Directed by Michael Curtiz
Featuring the Songs of Irving Berlin
Two former GIs who have since WWII formed a successful song-and-dance team come to the aid of their former commanding officer as well as get involved with a pair of sisters in this Christmas musical classic.
Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) is the more serious of the pair and due to a sense of obligation to Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) over saving him at the beginning of the film, has paired up with Davis to become a rather successful duo. Kaye’s manic style coupled with Crosby’s paternal demeanor created a fantastic oddball pairing. Kaye was generally more energetic than Crosby ever was when either individual performed apart. It was a fantastic contrast that helped to define their respective characters.
For me what makes this movie is Danny Kaye. While Bing Crosby is the superior singer and performs the title (and his signature) song superbly, Kaye was the better comedienne. Bing was light comedy that was “nice” but did not make you actually laugh. Kaye’s whole style was to elicit laughter. From bug eyes to exaggerated reactions, he emphasized just how silly the scenario was. I am not talking smack on Bing here. I am just saying Kaye gave the film what it needed to become a classic. This film was intended to reunite Crosby with Fred Astaire who left the production who was replaced by Donald O’Connor who left the production and was replaced by Kaye. I think with the latter two it may have been an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable film. Kaye’s presence made White Christmas an enduring classic.
Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen play Betty and Judy Haynes, respectively. Judy is a bit of a con artist (similar in character to Phil) and has used their brother’s (Freckle-Faced Haynes the dog faced boy played by Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer in the photograph) personal connection in order to forge a letter to get the two entertainment players to check them out.
This is quite possibly the best Christmas musical of all times. There are so many wonderful songs and fantastic performances throughout this movie. The dialogue is snappy and funny. And it contains one of my favorite lines in film when dancer Barrie Chase (unbilled), who plays the character Doris Lenz, says line “Mutual, I’m sure!” at the gathering. I have heard it used in other places. I am not sure if it originated here but it kills me each time I watch this movie. It is just so hysterically stupid and out of left field.
While both renditions of the song White Christmas are fantastic (beginning/end of film), my favorite song and dance number is “Sisters” as performed by Kaye and Crosby. It is not well choreographed or the most technical of any in the film. It is just silly fun. Word is this performance was not originally in the script. Crosby and Kaye were goofing around on set and Michael Curtiz thought it was funny and filmed it.
Another reported improvisation (and just great scene) was the midnight snack scene where Wallace (Bing) explains his whole theory on food and dreams to Betty (Clooney). According to Clooney, Crosby made up the bulk of that. Knowing that and watching the scene makes you think old Bing really believed the whole thing.
Dean Jagger was never young. Or at least he never played a role where he was young that I have encountered. Here he is cast as the fatherly (and old) retired Major General Tom Waverly who is running the Columbia Inn in Pine Tree with his niece Susan (Anne Whitfield) and secretary Emma (Mary Wickes). He was six years younger than Crosby.
The sets of the inn were the same ones used twelve years early in Holiday Inn where the song White Christmas first appeared. I was unaware of the earlier film the first time I watched this but always thought the coloring of the sets was odd for a color film. Once I knew of and watched Holiday Inn it was obvious the set had been painted in grayscale for a black and white film and never received a new paint job before it was painted here.
The story in White Christmas is thin, but the film is really supposed to be a showcase for well-produced dance numbers and amazing songs. The story is almost secondary at times. Then again you are not here for a sophisticated tale. This is all wrapped up the wonders of the Christmas season.
White Christmas is quite possibly the most perfect Christmas song of all time. It encapsulates the season and the feelings that we should have at the time. It speaks of family and of pleasant memories and of home and those themes run in the film. I have seen Holiday Inn and while it is good when used there, here is where it really clicks. It is not because the movie is built around the song, though that helps. It is because the film touches on many of the things the song addresses. These characters are going home in a sense by returning to help Waverly or finding home by beginning romances all the while making pleasant memories during Christmas.
I will say this, when you watch the film if you want to listen to something with the best possible sound then watch it on Blu-ray. That is your best sound quality without a doubt. If you want the best picture quality, then you need to watch it on DVD. The Blu-ray transfer looked washed and seemed to lack detail that the DVD has. Just my thoughts.
White Christmas is a great film. It is a classic that cannot be equaled. If you have a chance to see this you should. It has great music and great acting and it contains the greatest Christmas song of all time. It is a nearly perfect Christmas film.