Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Holiday Inn (1942)

This Inn Ain't Big Enough For The Two Of Us

- Some holiday films center around one holiday but the 1942 Irving Berlin-composed musical Holiday Inn manages to sing, dance and romance through most of the major American holidays inside 100 minutes.

After a butting heads over loving the same woman, song-and-dance team Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) and Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) go their separate ways. Hurt but generally content with their new paths, Ted hits the road with his new fiance and Jim retires to his farm in Connecticut to kick it back and be lazy. Deciding that the life of a farmer was not all it was cracked up to be, Jim's entrepreneurial spirit moves him to transform his farm into a seasonal entertainment hot spot called Holiday Inn, offering dining, dancing and performances only on major holidays. Jim's Holiday Inn fails to tempt his former partner Ted into coming aboard, as the revenue generated by regularly working all year did not seem worth giving up for working only 15 days a year, but Jim does secure the undiscovered but promising talent of Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds). Linda's beauty, talent and allure prove too much for the love-starved Jim, who almost immediately falls for her. However, when Ted's fiance leaves for greener (as in wealthier) pastures, he heads to Jim's Holiday Inn for a job and sympathetic ear. Things soon come full circle between Ted and Jim when Ted tries to employ and engage the lovely Linda; but Jim is not planning to walk away this time.

Holiday Inn is a very enjoyable film full of laughs, song, dance and romance - but it is not without its staggeringly noticeable flaws. While Jim's Holiday Inn offers holiday-themed shows on all of the more obvious holidays (Christmas, Valentine's Day, Independence Day, New Years, etc.), a couple of bizarre holidays make the line-up. The birthdays of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are honored in the film (now we "celebrate" one Presidents' Day with all the presidents in mind). The film's worship of George Washington is really just annoying, perpetuating the seemingly indestructible myth that George Washington could never tell a lie. However, the film's undying adoration for Abraham Lincoln jumps headfirst off the balcony of mere irritation and into the stands of complete offensiveness. The film used celebrating Lincoln's birthday as an opportunity to feature a musical number in blackface. Yikes. I do not understand how blackface ever became a popular genre and it is utterly painful to watch. The lyrics to Berlin's song "Abraham" add insult to injury:
When black folks lived in slavery
Who was it set the darkie free?
Abraham, Abraham

When trouble came down from the shelf
Who's heart was bigger than himself?
Abraham, Abraham
The idea that Abraham Lincoln cared at all about the slaves or black people in general is an unfortunately all-too common misconception; Lincoln's black resettlement program goes nearly without mention these days. As if a blackface number was not unbearable enough to watch, this big-hearted, selfless and altogether false heroic caricature of Lincoln firmly finishes the job of insulting the viewer. Luckily, these scenes are not long enough to condemn the rest of the film which is by and large an enjoyable and well-made musical.

Since both are Irving Berlin-penned song and dance films, both star Bing Crosby and both take place during the holiday season, Holiday Inn and White Christmas (1954) are inevitably compared. The matchup is tight; I definitely prefer some aspects of Holiday Inn more than White Christmas. The dance numbers are far more enjoyable in Holiday Inn, thanks in large part to the incredible talents of Fred Astaire, than they are in White Christmas. The characters are also more engaging in Holiday Inn; Fred Astaire is a charming sleazebag, much more fun to watch than the sweet-natured nervousness of Danny Kaye. Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney give fine performances in White Christmas but Marjorie Reynolds is absolutely enchanting in every frame in Holiday Inn. Bing Crosby is even better in Holiday Inn than he is in White Christmas as the care-free and successful Bob Wallace; Crosby portrays much more dimension, most notably a sympathetic shade of uncertainly and vulnerability, in his performance of Jim Hardy.

However, although Holiday Inn does a few things better than White Christmas, I will take White Christmas over Holiday Inn in the end. If Holiday Inn had not gone completely out of its way to deify two American presidents, going blackface in the process, it might have been an even closer match. However, the songs heard in White Christmas are even better than that in Holiday Inn (although the Academy Award-winning song "White Christmas" was actually first heard in Holiday Inn) and, as much as I enjoy David Abel's atmospheric black-and-white cinematography in Holiday Inn, the wonderful VistaVision visuals and grand scope of White Christmas are hard to beat.

CBC Rating: 7/10

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