After leaving the Army after W.W.II, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis team up to become a top song-and-dance act. Davis plays matchmaker and introduces Wallace to a pair of beautiful sisters (Betty and Judy) who also have a song-and-dance act. When Betty and Judy travel to a Vermont lodge to perform a Christmas show, Wallace and Davis follow, only to find their former commander, General Waverly, is the lodge owner. A series of romantic mix-ups ensue as the performers try to help the General.
Bing Crosby ... Bob Wallace
Danny Kaye ... Phil Davis
Rosemary Clooney ... Betty Haynes
Vera-Ellen ... Judy Haynes (as Vera Ellen)
Dean Jagger ... Major General Thomas F. Waverly
Mary Wickes ... Emma Allen
John Brascia ... John
Anne Whitfield ... Susan Waverly
A slick, schmaltzy, sort-of remake of `Holiday Inn' (1942), `White Christmas' lacks the sass and sparkle of the earlier film. It's also lacking Fred Astaire, though Danny Kaye is in there trying. Bing Crosby seems a tad long in the tooth for his role as a marriage-shy song and dance man, and the whole movie is permeated by the suffocating post-war insistence on everyone marrying and settling down. This movie also falls under the `bigger, louder, better' philosophy the Hollywood film studios espoused in the early ‘50s to combat the growing competition of television.
The thin plot (old army buddies Crosby and Kaye team up with a sister act, Clooney and Vera Ellen, to save the destitute Vermont ski lodge of their former commanding general, Dean Jagger) padded out with various romantic complications is only an excuse for the Irving Berlin numbers. Crosby gives a nice, relaxed rendition of `Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep' and everyone comes through on the finale, a show topping performance of the title number, complete with Santa outfits and girl ballerinas. Of the production numbers, the simplest are the more noteworthy. Clooney and Vera-Ellen offer a straight version of `Sisters', a song that became the delight of a generation of drag queens and female impersonators. Crosby and Kaye reprise it in makeshift drag (Kaye getting to do a bit of his manic schtick and Crosby game but clearly uncomfortable). `Mandy', the big centerpiece of the show the gang puts on at the ski lodge (naturally it's a musical review, that hoariest of Hollywood musical cliches), is a bit of a mess. But it comes complete with ‘50s Rococo sets, a bevy of chorus boys in tight pants, and Vera-Ellen rising out of the floor. And what was it with Irving Berlin and ersatz Minstrel Show nostalgia anyway? `White Christmas' has a similar number – in blackface! – that was routinely excised for TV showings. Kaye's big number, `Choreography' is a lame would-be satire on the serious `jazz ballet' then popular on Broadway and in such films as `Words and Music' (1948). A far more deft exploration of the same idea is the `Girl Hunt' number in `The Band Wagon' (1954), starring Fred Astaire.
Speaking of Astaire, compared with `Holiday Inn', the dance routines in `White Christmas' are unremarkable. Vera-Ellen does get ample opportunity to show off her lithe physique and slim waist, and her waltz with Kaye to `The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing' is nicely done. Probably the best dancing in the film is her rehearsal of the `Abraham' number with a well-built male dancer. It has the snap and brio the other numbers just miss.
Clooney's lush voice is a nice compliment to Crosby, though she is stuck with the role of the `sensible' sister (in contrast to Vera-Ellen's schemer). Her fledgling romance with Crosby keeps getting stonewalled by misunderstandings and false information. She does get a juicy torch song, `Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me' ,which is given a deluxe presentation with a quartette of black-clad chorus boys in a posh NY nightclub. (One of them is George Chakiris, later to star in the 1961 film version of `West Side Story'.)
Production wise, the film is colorful and lavish, with sets ranging from a very artificial looking WW II battlefield to an expansive, al fresco Florida nightspot adorned with a gigantic aquarium. Amusingly, the Vermont inn's architecture seems inspired by the Connecticut country retreat of `Holiday Inn', with some pseudo Swiss touches thrown in. The general's housekeeper (reliable screen veteran Mary Wickes) aptly describes the décor as a `Tyrolean haunted house'. Edith Head's costumes run the gamut of ‘50s fashions for the ladies, from tailored suits through full-skirted `New Look' dresses to sleek, form-fitting evening gowns with huge flared hems. This was the first feature released in the wide screen Vistavision process, and the film makes good use of the space in its compositions. The highlight is the scene when Crosby and Kaye first realize that the long awaited snow has arrived in Vermont, in time to save the general's investment in his ski lodge. They throw open the barn doors at the rear of the stage, revealing a wintry landscape with a horse-drawn sleigh just coming into view. It's a lovely shot, charmingly artificial, and a good summation of the cheerful, escapist mood of this film.
