Monday, December 21, 2009
Movie Time: Rewind: Holiday Inn
I'm back for a bit of belated posting, focusing on a Christmas edition of The Rewind, where I look at some of the great films made before the year of my birth, 1976. I've had a few new readers on the site thanks to joining Twitter so I thought I would take a few moments to talk about why I love old movies. I think at a certain point in your life you just want to watch quality films. So many movies today are all effects and glamour and action and the emphasis on story is almost lost. Most of the highly anticipated films of today are not particularly good movies, trading in quality of scripts for bigger budgets and special effects, never realizing that the most important quality of a film isn't just in how much money it makes, but how good the film is itself. Audiences can see through bad movies. For me, that is where the classic film comes in. Actors like Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, and Grace Kelley; directors like Hitchcock, Kapra, and John Ford made such a wide array of films and for the most part, they are well acted an scripted films made during a time when cinema was the entertainment of the masses. Each month in The Rewind, I post a particular movie highlighting either an actor or director or the films impact and why I think you should watch it. I know classic films are not for everyone, but there are some truly classic films out there that entire generations have never seen, and hopefully this can open an eye or two.
For this month, since its Christmas, I thought I would take a look at another perennial Christmas classic, Holiday Inn. Released in 1942 by Paramount Pictures the film starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and two members of a song and dance team. Crosby is set to retire from the act with his fiancee, Lila (Virginia Dale) and move to his Connecticut farm. Lila decides that she isn't ready to retire and that she has fallen in love with Astaire. They are going to continue the show, and crestfallen, Crosby moves north. A year later Crosby has hit a rough patch, with life on the farm not being what he dreamed it would be. He dreams up an idea of creating an Inn that will only be open holidays and will feature elaborate show themes based on each holiday. Re-connecting with Astaire at a nightclub, he meets Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) who is convinced that he is a big shot talent scout. After a mix up with Astaire, who gave her the ticket and the perception of Crosby, she goes to the Inn, where both she and Crosby discover they they stretched the truth about who they are.
Eventually Linda decides to join Crosby in the act and help open the inn. Meanwhile Lila dumps Astaire for a rich Texan and distraught, he goes to the inn as well, soon falling in love with Linda after an amazing drunken dance sequence. The next morning his memory is fuzzy and he can't remember who he danced with, but his agent has him convinced he has found the perfect partner. As each holiday roles around, Astaire gets closer to finding out the truth of who he danced with, while Crosby tries to keep them apart, from sabotaging dance numbers to deliberately keeping Linda from the Inn. In the end, Astaire invites Linda to Hollywood to film a movie version of Holiday Inn, which she accepts, mostly because Crosby never told her how he felt about her. As Crosby mopes throughout Thankgiving, he comes to realize that he loves Linda and wants her in his life. The ending is then a reversal of the beginning of the movie, with Crosby stealing Astaire's girl.
The plot of the movie is a lot like many other romantic light hearted musicals made during the golden years of the musical, light and shallow. What makes this movie such a classic is the films score and musical numbers. All of the songs were written by the great composer Irving Berlin, and with the exception of Easter Parade, were all written especially for this film. It introduced two all time classic Christmas songs, including "Happy Holidays" and the number one best selling Christmas Single of all time, "White Christmas." This is the film that established what is for many people, the ultimate voice of Christmas in Bing Crosby. He is so identifiable singing this song that even after almost 70 years, his version of "White Christmas" still remains the gold standard. Holiday Inn boasts 4 Oscar winning songs, all sung by Bing Crosby, and the impact of "White Christmas" was so profound, that in 1954 Crosby would go onto re-make a very similar version of Holiday Inn, called White Christmas with Danny Kaye.
The movie doesn't stop with just Crosby's vocals though, you still have Fred Astaire in his dancing prime. He dances several numbers, including his unforgettable drunk dance with Marjorie Reynolds, as well as a minuet/jazz combo that is quite good. I think it is his Fourth of July firecracker dance though that really sets him apart in the film. Using small fireworks, he literally explodes across the floor in a beautifully choreographed dance. Fred also actually had several drinks during the drunk dance to add some believability to the performance. Astaire and Crosby are two of the biggest musical stars of the 1940's, and having them together in this film is another bonus of this holiday classic.
Mind you there are some flaws in the film. The Abraham Lincoln number set during Abe's birthday comes off as especially dated, with Crosby singing a number in black face. While an accepted act at the time, today's viewer will see it as an especially uncomfortable look at a tie in American history where prejudice was still overlooked.. Some versions of the film have edited that number out of viewings, especially the AMC channel, though if you can catch it on TCM you can see the whole piece.
Holiday Inn may not have the same Christmas weight of It's a Wonderful Life (which I reviewed last year) or A Christmas Carol (which I nearly did this year) but it does have a very important place in history. No other movie can boast a greater repository of holiday songs, Christmas or otherwise. Fred Astaire dancing, Crosby's vocals, all in the warm-hearted package that you all want from a Christmas movie make this a percent holiday film for everyone to enjoy. If you want to check out Holiday Inn, AMC is running an edited version of the film throughout Christmas Eve, so take some time out to watch a great Christmas treat.
Thanks for reading, next month's Rewind will take us into the action genre with the spotlight on James Cagney.
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