Decemberpalooza Day 3 – White Christmas (1954)

White Christmas (1954)

Day three and I’m already losing steam.  Let’s forge ahead though as I watch “White Christmas” the 1954 Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye classic.  As with all of these films, I’ve never seen it, and in this case I’ve seen very little like it, having never really delved into the old musicals.  White Christmas is a film inspired by the Irving Berlin tune of the same name, written several years earlier in 1948.   The song remains the greatest selling single tune of all time, with over 50 million copies sold.  The movie is on Netflix if you’d like to hear the song twice.  Actually, if you’d like to hear every song in the movie twice, that’s fine too.   Because that happens.

So I’m not really sure how people go about reviewing the classics.  In my experience, it’s by pitching them a big old softball, pointing out that the makers of today’s films are undisciplined peabrains, and citing that every person involved in every second of screentime was radiant and alive in a way that makes modern man look like zombies.  This was not my experience.  However!  This film was heads and tails better than either of the other two films I’ve watched so far, and I think I can sum up why in a single sentence.  It’s because everyone involved visibly gives a shit.

The sound design is great!  The choreography is exceptional, and even though it’s got a fairly trite story it only has minimal amounts of weird Christmas moralizing.  Instead what we have here is a 50s style will-they/won’t-they romp, with a selection of incredibly game and talented actors.  It roams from well-designed set to well-designed set, telling the story of a couple of army buddies that fall in love with a pair of entertainer sisters, visit a Vermont bereft of snow, and rescue an old Army general’s ski lodge from closing down, all while singing a wide variety of songs, almost none of which have anything to do with Christmas.

That’s far and away the most unusual thing to me about White Christmas.  It’s set around the holiday, it features a big finale where it finally snows, and yet it is barely a Christmas movie.  It’s only tangentially Christmas-y.  It’s so cleanly removed that it looks vaguely as if they had a whole script at the ready and added the time of year and the White Christmas song at the last minute.  Instead, we get a set of comedic misunderstandings about whether or not Bing Crosby’s singer character is a manipulative jerk, and a fake engagement that quickly becomes a real one.

My primary issue with what is in essence a good and very watchable film is that they sing nearly every song in the film twice, and completely at that.  There’s one exception, a late number about how great it is to be in the army, but to make up for the exception there’s a fun song about two sisters being inseparable that is performed three distinct times during the film.  I don’t have a lot of basis for comparison to other old musicals, but this film is two hours long and it seems like about a third of that is encores.  But hey, what do I know?  I’m going to keep this one short.  I give this film an A-, which includes a half grade bump for not having a single whiny kid in it, and not the barest hint of a moment of generic Christmas schmaltz.  We’ll return to more of that tomorrow, I have no doubt.

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