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

Paramount Studios

Michael Curtiz

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)

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.

-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.

-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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‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in Andy Griffith land

Tonight I had my third classic film on the big screen experience- and I have to add it might be my favorite thus far.

The Earle Theater in Mount Airy, NC. Taken from the Surry Arts Council

I drove roughly 30 minutes with fellow Elkin Tribune reporter, Kristin Zachary, to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) in Mount Airy, North Carolina.  Some of you may recognize Mount Airy as the town the television show “Andy Griffith” is based off of. The town is full of Andy Griffith related places such as the Andy Griffith Playhouse/mall/Parkway, Opie’s Candy Store or Barney’s Lunch Counter-but I digress, that is another post.

The film was showing at The Earle Theater, built in 1938 and opened in time to show “Gone with the Wind,” according to the Mount Airy News.

I can’t tell you when the last time I had watched “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Though my family owns it, it isn’t a Christmas movie we watch every year like “Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” “Bishop’s Wife,” “Christmas in Connecticut” or “White Christmas.”  I think part of the reason we don’t is because my dad gets very, very angry when Thomas Mitchell loses the money.

I had forgotten what a good movie it was, but then it’s a Frank Capra film so it’s pretty much flawless.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, the film is about George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart. He is in a bad place in his life, and his guardian angel comes to help. Before coming down to Earth the angel looks back over George’s life- reviewing events like saving his little brother from drowning, the death of his father and getting married. We see the struggles George Bailey has gone through for his family and how he has had to set aside everything he wanted in life to help everyone else out-mainly to keep his father’s business out of greedy Mr Potter’s hands. Before being visited by his guardian angel, he feels like he has reached the end of his rope and everything he has worked for has been for nothing. Bailey wishes he was never born and Clarence the Angel (played by Henry Travers) shows him what Bedford Falls would be like if Bailey hadn’t been born and how much he has affected everyone around him.

We meet grown up Mary (Donna Reed) for the first time.

Capra has some great camera shots. Most of my favorites were toward the end when George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) hasn’t been born such as when childhood friend and local hussy Violet (Gloria Graham) is being arrested- the camera is in her face as she is struggling with the cops.  Another shot is  the close up of George Bailey’s face as he is frantically looking around Pottersville/Bedford Falls. Other shots I liked were at the graduation dance with the close up on Mary (Donna Reed) when George first sees her after many years and ( also at the graduation dance) when the two boys (one being Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Schwartz) are planning to open the swimming pool floor.

Some other thoughts I had during the movie:

-The last time I saw “It’s a Wonderful Life” I was probably in late elementary school or in middle school. Sometimes I didn’t understand why George was upset with how his life was going. Now that I’m out of college and have my own ambitions, I can relate to him a lot more.

George yelling at Uncle Billy for losing $8,000.

-Thomas Mitchell (who played Uncle Billy) broke my heart. He was so sweet and forgetful and didn’t mean any harm to anyone. I almost died at the part where George is yelling at him and calling him a stupid fool for losing the money and then….Uncle Billy cries….and a squirrel jumped on his arm-further tears from me.  I understand being upset over the loss of $8,000, but who sends the absent minded relative to the bank with that much money?

-I always knew Donna Reed (who plays Mary) was a good actress, but I was really impressed with her acting in this movie. Unfortunately, she wasn’t given the chance at MGM she deserved, because many roles that might have gone to her, went to June Allyson.

-Gloria Graham (who plays Violet) isn’t one of my favorite actresses, but she also does a great job in this movie. It may be my favorite role of her’s.

Lionel Barrymore, as Mr. Potter, is the richest, greediest man in town.

-Lionel Barrymore is my favorite of the Barrymores and he sure can play a good bad guy. Barrymore plays Mr. Potter who is the richest man in town, greedy and wanting to have control everything. However, is anyone else bothered by what looks like a bald cap on Mr. Barrymore?

-I never realized how many funny parts were in this movie, either. Kristin and I were cracking up the whole time, particularly because a little boy with a really funny laugh was sitting in front of us. Every time he laughed at the funny parts, we would laugh harder.

At the end of the movie, Kristin and I walked out wiping tears from our eyes and she said, “They sure don’t make movies like that anymore.’

George running through the streets of Bedford Falls thankful to be alive.

Overall, the uplifting film mixed with the small town ambiance of Mount Airy, it was a very lovely experience and is my favorite classic film experience thus far.

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