Welcome to today’s show, White Christmas (1954), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to iTunes and give me a review.
Today’s movie is White Christmas (1954). Don’t ever watch this movie. I only selected it so I could use the von Scherbach quote from Stalag 17 (1953). This film has entirely too much singing even for a musical. The dancing, however, was excellent.
Bing Crosby played singer Bob Wallace. Crosby was born in Washington in 1903. Crosby studied law at Gonzaga University but was more interested in singing in local bands. In 1925, Bing and part of the band left for Los Angles. Bing eventually signed with CBS and was very popular in the depression years. His first movie was The Big Broadcast (1932). He made a series of seven “road” films with Bob Hope. These films are mostly gags and music and are Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Zanzibar (1941), Road to Morocco (1942), Road to Utopia (1946), Road to Rio (1947), Road to Bali (1952), and The Road to Hong Kong (1962).
Bing had dramatic chops as well. He won the best actor Oscar playing a priest in Going My Way (1944) and played an alcoholic opposite Grace Kelly in The Country Girl (1954). One of Bing’s loves was playing golf. At the age of 74, he died on a golf course in Spain.
Danny Kaye played singer and dancer Phil Davis. Kaye was born in New York City in 1911. He left school at 13 and began working the resort circuit in the Catskill’s. In 1939, he made his debut on Broadway. It took Samuel Goldwyn a while but he finally signed Kaye to a movie contract. MGM placed him in color musicals beginning with Up in Arms (1944). Other great movies followed like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), The Inspector General (1949), and White Christmas (1954). It can easily be argued that his best film was The Court Jester (1955), with its famous poison pellet routine. Kaye had “The Danny Kaye Show” on television for 1963 to 1967. One of his last roles was as a Holocaust survivor in Skokie (1981). Kaye died in 1987 at the age of 76.
Rosemary Clooney played singer Betty Haynes. Clooney was born in 1928 in Kentucky. At the age of 13, in 1941, she sang on the radio. At the station, she was able to work with Doris Day and Andy Williams. As a singing star, she had many hits. Her biggest movie was White Christmas (1954). She married José Ferrer in 1953 divorced him and married him again in 1964. Let’s see. That milk is spoiled. I will put it back in the refrigerator and try it again in two weeks.
Clooney had a nervous breakdown in 1968 and didn’t resume her career until 1976. Clooney died in 2002 at the age of 74. Her nephew is actor George Clooney.
Vera-Ellen played the role of younger sister Judy Haynes. Vera-Ellen was a perky dancer. Vera-Ellen was born in Ohio in 1921. As a sickly child, she began dancing at the age of 9. As a teen, she was such a good dancer she was working in clubs and was one of the youngest Rockettes. At the age of 18 in 1939, she made her Broadway debut. She began working in movies in 1945.
Her first two movies, Wonder Man (1945) and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), musical showcases for a young Danny Kaye. But by the end, the public was in love with Vera-Ellen. She held her own with Gene Kelly in Words and Music (1948) and again in On the Town (1949), playing “Miss Turnstiles.”
Vera-Ellen worked with Fred Astaire in Three Little Words (1950) and The Belle of New York (1952). She was paired with Donald O’Connor in Call Me Madam (1953). Of course, in White Christmas (1954) she was working with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney.
As the popularity of musicals declined in the late 1950s, her career suffered as well. She showed that she could handle regular drama in Big Leaguer (1953) with Edward G. Robinson. Vera-Ellen did some television and Vegas work but her personal life began to take a toll. Prior to medical awareness of the disease, Vera-Ellen was suffering from anorexia. She also developed debilitating arthritis. She had two failed marriages and lost a child to crib death. Little was heard for decades until it was discovered that she had died 1981, at age 60 following a bout with cancer.
Dean Jagger was cast as Major General Thomas F. Waverly. Jagger was born in Ohio in 1903. He dropped out of high school two times but eventually made it through Wabash College. For a brief time, he was a school teacher before becoming interested in drama. He studied at the Lyceum Art Conservatory in Chicago. Jagger’s first movie, The Woman from Hell (1929) was silent. He became a character actor and had 132 film and television credits. Some of his better-known roles include White Christmas (1954), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), the cult classic Vanishing Point (1971) where he played a prospector and television’s “Mr. Novak” 1963-1965 where he played a school principal. However, he is best known for his role in Twelve O’Clock High (1949) where he played a soldier going through his second world war. For this role, he won the best supporting actor Oscar. Jagger died in California, in 1991.
Mary Wickes played resort worker Emma Allen. Wickes was born in 1910 in St. Louis. Born into a wealthy family she was a debutante and graduated from Washington University. She began working in summer stock. She quickly transitioned on to Broadway. A lanky jokestress, she was signed by Warner Bros. Roles during this period include The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Now, Voyager (1942), Who Done It? (1942), a WAC in Private Buckaroo (1942), Happy Land (1943), and My Kingdom for a Cook (1943). She also continued to work on Broadway and in television. Her best-known television role was as Miss Cathcart in “Dennis the Menace” 1959-1962.
Some of her later roles were her best. She played the role of Sister Clarissa in The Trouble with Angels (1966) and its sequel, Where Angels Go Trouble Follows! (1968), both with Rosalind Russell. She also played a nun in Sister Act (1992) and its sequel, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993). This was followed by a role in Postcards from the Edge (1990), Little Women (1994), and as the voice of a gargoyle in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), sadly released after her death. She died at the age of 85 in 1995.
Sig Ruman had a small uncredited bit as an angry landlord, Ruman was first covered in Episode 76 – House of Frankenstein (1944).