I absolutely ADORE this movie! Have since the first time I saw it! Sure... some may classify it as simply a "feel-good" movie, but what's wrong with that? Some may also classify it as pure schmaltz, but the movie truly does have it's sad points... like the priceless look on General Waverly's face whenever he enters the room where everyone who had been under his division is awaiting his arrival!
The movie has a truly wonderful musical score, not to mention some VERY kick butt dancing!
Bing Crosby is charming as Bob Wallace, a calm and reserved, yet witty and delightful and wise-cracking, and somewhat cynical kind of guy. Bing truly performed to his greatest. And his vocal talent is enormous, not to mention evident throughout the entire movie! It's a real treat to see him crack up when he and Danny Kaye are performing their rendition of "Sisters"!
Danny Kaye is hilarious as Phil Davis, the foil to calm and cool Bob. Phil, too, is full of wise-cracks, and very intent on getting Bob to settle down. Danny gave such a life to his character, portraying him like no other! His best one liner was when a young blonde with voice like nails on a chalk board says to him (after his phoney engagment to Judy) "I sure wish it would happen to me!") to which he replies "So do I!"
Rosemary Clooney is absolutely riveting as Betty Haynes, the older of the two Haynes sisters. She is the most calm and most subdued. She is looking for her "knight on the white horse" in life. Rosemary played Betty to the fullest, making her every bit as believable as you could imagine! And that voice... GOLDEN! A gift from God! It's a true treasure to see her in her solo "Love (You Didn't Do Right By Me)". She's absolutely marvelous and extremely talented.
Vera-Ellen is refreshingly delightful as Judy Haynes, the younger and more naive Haynes sister. Judy is also the dreamer of the two. Vera-Ellen does a wonderfully through job of portraying Judy! She is a perfect foil to her older sister. And those dancing stems... to see her dance in numbers like "Mandy" and "Choreography" is a real treat! How ANYONE could ever dance as well as she is beyond me! She really did a great job in this movie, even better than her performance in "On The Town" with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Betty Garrett.
A GREAT MOVIE!!!! GREAT CAST CHEMISTRY!!!! GREAT MUSIC!!!! GREAT DANCING!!!! WATCH IT AND YOU WILL SOON BE DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS!!!!
By 1954 the song White Christmas had become such a timeless classic that it was inevitable that a film would be made around it. And of course the star would be none other than Bing Crosby. But who to star with him.
Originally this was to be the third Irving Berlin outing for Bing and Fred Astaire. Then Donald O'Connor was to co-star, but finally Danny Kaye teamed with Der Bingle. Proved to be a felicitous combination.
By then Rosemary Clooney had worked in a few films well and more importantly, she had clicked with Crosby on the radio. Bing had teamed with several girl singers over the years, like Connee Boswell, Frances Langford, Mary Martin, Trudy Erwin, Carole Richards, Peggy Lee and a trio of sisters named Andrews. But he always said Rosemary Clooney was it for him and besides Mary Martin, the only other one who did became a leading lady for him.
It's not remembered because of the success of her solo career, but Rosemary Clooney started as a duo with her sister Betty who retired early to raise a family. So with Vera-Ellen as her sister in the movie, that was an aspect of the plot Rosemary could handle with ease.
The plot such as it is involves Bing and Danny as a song and dance duo who've expanded into the production end of show business. Through a little bit of a con game worked by Vera Ellen, the two meet a singing sister act like the Clooney sisters were. The sisters turn out to be headed to Vermont to work at a resort and the smitten guys go along with them.
Problem is there ain't any snow there. It's an unheard of 68 degrees fahrenheit in early December. And the place is owned by Crosby and Kaye's former commander from World War II, played by Dean Jagger. He's about to lose his shirt and his pride. So our intrepid quartet go to work.
Irving Berlin's score for White Christmas is about half new songs and the other half from previous scores. That's how it was when you got Irving to work for you. Listen carefully even to the background music. You will not hear one note of a non-Berlin song.
One of those songs was a personal favorite of mine, Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep. I recall in grade school in Brooklyn it was a song that the teachers had us sing in the school assemblies. Little did I know that it was introduced by the guy who proved to be my favorite entertainer. It's a patented philosophical Bing Crosby song that he did best and it serves as a ballad to woo and win Rosie. Bing sings it and then Rosie joins him in the reprise.
Danny Kaye has two good numbers. The first The Best Things Happen While Your Dancing is clearly originally for Fred Astaire, though Kaye and Vera Ellen make a lovely couple on the dance floor. The Choreography number I think was also done for Astaire, but here dancer John Brascia does the complicated dance routine while Kaye sings. I'm sure Astaire would have handled both jobs had the film been made with him.
