Although it shares several notable elements with “Holiday Inn” (1942), including star Bing Crosby and songs by Irving Berlin, “White Christmas” (1954) is not really a remake of the earlier picture. Each one has its own merits, but I prefer “White Christmas,” partly because of the presence of Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney and partly because of the film’s post-war sentimentality about the men who served in World War II. Directed by Michael Curtiz, “White Christmas” is a holiday tradition for many families, a cheery, tender-hearted musical gift that keeps on giving more than fifty years after its original release.
Bing stars as musical entertainer Bob Wallace, who first meets future partner Phil Davis (Kaye) in the Army during the final days of World War II. Ten years later the boys are successful but still single when they meet Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen), the lovely singing sisters of an old Army pal. During the Christmas holidays, the four travel up to a struggling inn in Vermont, where they find love while working to put on a show for the benefit of the aging general (Dean Jagger) who led Wallace and Davis during the war.
As a musical comedy, “White Christmas” has a lot to offer. The title song is a hit, of course, but the irresistibly catchy “Sisters” might be the most memorable number in the film. It begs for a campy send-up so relentlessly that Crosby and Kaye do a semi-drag rendition of it just moments after its first performance. “Snow” features some lovely harmony, and Vera-Ellen and Danny Kaye have a wonderful dance duet with “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing.” Costumes by Edith Head and choreography by Bob Fosse ensure that the musical numbers and their performers look dazzling throughout.
The heart of the movie, however, lies in Dean Jagger’s soulful general and the strong feelings of loyalty and gratitude expressed by Wallace, Davis, and their fellow soldiers. The story begins in wartime, with weary men struggling to find a little Christmas Eve spirit among the ruins of the European front. General Waverly, limping and wounded, is being replaced, but the opening scenes establish his devotion to his men as Wallace and Davis perform “The Old Man” in a farewell tribute. A decade later, the world seems to have forgotten about heroes like Waverly, but Wallace and Davis show that the veterans of the war never forget. It must have been a moving experience for real life veterans seeing the film in 1954, and today it serves as a nostalgic reminder of the Greatest Generation and the war that changed their lives. It’s a sentimental story, no doubt, but genuine and moving nonetheless, especially if one is inclined to ponder thoughts of Christmas Past and long gone family members for whom that war was so much more than history.
For more Christmas classics, try “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) and “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947). Bing Crosby won an Oscar for “Going My Way” (1944) and starred in a whole series of popular “Road” pictures with Bob Hope. Look for more of Danny Kaye in “Hans Christian Anderson” (1952) and “The Court Jester” (1956). Dancer Vera-Ellen can be seen in “On the Town” (1949), while Rosemary Clooney also stars in the musical Western parody, “Red Garters” (1954). Don’t miss Dean Jagger in “Twelve O’Clock High” (1949) and “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955). For more films from director Michael Curtiz, try “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), “Casablanca” (1942), and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942).
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