Christmas Musical Monday: “White Christmas” (1954)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

White_Chrismas_filmThis week’s musical:
“White Christmas” –Musical #21

Studio:
Paramount Studios

Director:
Michael Curtiz

Starring:
Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Dean Jagger, Mary Wickes, Anne Whitfield, George Charkiris, Barrie Chase, Sig Ruman, Grady Sutton, Carl Switzer (photo)

Plot:
On Christmas Eve in 1944, Bob Wallace (Crosby) with the help of Phil Davis (Kaye) put on a small Christmas show to entertain their Army company and pay tribute to Major General Waverly (Jagger), who is leaving the outfit. The company is then attacked and Davis saves Wallace from a falling wall. When Wallace comes to thank Davis, Davis convinces him to go into show business with him.
Fast forward 10 years and Wallace and Davis are both successful performers and producers. On their way to New York after a performance in Florida, they stop to catch the act of Betty and Judy Haynes, sisters of an old Army buddy. After a series of events, Wallace and Davis end up heading to Vermont, rather than New York, with the sisters to an inn where they are performing.
The inn is owned by General Waverly, who isn’t doing very good business. The two men set out to help him boost business.

Trivia:
-Actress, dancer Vera-Ellen did not do her own singing in this film. During the “Sisters” number, Rosemary Clooney sang both parts. Trudy Stevens dubbed Ellen in “Snow” and “White Christmas.”

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in "Sisters." Clooney sang both parts of the song.

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in “Sisters.” Clooney sang both parts of the song.

-Fred Astaire was originally slated to play Danny Kaye’s role. The plan was to reunite Crosby and Astaire after their initial holiday hit “Holiday Inn” (1942). Astaire felt he was too old for this type of role and dropped out. Donald O’Connor then was set to replace Astaire, but O’Connor fell very ill. Danny Kaye was then cast along side Bing Crosby, according to the documentary “Backstage Stories from White Christmas.”
-When Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye perform the “Sisters” number, Kaye improvises and starts hitting him with the feathered fan. Crosby’s laughter was genuine, according to the documentary “Backstage Stories from White Christmas.”
-Ginger Rogers and Debbie Reynolds were considered as female leads for the film, according to “Late Life Jazz: The Life and Career of Rosemary Clooney” by Ken Crossland, Malcolm Macfarlane.
-The first Paramount Picture to be filmed in VistaVision, a higher resolution, widescreen, 35mm motion picture film format created by engineers at Paramount.
-Rosemary Clooney said in an interview in 2000 that she loved making the film. She also said she was not a dancer and Vera-Ellen- an extremely versatile dancer- was very patient with her.
-The photo of Betty and Judy’s brother is actor Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in the “Our Gang” films.
-This film helped actor, dancer George Chakiris gain popularity. Rather than being in a large dance ensemble, he was part of four men dancing around Rosemary Clooney in the “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me” number. In an interview, Chakiris said girls were wondering who the “guy with the cleft chin” was after this close-up with Clooney, according to the documentary “Backstage Stories from White Christmas.”
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song for “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.”
-Top earning films of 1954.

Highlights:
-The “Abraham” dance number with Vera-Ellen and John Brascia.
-Barrie Chase meeting Bing Crosby at the beginning and saying “Mutual I’m sure” her “Kiss my foot, or have an apple” line. Chase may be my favorite character in the film.
-Every musical number in the whole film.
-Edith Head costumes

Notable Songs:
-“Mandy” performed by Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, cast
-“Choreography” performed by Danny Kaye
-“White Christmas” performed by Bing Crosby
-“Old Man” performed by Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and cast
-“Sisters” performed by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen (dubbed by Clooney)
-“Snow” performed by Clooney, Crosby, Kaye, Ellen (dubbed by Steven)
-“Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” performed by Rosemary Clooney
-“Gee! I Wish I Was Back in the Army” performed by Clooney, Crosby, Kaye, Ellen (dubbed)

Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Bing Crosby in the "Mandy" number

Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Bing Crosby in the “Mandy” number

My Review:
Maybe I’m not a very good film fan, because there are few films I can say I have seen more than 10, or even 5 times. There are so many to see that I just keep pushing through. But “White Christmas” is one of those rare films that I can quote along or know the what dance step is coming up in a musical number.
I credit this film for my desire to dance and driving me to take tap dancing lessons- particularly the “Abraham” and “Mandy” numbers.
It is a film that my family has watched nearly every Christmas for as long as I can remember and is easily a favorite films.
I could talk forever about how well the cast, costumes and musical numbers fit beautifully together to weave an interesting story that leaves you tearing up at the end.
But I recently had an opportunity to see the film with fresh eyes.
On Sunday, Dec. 14, my family went and saw it on the big screen for the first time. A film that I have seen over 30 times and thought I knew backwards, I suddenly noticed things I had never seen before.
I never noticed that Bing Crosby had yellow socks when he drives up to bring the mail to General Waverly. Or I never noticed some continuity errors, like when we are introduced to the Haynes sisters, Judy sets down the coffee pot and in the next shot she is holding it.
But most of all, I noticed the nuances in performances, especially Danny Kaye’s comedic genius.
You can see a film for years, but there is something special about watching it the way it was supposed to be shown that gives you an even greater appreciation.

White Christmas finale

White Christmas finale

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One thought on “Christmas Musical Monday: “White Christmas” (1954)

  1. Comet—
    so glad you got to see this in the theatre…. thank god, Fathom and TCM realize that there is a tremendous difference seeing these gems on the big screen. i have an optimistic feeling, that there will be more and more of these screenings, with the success of Casablanca, a couple of years ago… and the festival (you lucky dog…) in LA , seems to be growing all the time! this year alone– TWOO and GWTW anniversary showings…. all this adds up to good times for all of us fans in the coming years ! great review, Jessica!
    –Russ Gambino

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