The lovely Miss Wendy and I were channel surfing earlier this week, in search of something – anything – to distract us for a few hours before calling it quits for the day. The major networks are mostly featuring holiday cartoons and reruns; so it was that we ended up reaching way back into TMC’s vault of golden oldies and spent the evening watching White Christmas.
Just as I clicked onto the movie channel, the opening credits of the holiday classic were playing out and we were once again back on a battlefield in Europe, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye performing for weary troops thinking of home and a “White Christmas”.
The unit's commanding general – a hard but very lovable Dean Jagger – is being replaced by a hard and not so lovable officer; and in these final moments of his command he’s sent off into retirement by his men wishing him well in a teary and musical sort of way.
A decade later, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis – that would be the Crosby and Kaye characters – have become a hugely successful song and dance team. They meet up with the Haynes sisters – Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen – in that oh-so cute way that only happens in Hollywood.
In just about the same sort of cute way, the guys and gals end up stumbling into Bob’s and Phil’s former Army commander who is now the owner of a picturesque – if financially failing – inn in Vermont. Song, dance and hi-jinks ensue.
The film, directed by Michael Curtiz and produced by Paramount Pictures, offers up a toe-tapping, upbeat story that had audiences in 1954 laughing, crying and cheering. It would probably be universally panned and ignored today – no car chases, explosions, shaky camera work or moral ambiguity. Go figure!
What White Christmas does have is the music of Irving Berlin. The film is built around a play that Wallace and Davis hope will save their general’s inn and provides the foundation for a dozen or so classic Berlin tunes – “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep”, “Snow”, “Heat Wave”, “Love, You Didn’t Do right By Me”, and of course, “White Christmas”.
I know exactly what’s going to happen when watching the movie, but still I tear up when the general is escorted into his inn’s dining area and is greeted by the men who had served under him a decade earlier in World War II.
It all gets a little – well, actually, hugely – sentimental and gushy when snow begins falling and the final number has Wallace and Davis, the Haynes sisters and a cast of hundreds singing “White Christmas”. In some fashion, I’m thinking the melancholy yearning for family and home; the holiday spirit, love and friendship that’s captured in the movie’s closing moments are exactly what people needed a decade or so after World War II ended.
White Christmas creatively offered up the idea that life had been tough, but that it was getting better. I’m thinking it’s a message – at least for me – that still seems valid and important today.