Looking back on… White Christmas

White Christmas (1954)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Dean Jagger, Mary Wickes, John Brascia, Anne Whitfield
Written by Lee
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If Christmas is the most saccharine, most twee, most sentimental of all the annual holidays, then there comes a need to play up to that warmth of spirit; tell comforting stories of kindness and romance and that ever-indomitable (admittedly Americanised) human spirit. And so let us not consider your Wonderful Life’s or your Christmas Carol’s, stories that certainly convey the very range of human happiness (or misery, if you get bummed out before the endings); let us instead turn our attention to White Christmas, an old-timey song-and-dance film about old-timey people singing and dancing. Also Christmas.

It’s not the most complicated plot, nor should it be: Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) share a General while serving in World War II, whom they admire and who is relieved of command while on tour. After the war, and after some heroics on Phil’s part, Bob and Phil team-up to become a globe-sweeping entertainment act. Along their travels, they meet a female double-act, Betty and Judy, who they both fall for and, as the story winds on, they end up at a hotel owned by their old general and decide to put on a show to help business and send the old guy off. Also everyone falls in love, and there’s some drama interjected to keep this plot from resolving the moment it starts.

There’s little use in pretending this a great piece of art; while popular at the time of release, critics were more impressed with the visual format it came out in than the folky, soppy story it told. It’s real ol’-fashion Hollywood about stars and their perpetual need to shine, meshed with that 50s duty of protecting post-war vets who never got their due, all while singing a song and humming a tune and dancing a dance to keep those smiley folks at home smiling. It’s a little all over the place, to put it bluntly.

Sentimentality is both the pride and curse of Christmas, as it is exactly what those who love Christmas perceive as its highest virtue and those who hate the season dread most. But, then, does that not make the movies that embrace sentimentality in their core message the most representative of Christmas, warts and all?

There’s something about the simplicity of watching two couples fall in love over their shared interest in dancing and singing; the scope of the show they plan, the shallow lows that barely convince you this isn’t going to work out, the dizzying heights of seeing such grand Hollywood spectacle unravel in typical gaudy form. Something about this older style of film-making and its foray into Christmas works because, underneath it all, both are as tacky as the other.

The music is nice, the dancing distracts, and there actually is something of a tender moment when the General finally arrives at the celebration in his honour; it’s just nice. And that final payoff of snow falling in Pine Tree really does make for a charming spectacle, cheap as it is. It’s sentimental sap, but it’s the pure, unapologetic kind that really embodies the best of Christmas’s intentions; caring and appreciating your fellow man.

Get cosy and warm, put this on, have a drink and feel free to not pay too much attention; it’ll win you over before you even know it. Sure, you’ve probably heard the song White Christmas before in Holiday Inn; don’t think too hard about that.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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One comment

  1. Film appreciation is obviously subjective, but I favor White Christmas better than 7 out of 10 for a few reasons… First, there is the human element. Wallace and Davis are big stars yet lack big egos (with each year that passes I find increasing contrast with the reality of today’s stars). They have a genuine and admirable respect and concern for the General.

    Then there is the talent and multi-faceted entertainment consideration…Today’s movies tend to lack the vaudeville/theater feel that older movies thrived on (e.g. snappy/high-paced/witty back-and-forth banter). Today’s stars can’t or don’t generally sing and tap dance. I actually think it was, in this regard, harder to be a movie star back in the day. White Christmas is a classic song and is featured prominently in the film bearing the same name.

    Next, there is the story. While you find it simple, I find it charming and symmetrical. The troops in WWII long for Christmas at home, away from the dangers and discomforts of the battlefield. With a New England feel, the painted backdrop Wallace and Davis perform in front of foreshadows their later appearance in Vermont. The troops and entertainers demonstrate again a selfless love for the general, who is leaving his leadership post.

    At the film’s conclusion, the story comes together with the troops once again rallying–now in Vermont/New England–around their beloved General. This demonstrates the true Christmas spirit of doing for and being generous to others, even if there’s nothing in it for you (e.g. Davis refuses the opportunity to promote his own act on the Ed Harris show). Today’s Christmas movies tend to be about the stars getting what they want (e.g. the Family Man with Nicolas Cage).

    Finally, there is the look. The first film shot in VistaVision, it’s just a colorful treat. For all of our high tech advances in filming, there’s something quaint and vivid about high contrast purples and greens, reds and blues of the costumes and sets.

    Obviously I’m a fan of this Christmas movie, which is for me, about humility (even if you’re a big star), selflessness and respect.

    Merry Christmas to all and God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

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