Paramount | 1954 | 120 mins. | NR
It’s getting to be that time of year when almost everyone starts watching those holiday classics—It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, and A Christmas Story, among the most prominent. Having carved out a niche as seasonal classics, these films Like those dealing with Halloween or Easter, Christmas movies must have certain characteristics to join the realm of a seasonal classic. They must be funny or sweet, dramatic or compelling, outside of the need to express seasonal sentiment. Naturally, the next element in play is the overall festive value. If a Christmas themed film can accomplish that in spades, it just might become a seasonal classic.
The top grossing film of 1954, White Christmas retains classic holiday status. Strangely enough though, the film has very little to do with Christmas. The movie features Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby as army buddies Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who go on to become well known entertainers. The bachelors meet up with Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, sisters with talent but not many opportunities. While the boys woo the girls, the quartet heads up to the Vermont inn operated by the Crosby and Kaye’s old commanding General from WWII (Dean Jagger). The inn is in trouble, because of one of the warmest and greenest Vermont winters on record. As romance blooms and the temperatures remain balmy, Bob devises a plan to save his friend’s livelihood and do some good with the popularity he’s earned both during and after the war.
The fact that White Christmas isn’t overtly a film a film about Christmas actually helps the overall story. Unlike most films in this genre, viewers aren’t met with reminders of the holidays at every turn. Instead, White Christmas is truly a story about the spirit of the season—friendship and giving. Only the pictures bookends can be considered holiday themed and it’s through those scenes that the films holiday structure is established. Regardless, the friendship theme is what dominates throughout. Bob Wallace transforms from rejecting Phil Davis’ idea of forming a duo–he’s a solo act—to finding greater success as part of a team, to slowly giving his heart when he meets the right girl, and finally coming to see the necessity in reuniting his entire division in an effort to save his friend. White Christmas‘ themes transcend the songs and dances and even the Holiday itself, finding the value in family, meaning not necessarily blood relations but a family of friends, those one can trust, those one can turn to in times of need, those who recognize that self doesn’t always come first. The characters’ helping their C.O. in his time of need is heartwarming.
The talent of Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye undeniable, and the choreography and vocal performances are pitch-perfect. Not every song is a hit, and there are a few tunes that seem more like afterthoughts that meandered on in from left field and somehow wound up in the finished product, but with Irving Berlin involved, there are some real gems; not just the obvious Christmas songs (see the title), but patriotic songs, love songs and a couple of comic ones for good measure. Vera-Ellen is an amazingly flexible dancer, and Danny Kaye does the comic second banana as well as anyone. The film was even directed by Michael Curtiz, who had previously directed Casablanca.
The sincerity is what makes the story work, and it’s the song and dance numbers that make White Christmas a truly memorable holiday experience.
The 1080p transfer of White Christmas shows great reds and a tremendous amount of depth. There is occasional inconsistency, with some scenes appearing a bit flat and hazy. Grain is fairly impressive for a film that’s 55-years-old.
We get a remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless track that sounds pretty darn good. However, if ypu are listening to this on a home theater system, don’t expect as much separation as seen in more modern releases. The restored mono is offered as a choice, and its predictably flatter. Those who love all the songs, will appreciate the lossless rendering.
White Christmas comes with a nice group of special features. We geta feature-length audio commentary track with Actress Rosemary Clooney. When Ms. Clooney speaks, she has plenty of interesting insights to share, whether discussing the style of Irving Berlin, speaking on the quality of the actors’ performances, sharing her memories from the set, and more. She’s clearly enjoying the experience of re-watching the film, laughing at many of its lighter moments and laughing as she remembers some of the sillier behind-the-scenes stories she relates. Clooney allows long stretches of silence to permeate the track, but she makes up for it with a quality commentary when she has something to share. Backstage Stories from ‘White Christmas’ (1080p, 11:56) features several individuals — Critic F.X. Feeney, USC Professor Drew Casper, Historian Larry Billman, Author Gary Giddins, and Dancer George Chakiris — discussing the history and success of both the picture (including its VistaVision presentation) and its cast.
Rosemary’s Old Kentucky Home (1080p, 13:26) takes viewers to Augusta, Kentucky for a look at the Actress’ favorite place and the museum that’s sprung up there since her death. Bing Crosby: Christmas Crooner (1080p, 14:16) looks at the Singer/Actor’s legacy and impact on the music and cinema of the Christmas season. The piece covers the Actor’s love for Gonzaga University, his work with the troops, his work in White Christmas, and his influence on some of the greatest musical talents of the second half of the 20th century. Next is Danny Kaye: Joy to the World (1080p, 13:10), another piece that looks at the history and legacy of the White Christmas star. Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ (1080p, 7:22) examines the history and staying power of the best-selling single of all time, along with a glimpse into the life of Irving Berlin. ‘White Christmas:’ From Page to Stage (1080p, 4:21) looks at the film’s transition to Broadway. ‘White Christmas:’ A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney (480p, 16:46) is a retrospective piece that features the famed actress looking back at her experiences in working at Paramount, with Bing Crosby, and on White Christmas. Finally, this disc features the White Christmas original (1080p, 2:24) and re-release (1080p, 2:09) trailers.
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