(director: Michael Curtiz; screenwriters: Norman Krasna/Norman Panama/Melvin Frank; cinematographer: Loyal Griggs; editor: Frank Bracht; music: Gus Levene/Joseph J. Lilley/Bernard Mayers/Van Cleave; cast: Bing Crosby (Bob Wallace) Danny Kaye (Phil Davis), Rosemary Clooney (Betty Haynes), Vera-Ellen (Judy Haynes), Dean Jagger (Major General Waverly), Mary Wickes (Emma Allen), Johnny Grant (Ed Harrison), Anne Whitfield (Susan Waverly, granddaughter); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Emmett Dolan; Paramount Pictures; 1954)
“Hardly put me in a Merry Christmas mood.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The 1954 musical is a showcase for Irving Berlin songs and is built especially around the song of White Christmas as sung in the finale by Bing Crosby; the biggest selling song of the time. This is Paramount’s overdue follow-up to their hit Holiday Inn (1942). Director Michael Curtiz (“King Creole”/”Casablanca”) keeps the thinly plotted story dependent solely on the music, but the result is a sentimental, chilly and empty trifle–a very disappointing film, which hardly put me in a Merry Christmas mood (more like a gung-ho military mood). Nevertheless it was the highest-grossing film of 1954 ($12 million) and was the biggest hit Curtiz ever had. The film lives on solely due to Bing’s rich singing voice and the continued popularity of the title song. Norman Panama, Norman Krasna and Melvin Frank wrote the screenplay & story. Irving Berlin’s Original Song “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” received an Oscar nomination.
The plot has Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye, replacing an ailing Donald O’Connor) as song-and-dance men serving together in the army during World War II, and when Private Davis saves Captain Wallace’s life during a Christmas Eve, 1944, bombing raid in Europe, while they were performing in a show for the soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 151st Division, the show’s star soloist, Phil, pays back the rescuer by agreeing to perform with him using his song. After the war the two become a popular duo. While doing the nightclub scene in Florida, the two go nightclubbing and meet another song-and-dance team–the serious Betty and her younger and more flippant sister Judy Haynes (Rosemary Clooney & Vera-Ellen)–the sisters of a former Army buddy. The more serious and hardworking Bob is instantly smitten with Betty, while the good time only Phil is attracted to Judy. They follow the sisters to a rustic ski lodge in Vermont, which happens to be owned by their former commanding officer, Major General Tom Waverly (Dean Jagger), and when the general can’t afford to pay the sisters because business is bad the boys bring up their NYC crew from Playing Around and perform there in a winter show for free by telling the general they’re rehearsing for their Broadway opening. The boys feel sorry for the retired elderly general, who’s bored and business is not good because it’s not snowing; he worries because he put his entire nest egg in the business. There’s the usual love problems and romantic mixups expected in such a romantic comedy; even though Betty and Phil would be ideal mates they never get serious together. In an altruistic moment, Bob goes on their army buddies’ (Johnny Grant) TV show in New York and sings “What Can You Do With a General?” and invites the men from the 151st Division to come to the general’s ski lodge on Christmas Eve and cheer the old man up by appearing in uniform on stage. Believe it or not, the men come, and Bob croons White Christmas and right on cue it snows; I guess their problems are immediately solved as business should go boom for the general and Bob and Betty along with Phil and Judy get together for a kiss (which is taken to mean marriage is on the way); the feel-good message left is that there’s nothing like snow for Christmas and nothing better than for the soldiers who served under the general to show their love for him and warm his heart. There’s no doubt, such pifle still sells among the masses.
REVIEWED ON 11/27/2006 GRADE: C+