Sunday, July 04, 2010

Christmas in July: White Christmas (1954)

Although it takes place mostly around the Christmas season, and has as its title song one of the most enduring holiday classics around (written by Irving Berlin, and originally showcased in 1942's very similar Holiday Inn), White Christmas isn't completely invested in being a Christmas movie. The musical opens with soldiers celebrating Christmas toward the end of World War II, giving us our first taste of the title song. There's a bit of comic business about distracting a stern commanding officer so that the men can celebrate the holiday, and then we fast-forward to after the war, and forget about Christmas for a while.

The meat of the story is about Army buddies-turned-nightclub duo Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Davis (Danny Kaye), who become smitten with sisters Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen), respectively, and follow them up to a Vermont ski resort that happens to be run by their old Army general. In the grand tradition of such loosely plotted endeavors, the quartet decides to put on a show to help the general bring in customers during a ski season decidedly light on snow. Mostly this is an excuse for director Michael Curtiz and choreographer Bob Fosse to stage a bunch of sprightly, often unrelated production numbers, although a few songs do connect to the holiday season, and the big finale is a reprise of the title song performed in Christmas regalia under a huge tree.

I enjoyed this movie more than Holiday Inn, maybe because it has a little more cohesion to its narrative and a little more development to its characters, and maybe because it doesn't have a cringe-inducing blackface number (although there is a song vaguely celebrating "minstrel shows"). It has a general feeling of holiday cheer without hitting too hard on the Christmas angle, and the main performers are all fun to watch. Some of the more extraneous musical numbers are a little forgettable, and the plot contrivances that stretch out the main love story (between Wallace and Betty) can get tiresome. But the movie looks great and has that fun putting-on-a-show vibe, and it managed to convince me of the appeal of a well-worn Christmas song, so I consider that a success.

The True Meaning of Christmas: Friends banding together to support each other.

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