Saturday, December 14, 2013
Day Three Hundred and Forty-eight - White Christmas, "Well, hullo there, fella... fancy a good pipe and some warm buttermilk?"
A winter themed variety film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kay, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, White Christmas nominally follows two old war buddies who start up a double act after V-E Day and manage to get themselves tangled with a similar sister act who are on their way to Vermont to play at a B&B there. Coincidentally, that very same lodge is owned by the boys former commanding officer and is in dire straits. Along the way there is love, laughter, and quite a few wholly unrelated musical numbers that are fairly quixotic choices for a holiday revue.
Bing and Danny have wonderful back and forth together, so I very much enjoy their repartee, it's pretty much Rosemary and Vera-Ellen that stretch my credulity. For one thing, it's hard to imagine them as sisters as they look absolutely nothing alike. For another, the chemistry that they have with the boys is a little hard to believe. This is especially true in the second to third act transition when Rosemary takes some miscommunicated gossip to heart and plays the spurned lover, running off to New York and dropping Bing flat. Romances in films like this are never really evocative or believable anyway, merely plot contrivances to keep the thin stories going and provide ample opportunity for conflict, but it still takes me out the movie.
The other main problems that I have with the film revolve around the musical numbers that the boys bring their floor show up to “practice” at the ski lodge in the hopes of drumming up some business for their flailing former commander. “Choreography” and “Abraham” are decent routines, but completely out of place in a Christmas picture and the “Minstrel Show” routine is just short of downright offensive. To their credit, neither the performers or set dressings show any hint of traditional blackface, but seeing a bunch of pasty white folk recreating Minstrel joke routines all to a huge music number is enough to make me uncomfortable at the very least. It's funny... when I saw that routine as a kid, I never made the connection, not having the context and all, but knowing what I know now, it definitely bugs me.
Still, for all of its faults, White Christmas has plenty to like about it. The duet that Bing and Rosemary have in the second act ("Counting Your Blessings"), not to mention the final number that gives reprise to the battlefield campfire routine of the cold open, good stuff there. I also must admit that Vera-Ellen is a heckuva dancer, even if her voice work was done by Rosemary. There's quite a bit of cheese and schmaltz, but it's the warm kind, with even the somewhat risque jokes exuding the quiet cool that isn't quite Rat Pack but almost there.
I want to give a quick shoutout to Mary Wickes who plays the B&B's house mistress and General Waverly's homefront aide de camp. She had a lot of roles similar to this in the fifties and sixties and it's always good to see her.
On the whole, White Christmas will remain both in my Instant Queue and on my shelf as one of those annual Christmas tradition films in spite of its obvious, glaring flaws. Bing, Danny, Rosemary, and Vera-Ellen have just enough oomph to push past their era's culturally insensitive idioms and deliver quite a few quality performances... I just wish the non-holiday routines had been shelved or kept in actual variety revues like That's Entertainment.
Until tomorrow, Potatoes~