All the stars do the Minstrel Show/Mandy number, but Vera Ellen really shines in it. She was a great dancer, really sparkled in every film she did.
Besides Sisters, Rosemary Clooney has a grand torch ballad that sold a few platters for her in Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me. She had a wonderful singing voice and the most impeccable diction of any female singer ever. You don't miss one throbbing word on any of her ballads.
White Christmas was Paramount's first film done in their wide screen process called VistaVision. And of course it was proper that their number one star for over 20 years be in this film. Of course jokes about Bing's derriere and the wide screen got into the repertoire of a certain comedian named Hope.
Just like the song that inspired it, White Christmas has proved to be a timeless holiday classic and will remain so.
Danny Kaye was a last-minute replacement for the originally cast Donald O'Connor.
The first film produced in Paramount's wide screen process "VistaVision".
The TV camera in the Ed Harrison Show scene is a real one (a classic RCA monochrome; the cameraman is hiding the telltale logo with his hand), but the call sign atop it was real as well - it was that of Channel 4, NBC's (and thus RCA's) flagship station in New York, which changed its call sign to WRCA-TV the year of the film's release. (They adopted their current WNBC-TV calls in 1960.)
The original idea was to reunite Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, as they had been successful in Holiday Inn (1942). Astaire refused, as he had "retired" at the time, so the part was reworked for Donald O'Connor. O'Connor pulled out, and the part was reworked for Danny Kaye.
The photo that Vera-Ellen shows to Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye of her brother, Bennie, is actually a photo of Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer.
All of Vera-Ellen's costumes, down to her robe and sleepwear, were designed to cover her neck, which was aged beyond her years due to her eating disorder, anorexia.
The Vermont inn is the remodeled Connecticut inn set of Holiday Inn (1942).
The song "Snow" was written by Irving Berlin a while before the film was made but with a different lyric and title and indeed subject (it had nothing to do whatsoever with snow): it was called "Free" and it was recorded by the composer.
The "Sisters" comedy act that Bing Crosbyand Danny Kaye perform was not originally in the script. They were clowning around on the set and the director thought it was so funny that it was written in.
Even though Betty was the elder of the Haynes sisters, Rosemary Clooney was actually seven years younger than Vera-Ellen in real life.
Vera-Ellen did not actually sing any of the songs for the movie. Trudy Stevens sang all her songs (with the exception of the song "Sisters", on which Rosemary Clooney sang both parts). Vera's own voice is heard singing only in the "arrival in Pine Tree" scene at the railroad station where the quartet reprises the opening lines of "Snow".
For The song "Gee, I Wish I Was Back In The Army" there is a small section which say's "Jolson, Hope And Benny all for free" This is a reference to three wartime entertainers; Al Jolson, Bob Hope and Jack Benny. The original words were "Crosby, Hope and Jolson all for free", with Bing Crosby in the film it would seem rather weird and it would most likely break the mood.
Released in 1954, it became the top grossing film of that year.
Rosemary Clooney was not allowed to record her voice for the soundtrack album because it was being released by a record company (Decca) other than hers (Columbia). She was replaced on the soundtrack album by Peggy Lee.
The song, "What Can You Do with a General?", which Leonard Maltin calls Berlin's least memorable tune, was originally written for an unproduced project called Stars on My Shoulders.
According to Rosemary Clooney, the "midnight snack" scene in which Bob Wallace expounds on his theory of what foods cause what dreams was almost entirely improvised.
Many of Bob Wallace's more unusual turns of phrase were lifted straight from Bing Crosby's own speech patterns.
The train scene had to be shot at Fox, the only studio to house a standing train set.
Although this movie musical has been a beloved favorite for decades -- especially at Christmastime -- there has never been an official "original soundtrack" album released in any form. Decca controlled the soundtrack rights, but Rosemary Clooney was under exclusive contract to Columbia, who would not allow her to appear on a competing label. As a result, Decca and Columbia each released their own White Christmas albums in 1954, although neither is an official soundtrack. Decca's album featured the movie cast minus Rosemary Clooney, with Peggy Lee taking over Clooney's part. Columbia's album had Rosemary Clooney singing 8 songs from the film. Both albums have been issued on CD in recent years.
Though Rosemary Clooney couldn't be on the original album due to contractual conflicts, she recorded the song "Sisters" with her real-life sister, Betty Clooney. On the official album, Peggy Lee recorded the song and sang both parts via overdubbing, a new technology in 1954.