25 Days of Christmas: White Christmas (1954)
This originally ran December 14th, 2011. Really my thoughts on this film haven’t changed. I still adore Vera-Ellen‘s dancing but I don’t love this movie.
Yep, it’s official: I’m not a Bing Crosby fan. It’s not the movies themselves that are bad, but as an actor Crosby’s just so bland that I struggle to get through his films. I will admit tonight’s movie, White Christmas, was better than Holiday Inn, but I still don’t see this as a film I’ll rewatch next year. The only reasons to watch this are the final Christmas scene and the PHENOMENAL dancing of Vera-Ellen. Other than that, the film has a confusing message and two uninspiring lead actors.
Successful war vets turned song-and-dance team Bob Wallace (Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), decide to introduce a sisters singing group composed of Judy and Betty Haynes (Vera-Ellen, Rosemary Clooney). The sisters are on their way to a small hotel for a singing gig in Vermont and the boys tag along. While there, Bob and Phil discover the hotel is run by their former General, Thomas Waverly (Dean Jagger) who is about ready to close up shop. As love blossoms between the two sets of singers, Bob is determined to make the men of his past army company come down and prove to Waverly he isn’t forgotten.
This is considered the companion to Holiday Inn, made 12 years after and both have similar themes. Crosby plays a mild-mannered, “aw shucks” guy who just hasn’t found the right girl, and there’s a lot of song and dance…so, really it’s only mildly similar to Holiday Inn. The female performers are the reason to enjoy this; both Clooney and Vera-Ellen make Holiday Inn star Marjorie Reynolds look like an amateur. Betty is strong-willed with a voice to match and there is something so strong about Rosemary Clooney. I’ve never seen her young, so it was shocking to see how beautiful she was. The true stand-out for me was Vera-Ellen as little sister Judy. The woman is beautiful, sweet, and a bit of a dip, but boy can she dance! The dance numbers with her are intense; she’s constantly moving, dipping, twirling. One scene in particular has her going up a set of stairs which looks like she has no bones. I’ve only seen dancing that grueling in men, but Ellen makes it look effortless; it’s no surprise she danced with both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. The fact she’s so petite is even more shocking because she looks like she’ll break; it’s sad to know that her body was so controlled through anorexia, and when the camera is close to her face you can see how that’s rapidly aged her. Despite playing Clooney’s young sister, she looks and was significantly older than Clooney.
Aside from our lovely ladies who have personalities and aren’t just set dressing like Marjorie Reynolds, I was just as disengaged from this movie as Crosby’s last. He’s so boring in this movie, constantly complaining, and trying hard to play humble. I was able to see this on Blu-Ray, and if you do see this movie see it on Blu! The picture is breathtaking and the VistaVision is used to its full effect. With that though comes seeing things the audience wasn’t meant to see, mainly how much pancake makeup and rouge is on Crosby’s face to make him look younger. You can’t tell how much older than Fred Astaire Crosby was in Holiday Inn, but here he looks like Danny Kaye’s father painted up like a China doll. It’s even more laughable to believe he’s younger – young enough to still be a bachelor – than Dean Jagger as the General. Jagger looks the same age as Crosby, which makes sense considering they’re only six months apart in age! Danny Kaye is equally bland as Phil, and it’s obvious he was a last-minute replacement to Donald O’Connor. I would have loved to see O’Connor in this movie, and it seems like Kaye was told to play Donald O’Connor and not the character of Phil Davis. Not only do the two resemble each other, but Kaye is nervous and overemphasizes his one-liners. There’s nothing unique or memorable about him.
The film also appears skewed in its message. It takes place at a failing resort like Holiday Inn, and even pays “tribute” to the heinous Abraham minstrel show of Holiday Inn fame (although this one doesn’t deal with blackface, and ramps up the tempo, but Crosby still mentions it as “the Abraham number”). The film starts off introducing Phil and Bob as veterans, then it introduces their success as song and dance men. When they get to the inn it becomes all about them paying tribute to their general, making sure the veterans aren’t forgotten, etc. That’s great, but when you devote so much time to a love story, and this movie is two hours long, only to spend the last 40 minutes on the war it’s a bit disjointed. I know this movie came out as WWII was ending but director Michael Curtiz never seamlessly integrates everything. It seems like a love story sandwiched between a war story (lamb and tuna fish).
I did enjoy White Christmas more than Holiday Inn, but it wasn’t by much. I’d recommend watching the Vera-Ellen dance scenes and the ending performance of the title song (which I had seen several times before this). The movie is long, boring, and Crosby is just as dry as wood. I wanted to like this, or at least understand why others did, and couldn’t find it. Is there something I’m missing? Don’t say a heart!
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Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s are two classic Bing Crosby films!!!
Bells of St. Mary’s I have on my list to see since I love Ingrid Bergman.
NOPE! Holiday INN is my preferred film!
My Holiday Inn review I think was a tad meaner than this one lol.
Going My Way is a touching film and Bing is quite good as Father O’Malley. I suppose one could argue that he is helped a lot by his supporting actor, Barry Fitzgerald. The Academy did award Bing with the Best Actor Oscar for the role, so were they all wrong, or bribed?? Or both??? My fave Bing movies are the road pictures he made with Bob Hope. I recently saw Road to Utopia-they crack me up every time. 🙂
I love love love this movie.it is what it is a heartwarming christmas movie with great acting , music and characters. Yes you not need a heart but some taste.sorry
No apology necessary Donna. Much like opinions we’re all entitled to our own filmic tastes. Thanks for reading!
Awwww. I love this film. I think it’s my favorite Christmas film. I must admit, it’s not because of Bing or Rosemary, though. I think the romance between Judy and Phil steals the show. Bob is okay, although a bit low key and I find Betty to be very grating. I just love Phil coming to realize he actually loves Judy. Didn’t know it was originally supposed to be Donald O’Conner in this, but I can see that.
Also loved the Sisters lip sync! I’m glad they went with the take where they were both laughing at the end. The General is endearing, as is his granddaughter, but the housekeeper…well, without her there wouldn’t be a conflict, but…
I could listen to Snow on a loop!!
I’m not crazy about the film, either. I admire Vera-Ellen’s dancing, but miss the cute, baby-fatted Vera-Ellen off Wonder Man (I really do suspect the anorexia that contributed to her death was borne of a desire to escape the “cute” moniker of her Broadway and early film years). I think Bing is best seen in his early Paramount years (and yeah, with Bob), and Kaye’s masterpiece is the vastly underrated The Five Pennies (one of the most perfect of all Hollywood films, IMO).
“I know this movie came out as WWII was ending…”
I didn’t realize that WWII ended in 1954.
Bing Crosby wasn’t that crazy about the film either, blaming the script. “That should have been a classic,” he said.
White Christmas is one of my top ten Christmas movies. I’m not a big fan of Bing Crosby either but I think Danny Kaye did a good job. It’s his only movie that I like. Irving Berlin’s music makes any movie worth watching, imo.
Aside from the four leads, the film has Mary Wickes, great costumes, and “Sisters.” Both the original and the lip-sync are fantastic. When I was a kid, there was no TCM. We watched what local stations could afford which meant that I saw Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas every year. It’s just not Christmas if I don’t see all three again. In my mind, the perfect Christmas party dress is still red velvet, trimmed in white fur (faux, of course).
George Charkiris, one of the main dancers was cast in a starring role in “West Side Story” five years later.