christmas”? It didn’t even come from this film. It came from Holiday Inn and they just re-used it here and stole its title. And it wasn’t like a small part of that movie. It won the Oscar that year for Best Original Song. If a movie did that today, audiences would freak the hell out.

Another thing is that it’s pretty shameless spectacle. It was one of the first films in “VistaVision”, Paramount’s attempt at reintroducing widescreen films to theaters, which hadn’t been seen since before World War II. Bringing back old technology that had already been thrown on the scrap pile in decades past? Cue the eye rolls.

I feel compelled to talk more about the strange aspects of White Christmas than anything else. Like how 90% of the film has nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever, except that that’s just when the movie happens to be set. It starts out looking like a war film. Then, suddenly, the war’s over and Crosby and Danny Kaye are old partners in the entertainment industry. And then they’re suddenly scouting talent at the behest of an old Army buddy. And then they’re going to Vermont where their old commanding officer coincidentally runs an inn. And then they’re putting on a huge spectacle of a show there.

Then the plot finally settles down and starts moving at a less manic pace. Except for the very beginning (where it’s Christmas Eve somewhere in Europe during World War II) and the very end (when Bing and Danny put on their Christmas show for their former general) Christmas is barely mentioned at all. A bit odd for a Christmas film, I’d say, but it’s more just a Christmas film purely by circumstance anyway. It could have taken place at pretty much any other time of the year and been the exact same, plot-wise. Presumably, setting it during Christmas was a necessity brought about because of the title, which I imagine was chosen because of the continuing popularity of the song. Considering how many of the songs and dance numbers were re-used from other stage shows and movies for this film, I’d place good odds that the main story line was originally from a completely different script.

That’s not a knock on the film at all, especially because it has the added side effect of not being a lazy tearjerker like a lot of Christmas films. It’s funny and it’s charming, not sappy and overwrought. Kaye gets some great lines that actually made me laugh. Not to say old movies can’t be funny, but, sadly, humor tends to age poorly no matter the film. (If we could solve the mystery of humor aging poorly, I think audiences today would have a much closer relationship with the ghosts of cinema past.)

Bing and Rosemary Clooney have great chemistry, as do Kaye and Vera-Ellen. Oddly, Vera-Ellen, she of two first names with a hyphen, was never really in anything else after White Christmas. She had one more film and dropped off the face of the earth. She was apparently more of a dancer, anyway, as Clooney dubbed in her singing voice. (Another thing that audiences would raise eyebrows at today.)

It’s a nice enough film if you can get into musicals, though I’m still obviously conflicted on whether or not to qualify it as a Christmas film. It’s a film that happens to involve Christmas. Let’s leave it at that.

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