(#6 in a 12-part series to be printed at the beginning of each month)
Manny P. here…
WHITE CHRISTMAS - Inspired by the biggest selling holiday song in modern history, this 1954 Technicolor gift, wrapped in tinsel, stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, and Dean Jagger. This was the first film to be presented in the wide-screen format, Vista Vision; and it was directed by Michael Curtiz, best known for his work on The Adventures of Robin Hood and Casablanca.
Why do I include the top grossing film of 1954 in a series dedicated to forgotten cinema classics? Over the years, this movie has been shoved aside by television’s decision to repeatedly air Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life. And every year, gobs of new holiday faire grace our movie palaces. As the generations pass, White Christmas is becoming the forgotten viewing tradition.
Bing Crosby deserves a better fate. His name is associated to other Christmas carols, including Do You Hear What I Hear and Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth (sung with David Bowie). Bing WAS Christmas for Americans during Hollywood’s Golden Age. And, Count Your Blessings, Instead of Sheep from the film, and written by Irving Berlin, was nominated for an Oscar. In fact, Berlin wrote all the tunes for White Christmas. The title tune actually received a statuette for Best Song in 1942 when it was featured in Holiday Inn.
This delight also features cameos by George Chakiris, Barry Chase, Johnny Grant (the former mayor of Hollywood), and oddly, Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer’s photo is used. Originally cast in the film was Fred Astaire, who declined after reading the script. Donald O’Connor replaced Astaire, but bowed out due to illness. Danny Kaye was then called and he accepted the role.
The teaming of Crosby and Kaye was inspired. This film had a “Road Picture” feel to it. But, Danny Kaye is a better dancer and singer, if not funnier, than Bob Hope.
Rosemary Clooney performs like an edgy June Allyson. And, who doesn’t love her voice when she sings! Vera-Ellen was handed dance routines reminiscent of sequences made famous by Cyd Charisse. Dean Jagger almost steals the film from the stars with his warm authoritative style as a retired commander. VERA ELLEN / ROSEMARY CLOONEY –>
Finally, the script harkened back to those wonderful moments in Busby Berkeley and Mickey Rooney / Judy Garland motion pictures that set up musical segments on stage. Light drama mixed in with slapstick comedy make this a yearly pilgramage for me (I own a copy of the DVD).
Surprisingly, many of the tunes in White Christmas share no relationship with the Holidays, which hurts the production. Two segments: Choreography and What Can You Do With a General are weak efforts by the team of Irving Berlin and Bob Fosse.
Berlin made the unfortunate decision to dust off former hits from his collection and insert them into the movie. That said, the highlight of the motion picture score comes early with Crosby and Kaye lip-synching Sisters; and the four stars singing Snow.
Supporting Actor Spotlight
Mary Wickes has a wonderful time in White Christmas as the manager of the Vermont inn owned by General Waverly (Dean Jagger). Her support to the stars is wickedly funny in a part she was destined to play.
A St. Louis-native, Wickes made her film debut in The Man Who Came to Dinner in 1942. She was comfortable on stage, radio, and the silver screen. She’s best known for comical roles in Who Done it?, Now Voyager, On Moonlight Bay, The Music Man, and the Sister Act-series of pictures.
Her wisecracking nature fit well on television. She was close friends with Lucille Ball and Doris Day. Each star invited her to appear on their programs. She also had guest spots on The Mickey Mouse Club, The Match Game, Make Room for Daddy, and Dennis the Menace.
Mary Wickes received an Emmy-nomination in 1962, and was posthumously inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2004.
A stage adaptation of the musical, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, premiered in San Francisco in 2004, and has been booked in various venues around the U.S., including Boston, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Detroit and Louisville. Another version of this production has played to sold-out houses throughout Great Britain.
I endorse taking in as much holiday entertainment as possible in 2011. Don’t forget to add White Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the animated television production with Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscroft) on your to-watch list.
Until next time> “never forget”