Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954)
Two things I should tell you before we dive in:
1) As of this writing, it has yet to snow in my city. Which is Portland, Maine. It’s December 20th.
2) I was raised by Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I have seen very few Christmas movies.
Okay… White Christmas!
Hey, you know what surprised me right off the bat about White Christmas? That it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Christmas. Or that it would feature explosions.
That’s right, it opens on a combat zone. Captain Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) are a couple of singin’, dancin’ soldiers under the command of Major General Thomas F. Waverly (Dean Jagger). After the war, Bob and Phil tour the country as entertainers. Their travels introduce them to fellow performers the Haynes Sisters, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen). The four of them end up running into Waverly, and he’s fallen on hard times, so they work together to try and help him out. Aww.
Why, he’s the very model of a modern… Dean Jagger.
I won’t lie, the plot seemed fairly thin for a two-hour movie, but it at least had more substance than your standard Christmas flick. I’ll take a story about veterans banding together and finding love along the way over the generic “I hope it snows on Christmas because Christmas is magic” narrative I was expecting.
Though that is still part of the plot.
Welp, if the script’s a little light, all the more reason to pack it with charming performances and catchy numbers, right?
Normally I’d go by order of appearance, but damn, we’ve gotta skip right to the best, because Dean Jagger is great, despite having minimal screen time. He’s a somewhat stubborn but ultimately good-hearted military man, and the two speeches he gives at the beginning and end of the film will knock you over with equal parts grit and tenderness.
Like Patton and Santa Claus had a baby.
Bing… look, I’ve seen a lot of Bing this year. He’s always just Bing Crosby. And that’s totally fine, because he’s a charming motherfucker, but I’m getting sorta tired of talking about his acting every time since it never changes.
If you know any roles that really show off Bing’s range, shout ‘em out.
Bing always needs a slightly funnier but also charming fella to play off of, and Danny Kaye certainly fits the bill. I’d rank him as -2 rascally and +1 doofy on the Bob-Hope-O-Meter.
I think we’re all on the same page here.
I missed Vera-Ellen’s performance the whole movie because I couldn’t stop staring at her waist.
Okay, seriously, Vera-Ellen is fine as the more excitable and fun-loving sibling, while Rosemary is more practical and protective. They’re a great duo with some real sisterly warmth between them.
Don’t squeeze too hard.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
The first thing I’ve gotta say about the musical numbers in White Christmas is that there are an astonishing amount of reprises. Maybe I should discuss them all first to get them out of the way? Like, even though I’ve watched very few Christmas movies, I’ve seen this iconic “White Christmas” sequence repeatedly every holiday season…
…and heard it in every mall…
…but I must say, I prefer the version that opens the film, as it’s sung somberly to a group of soldiers wishing they were back home for Christmas.
That’s powerful stuff.
Also great is “The Old Man,” a song of loyalty to Major General Waverly, though this one is a bit of an odd choice to reprise. The first time it’s on the battlefield and the second time it’s at a celebration in his honor, but I don’t know if the context had really changed enough to warrant taking up extra screen time?
Eh, it’s a good song and it choked me up a bit.
On the opposite side of the poignancy spectrum is “Sisters.” The first time, it’s a club number for the Hayneses, detailing how close they are and won’t let a man come between them… or let each other steal their men. Tee hee, fun song, nice tune, but then you’ll really get a kick out of it when… get this… two men sing it!
HOLY SHITBLASTING FUCKSAUCE, COMEDY IS CANCELLED FOREVER.
I mean, you know, mild chuckles, I guess.
And the last reprised ditty is “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing,” which is first seen as a very… well, musicalish number, with rehearsed dancing on a romantically fakey set…
…but then returns in a scene of people casually dancing at a party.
I guess the other thing I should mention is that the dances and/or the imagery often stood out more than the songs themselves. I’m struggling to recall melodies or lyrics without consulting my notes, but I absolutely remember the excitement everyone feels for Vermont’s winter weather in “Snow”…
For my money, the syrup is where it’s at.
…or the elaborate moves, colorful costumes, and crazy sets of “The Minstrel Number”…
Are those multiple Riddlers in the background?
…or the palpable sweetness between Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney as they sing the lullaby “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” by a cozy fire…
Who am I kidding? It’s too warm for fires.
…or the scathing criticism of artsy fartsy modern dance pushing quirky movements over feelings in “Choreography”…
Also, SO MUCH PURPLE.
…or Bing’s heartfelt plea for help in “What Can You Do with a General?”…
“Operators are standing buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-by.”
…or the blatant military propaganda of “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army”…
“War is basically just pillow fights and ice cream!”
…or the sad but oddly sultry “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” and HOLY SHIT, IS THAT BERNARDO FROM WEST SIDE STORY?
Confirmed, though he could use a left Shark to back him up.
Anyway, yeah. Great sequences, only partially catchy tunes. Sorry, Irving Berlin.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
I don’t care how much you love winter, this line from “Snow” is hella stupid…
“I’ll wash my hair with snow…”
White Christmas is a good movie to watch at Christmastime. It has pretty colors and a positive message and nice, if somewhat disposable, music, which, as I understand it, is what the season is all about.
But I’d rather watch Gremlins.