In 1942, Bing Crosby starred in Mark Sandrich’s Holiday Inn and performed the now-classic Irving Berlin song “White Christmas”. Twelve years later, Paramount would have him star in a film named directly for that song, this time directed by Michael Curtiz. The two films have a bit more in common than just the song. Both films are centered around a song-and-dance act and a rural Vermont inn. But fortunately for those who have seen Holiday Inn, White Christmas seeks to tell its own story. This time around, rather than a crooner and a tap dancer dueling over the affections of a single woman, the dancer is actively trying to get his crooner partner married off in the hopes that, if he has a personal life, maybe he’ll be less business-obsessed and they can take a break now and then.
Life being what it is, this somehow results in an even bigger production.
Danny Kaye plays Crosby’s partner in this film, and he works better as a foil than Fred Astaire did. Astaire’s and Crosby’s characters were a bit too much alike in Holiday Inn, while in White Christmas Kaye and Crosby are playing different types. Crosby is serious, a bit hard-nosed and pragmatic, but loyal to a fault. Kaye is just as devoted, but is a bit of an imp, who loves to get his laughs. They’re reflected in a sister act they encounter and team up with; Rosemary Clooney plays the practical sister, and Vera-Ellen the more reckless and brazen one. Naturally love blooms and just as naturally misunderstandings and wacky hijinks threaten the relationships.
This isn’t one of those films that you’ll be watching for the sake of being surprised; we all know what twists and turns the story will take and where it will end. No, the pleasure in this film is simply watching it make its way from point A to point B. We might be thoroughly familiar with these character archetypes, but that doesn’t make them any less charming. Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen are particularly entertaining as they connive their way into making their partners fall in love with each other, and Mary Wickes practically steals every scene she’s in as a nosy and talkative housekeeper. Crosby and Clooney have the more serious roles, and so they don’t get as many laughs, but they carry the emotional weight of the film as well as most of the singing duties.
As for the songs… well, it’ll surprise nobody that the pre-existing “White Christmas” is still the standout performance in the film. At least the ensemble performance at the end provides viewers with a substantially different version. The other songs are reasonably good, but aside from “Count Your Blessings” and perhaps “Sisters”, little will stick in the memory for long — and in the case of “Sisters”, while it’s a decent song, its memorableness is at least partly due to it being performed multiple times (at least three that I can recall offhand, maybe four).
Still, the film is fairly entertaining, and it’s easy to see why it became a holiday classic. For people who like musical films especially, it’s well worth checking out.