NOTE: This review is part of the Christmas Movie Blogathon being hosted this weekend at Family Friendly Reviews. Please visit the Family Friendly Reviews site for links to posts on many beloved Christmas movies. Day 1 of the three-day blogathon is here and Day 2 is here. And here is Day 3!
WHITE CHRISTMAS is not simply one of my favorite Christmas movies, it's one of my favorite films of all time. I watch it nearly every year, yet I had never seen it on a big screen until I had the opportunity to catch a special screening at the local Cinemark theater last Thanksgiving weekend.
Having read of some other bloggers' negative experiences with digital screenings of classic films at multiplexes, I was prepared to be disappointed, but I couldn't have had a better experience. Other than a couple very grainy minutes early in the film, starting in the army hospital scene, the movie looked absolutely beautiful, and a nice-sized audience of all ages turned out to see it. The audience was quite appreciative, and when the lights came up at the end I noticed a couple people sitting near me had obviously teared up in the last scene, just as I always do.
WHITE CHRISTMAS is one of those movies, like MARY POPPINS (1964) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965), which is almost hard for me to write about. It's a film I've known my entire life, and though I love it as a film, it also represents decades of memories of the experiences seeing it, which are heightened because the movie was always seen at Christmastime. Happily, I've now made another wonderful memory with WHITE CHRISTMAS.
For those who might not have seen it yet, WHITE CHRISTMAS tells the story of two entertainers, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) who accompany a lovely pair of singing sisters, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) to a Vermont lodge where the girls are booked to perform during the holidays.
The plot of this 120-minute film may sound simple, but it's executed with charm and style by a perfect cast. The line readings alone simply couldn't be better; I suspect most of my family could probably recite all of the dialogue along with the soundtrack, getting the cadences and phrasings just right.
Really, everything about the entire movie is just right, from the choreography by Robert Alton to the costumes by Edith Head and the cinematography by Loyal Griggs. Everyone's work on this film has stood the test of time, and in fact the film has become a part of many people's holiday traditions.
For my money, the film may not get any better than the simply staged "Snow," sung by the lead foursome in a dining car on the way to Vermont. It's simply classic. Vera-Ellen is dubbed by Trudy Stevens.
(Speaking of that train...how is it that Betty and Judy are able to switch from Bob and Phil's Drawing Room A before "Snow" to sleeper berths the next morning, when Bob and Phil had been told their only option was to sit up all night in the club car?)
Vera-Ellen has a couple more wonderful dance opportunities, including "Abraham," where she's partnered by John Brascia, who passed away earlier this year.
Dancer George Chakiris, who appears in the film, shared an interesting WHITE CHRISTMAS anecdote at a recent tribute held in his honor. Chakiris had just completed shooting the big group dance number "Mandy" when he got a call from his friend, dancer Matt Mattox, insisting that he come over to "Metro" and audition for Michael Kidd for SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954).
Chakiris somewhat ruefully admitted he had no interest in SEVEN BRIDES because he knew he had the chance to be one of four featured dancers in Rosemary Clooney's "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" in a couple more weeks and he really wanted to do that number! After receiving a second call from Mattox, who played Caleb in SEVEN BRIDES, Chakiris reluctantly went to MGM and gave Michael Kidd what he described as "the worst audition" of his career. However, Chakiris was happy with how things turned out, as he loved working with Rosemary Clooney on the WHITE CHRISTMAS number.
It's interesting to note that with Chakiris not then being a known "face," the producers were comfortable having him be in two places at once in the film, part of the dance company in Vermont while also appearing with Betty at the Carousel Club in New York!
The film's supporting cast also includes Mary Wickes, Anne Whitfield, Herb Vigran, Johnny Grant, Percy Helton, and I. Stanford Jolley.
WHITE CHRISTMAS was written by Norman Panama, Norman Krasna, and Melvin Frank. This would be a good place to mention that no matter how many people may try to insist to the contrary, WHITE CHRISTMAS is emphatically not a remake of Crosby's HOLIDAY INN (1942), written by Claude Binyon. The movies share Crosby, an inn, and composer Irving Berlin, including his classic song "White Christmas." That's it.
This film was directed by Michael Curtiz, who worked comfortably in all genres and directed some of the greatest movies ever made. A biography of Curtiz by Alan K. Rode, MICHAEL CURTIZ: A MAN FOR ALL MOVIES, will be out next year from the University Press of Kentucky.
Fans of WHITE CHRISTMAS will want to visit Hooked on Houses for a detailed look at the movie's Columbia Inn sets, as well as check out Kim's post at GlamAmor on Edith Head's costume designs for the film.
WHITE CHRISTMAS is available on DVD and Blu-ray. The DVD can be rented from Netflix and ClassicFlix; ClassicFlix also rents the Blu-ray.
The movie can be rented for streaming from Amazon and Netflix. WHITE CHRISTMAS also was released on VHS.
The trailer is on YouTube.
I consider WHITE CHRISTMAS, which will be 60 years old next year, to be the perfect Christmas movie. Most highly recommended.