Holiday Classics: “White Christmas” (1954)

Irving Berlin’s song “White Christmas” had been out for around twelve years by the time a new movie musical of the same title that revolved around his music was made. Directed by the great Michael Curtiz, the plot of “White Christmas” is derived from the 1942 musical “Holiday Inn”, which also starred Bing Crosby and was the film in which Berlin’s “White Christmas” song debuted.

Bing Crosby in “White Christmas” with Danny Kaye at left

“White Christmas” is definitely more, well, Christmas-y than “Holiday Inn”, which took place on multiple holidays throughout the year. In “White Christmas”, the famous song-and-dance team of Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) team up with a pair of singing sisters, Judy (Vera-Ellen) and Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney). They travel to Vermont around Christmas time to perform a show at a lodge, where they discover that the lodge’s owner is Thomas Waverley (Dean Jagger), who was Bob and Phil’s commanding officer in the Army during World War II. When Waverley reveals that business hasn’t been great, Bob comes up with an elaborate plan to help him, while he and Phil become romantically involved with Betty and Judy.

Vera-Ellen performs in a music number from “White Christmas”

“White Christmas’ was the first movie to ever be released in Vistavision, a widescreen process created by Paramount. That, combined with the lavish Technicolor sets and costumes, makes for a very beautifully looking film, while also allowing more room on the screen to showcase the elaborate music numbers. The tone of “White Christmas” is a bit odd; it’s like a combination of the traditional movie musical, seen in numbers like the title song, “Sisters”, and “Snow”, with the modern musical, as displayed in song-and-dance numbers like “Choreography”. But as the story is also quite nostalgic and revolves around people trying to make the General still feel relevant in the changing world, that odd tone rather fits.

The cast of “White Christmas” is the biggest part of what makes it so fun to watch year after year. Danny Kaye and his extreme facial expressions are hilarious. Rosemary Clooney’s voice is lovely. Vera-Ellen is one of the most fluid dancers ever to grace the screen. And Bing Crosby is timeless. This is the third film in which he sang Berlin’s classic song, but the big finale in which he sings “White Christmas” alongside the rest of the cast is always moving.

“White Christmas” is currently streaming on Netflix. Runtime: 120 minutes.

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