Oh, am I terribly late or what? Can we pretend I’m holidaying somewhere in the South Pacific on the December 10th side of the International Dateline where it’s still relatively morning-ish? No?
Okay, I confess. I have the Flu to End All Flus. Sixteen crackers in three days does not make for the most with-it individual.
But speaking of holidays, there are quite a few this month. (If you hadn’t noticed!) I reluctantly put up decorations and plan no parties, but I am a big-time sucker for holiday films. Even if they’re only vaguely related to the season such as Die Hard or While You Were Sleeping, or more obscure such as Jimmy Stewart’s quirky The Shop Around the Corner, I put them in my December queue.
A film I recently added to my rotation is the 1942 Frank Capra musical Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. I’d never seen it before I hopped on a serious Fred Astaire bandwagon late last year.
Just as You Can’t Take It With You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington felt like practice films so that Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart could make It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn appears to have been a trial run for the eventual greatness of White Christmas. Bing plays the same kind of guy, one who finds himself in show business almost by accident and wants a quieter life. He’s partnered with a dancer who makes his life an amusing hell. And both couples are paired up in happy dancing-and-singing harmony by the time the credits roll. They even used the same set!
The difference, and why this becomes more than a White Christmas forerunner, boils down to one key factor: Fred Astaire. Now don’t throw rocks at me for being a philistine, but I’d never seen a Fred Astaire movie before this one. The man was simply a marvel. A damn skinny marvel! Not only was he the amazing dancer, which is how his legend comes down to us through the decades, but he’s fantastically funny. Anyone who thinks that sarcasm has always been the domain of the English really needs to watch early cinematic comedies. Astaire’s comebacks and zingers were delivered with either a wink and a smile, or with an entirely droll wit that reminded me of Hugh Laurie.
And his dancing. Holy mackerel.
Trivia: for the above scene, Astaire wanted to give it an authentic feel. He downed two shots of bourbon, then drank another after each take. To film that scene required seven takes. He was, quite literally, falling-down drunk, but his dances still blows my mind. Unbelievable.
As for Bing, I keep trying to identify his appeal. I think it comes down to how laid-back he seems, and how he can just open his mouth and create these amazing melodies. No wonder he was called “Papa” and “Daddy” by so many, because he has an easy paternal quality–very important during the war years.
Oh, and one last piece of trivial: It was in Holiday Inn that Bing first performed what would become one of the all-time classic songs of the season, “White Christmas.”
I was so happy to find this movie among the gems of old. My question for you is this: What films are in your holiday viewing queue? Any oldies? Or ones you watch that don’t necessarily scream “Tis the Season” but have become part of your family’s tradition?
I’ll give away the three-disk collector’s set of Holiday Inn to one random commenter. The set includes the black-and-white and colorized versions, as well as the original soundtrack. Want!