The movie begins on Christmas Eve, 1944. American troops are enjoying a song and dance act as shells fall in the distance. It clearly seems to be near the Battle of the Bulge. Captain Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby), a would-be entertainer, Private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) are performing on stage. Bob sings the song “White Christmas.”
On another part of the base Major General Thomas F. Waverly (Dean Jagger) is being relieved of command. The new general states that they should not be having a crowded show this close to the front lines. Waverly sends the new general the long way to the headquarters and ducks into the back of the show. At the end of the show he steps up, gives a speech, and Wallace and Key lead the men in singing “The Old Man.” But there is no time for tears as an enemy artillery attack takes place, proving the new general correct and explaining why Waverly is getting relieved. This is just my opinion and is not in the movie.
During the artillery attack, Davis saves Wallace’s life when a wall almost falls on him. Davis is wounded during the rescue. Later at the hospital Davis asks to be part of his act and leverages the wound to become part of the new duo.
About 10 years after the war, the duo is big time. They have been in nightclubs, on the radio, and on Broadway. They have finally turned to producing and are on the hunt for new talent. While in Florida planning for a new show, the two confirmed bachelors hear from their old Army mess sergeant, “Freckle-Faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy,” asking for them to look in on his two sisters’ act. Since he is the dog-faced boy, they don’t expect too much in the way of looks.
They go to the club to see the sisters and are surprised at the talent and good looks of Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney) and her sister, Judy (Vera-Ellen). Davis notices that Wallace is interested in Betty, so he starts dancing with Judy. Davis and Judy seem to hit it off right away and break into the song “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing.” While that pair is off dancing and singing, Betty reveals to Wallace that the letter really came for Judy and not their old Army buddy.
The manager comes in and says the sheriff and an irate landlord (Sig Ruman) are there to arrest the sisters for allegedly destroying the rug in their room. Davis really wants to help but Wallace is not so sure. Davis gives the sisters their tickets for the northbound train and helps them slip out the back.
Davis and Wallace then go on stage in drag and lip-sync one of the sister’s tunes. Davis is having way too much fun. The two guys make it to the train but Davis then has to tell Wallace that he gave away their tickets and their sleep berths to the sisters. The four meet that night and everyone gets along quite well. The sisters are heading to Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont so they boys decide to tag along.
When they get to Vermont, they find it has not snowed since Thanksgiving. They travel to the Inn and the sisters are told by resort worker Emma Allen (Mary Wickes) that their gig has been canceled due to lack of tourists. Shortly thereafter Wallace and Davis find out that the Inn is owned by their old commander General Waverly.
Waverly has invested all his money and his retirement in the lodge and is about to lose the Inn. This doesn’t ring true, as those sweet military retirement checks come every month just like clockwork. Wallace and Davis decide to help by bringing their new musical “Playing Around” to the Inn for a Christmas Eve show. What a couple of rat-bastards, making people work on Christmas. They also add the sisters into the show.
Wallace and Betty’s relationship is starting to heat up and they show it by singing “Count Your Blessings.” At the same time, General Waverly’s request to rejoin the Army is rejected. Wait a minute. He was relieved during the Battle of the Bulge when the Nazi’s were winning and he sat out the Korean Conflict and then tries to go back on active duty in peace time. Anyway, the General is feeling forgotten and Wallace is determined to show he is not.
Wallace calls his old Army buddy, Ed Harrison (Johnny Grant). Harrison is the host of a very popular variety show on television. Wallace asks if he can make a pitch to the men of the General’s old division to come to the Christmas Eve show and make the Inn successful. Harrison wants to bring his television show to Vermont and schmaltz it up. There is a surprising amount of Yiddish in this film and I had to look this one up. It means excessive sentimentality or corny, especially in music or movies.
Unknown to the two men on the phone call, housekeeper Emma Allen has been listening on the extension but has only heard up to the schmaltz part, before Wallace dismissed the idea, never wanting to embarrass the General.
Emma thinks her boss, the General, is going to be made a figure of pity on national TV. She tells what she believes to be true to Betty, who is shocked that Wallace would do such a thing to get publicity for his own show. Betty turns off the love for Wallace and now can’t stand to be around him. Judy begins to think Betty will never get into a relationship as long as she is with her younger sister. Judy hatches a plan with Davis, whom she really likes, to announce a fake engagement. As soon as they make the announcement Betty leaves to take a job in New York City.
Davis and Judy go to Wallace and reveal the fake engagement. Still not sure why Betty is mad, Wallace heads to New York City to make it right. Betty sings “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me” before her and Wallace talk. She is caving in but when Harrison show up she gets mad again. Back at the Inn, Davis fakes an injury to get the General away from the TV while Wallace makes the announcement. Wallace asks the men of the 151st Division to come to the Inn in Vermont on Christmas Eve. He also sings “What Can You Do with a General.” This song is the schmaltziest piece of crap I have ever heard. Betty hears the truth and heads back to Vermont in time for the show. Emma who now is on board convinces the General to wear his uniform.
When the General gets downstairs, it is full of men from the Division. They sing “The Old Man” AGAIN. This is followed by “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army” a song I kind of like.
When the show is finished Wallace and Betty declare their love, followed by Davis and Judy doing the same. The flats are moved aside to reveal it is snowing outside. They raise their drinks and toast, “May your days be merry and bright; and may all your Christmases be white.” Wallace signs “White Christmas” AGAIN.
World-Famous Short Summary – Girls just want to have fun, don’t ever watch this movie.
If you enjoyed this week’s show, please tell your friends and it you really want to help drop over to iTunes to give me a review. If you want to comment, recommend a movie, or just say hi, follow the links in the show notes to my site.
Beware the moors