Saturday, December 29, 2012

White Christmas (1954)

Christmas Cheer in VistaVision

- The annals of film offer the cinephile a lot of film choices during the Christmas season. White Christmas (1954) is one of the most colorful and fun Christmas films ever assembled - and one of the most enjoyable within the lager musical genre - though perhaps not exactly a flawless, top tier film.

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye star as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, a performance team that hit it big after their return from World War II. Phil saved Bob's life during the war and has never allowed Bob to live it down; forcing Bob into many paths he otherwise would not have ventured down. Phil's often-failed but never-ending mission to find Bob a wife lands the two of them tied up with the Haynes Sisters, Judy (Vera-Ellen, who had previously worked with Danny Kaye in Wonder Man (1945)) and Betty (Rosemary Clooney, the aunt of George Clooney), who are on their way to Vermont to perform at the Pine Tree Ski Lodge for the holiday season.

Arriving in Vermont, the group is disappointed to learn that no snow had fallen during the season and the lodge is subsequently being closed down. Their disappointment grows exponentially when they learn that the owner of the lodge is their very own General Waverly (Dean Jagger), whom they were especially grateful for during their time as soldiers in the war. Rather than lament the fall of an important man in their lives, Bob and Phil decide to bring their Broadway show to the General's lodge, using their celebrity to bring business his way. Of course, in the midst of all this the usually disinterested Bob immediately falls for Betty while Phil also easily falls for her sister Judy.

While not particularly envelope-pushing, interesting or brilliant in one way or another as far as characters, story or thematic quality goes; White Christmas is pure Christmas film fun. Visually however, White Christmas is brilliant. The first movie to be filmed in glorious but short-lived VistaVision (like Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and John Ford's The Searchers (1956)), White Christmas is a plush, colorful visual treat. Director Michael Curtiz (Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Casablanca (1942)) gives great warmth and scope to White Christmas. No expense is spared in putting on this large-scale Christmas production; everything from the sets to the costumes to the dancing choreography is giant-sized. Irving Berlin's songs are likewise given a grand, merry treatment by musical director Joseph J. Lilley and the talented cast - my favorites are "Snow," the "Minstrel Number" and, of course, the title song "White Christmas" (first heard in the Bing Crosby-starred Holiday Inn (1942)).

White Christmas is great Christmas fun on a large scale but the film's glorification of the armed forces is a bit disconcerting. I can understand wanting to help out a man who stuck his neck out for you on a daily basis during possibly the most horrible war mankind has ever seen but the film goes far beyond that. The most blatant example of this is the song "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army." What? Really? You guys want to be back in the army? Were you two not present at the beginning of the film when bombs were being dropped all around you!?!?

So while White Christmas might not be the most perfect film ever created, it remains one of the most fun films to watch during the Christmas season due to its fun songs, talented leads and VistaVision splendor.

CBC Rating: 7/10

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