White Christmas

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series The 12 Days of Christmas

Released: 1954
Director: Michael Curtiz

Starring: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen


A flawed, but perfect, film

I’ve been wondering for a while about how I score my reviews. I don’t have a checklist or criteria, I go on gut instinct and although I think that works most of the time it has left me with a bit of a conundrum. If I love a book or a movie despite acknowledging it has some flaws is it worthy of a five ribbon mark? No film I’ve seen recently has raised this question more than the 1954 box office smash White Christmas . I adore this movie, it gets me right into the holiday spirit and never fails to bring a tear to my eye but there’s just a couple of false notes that irritate me ever so slightly. So – what’s more important? The overall experience of a film or full perfection?

White Christmas is the story of army buddies turned successful entertainers Bob Wallace and Phil Davis (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) who join together with sister act Betty and Judy Haynes (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) to revive the failing business of their beloved former General. Along the way they sing a lot, dance a bit and fall in love with the beautiful sisters.

The plot is both thin and sentimental, but this isn’t a film about story – this is an opportunity to showcase Irving Berlin’s brilliant songs and the winning partnership of Crosby and Kaye. Crosby especially steals every scene he’s in, particularly while belting out his trademark number, White Christmas (incidentally not written for this film, but the earlier Crosby vehicle Holiday Inn). The best moments in the film are when Crosby and Kaye are bouncing off each other and having fun. Rosemary Clooney is also brilliant as the acerbic but kind-hearted Betty Haynes and she can belt out a tune with the best of them. She’s all woman, strong, curvy, smart – quite the opposite of Vera-Ellen as younger sister Judy. Of the four main cast members, Vera-Ellen is undoubtedly the weakest – although her dancing is phenomenal. Her singing voice was dubbed by both Trudy Stevens and Rosemary Clooney and there are a couple more dance numbers than necessary, clearly to allow her to flex her legs. It is the superfluous dance scenes that stop me thinking that White Christmas is the perfect film.

And yet, I can’t bear not to award it full marks. The couple of moments that I don’t like are completely overwhelmed by the many more that I love including an early appearance by West Side Story’s George Chakiris as one of Clooney’s dancer boys. The story of the retired General fallen on tough times as the snow skips Vermont is quite moving, and I cry like a girl every time I see the final scene where he is greeted by his former troops singing “We’ll follow the old man”.

I also have a more personal reason for loving White Christmas. I was watching it with my mum one Christmas Day when the snow started to fall outside just before it did on screen. I can’t think of a more perfect movie memory and one which gives me such a warm glow.

I’ve decided. I’m going with my heart rather than my head. Full marks to White Christmas, given in the certain knowledge that I’ll watch this film every winter and feel happy every time I see it.

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