‘Paramount Pictures Proudly Presents’ this film, which instantly made me smile. I mean, studios these days still present films, but when was the last time they proudly presented one? It makes me think of your children bringing home a macaroni and glitter picture and showing it to you as if it’s the new Mona Lisa – because it is! “White Christmas” is also the first picture made in Paramount’s VistaVision format, which is an ancestor of the IMAX format.
The song ‘White Christmas’ actually appeared first in “Holiday Inn” but it was so popular it was spun off into its own film. I can only assume the scriptwriter decided on a high level of irony because the one thing there is very little of in “White Christmas” is snow.
The poster promises us a delightfully Santa-esque extravaganza with our lead cast decked out in red with white trim in front of a snow-covered scene dominated by a luxurious Christmas tree, however the film opens in the closing days of World War II, where Captain Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Private Davis (Danny Kaye) are putting on an impromptu show for their fellow soldiers to mark Christmas Eve 1944 and say farewell to their retiring commander, Major General Waverley (Dean Jagger). Fast forward a couple of years and Wallace and Davis are successful entertainers with a touring variety show currently in Miami, but bound for New York. Just before they leave, they go to talent scout a sister act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen). The four of them eventually end up going to Vermont where they discover the now retired General Wallace running a guest house. Unfortunately, the guest house is struggling to make ends meet because of the unseasonably warm weather and absence of snow. To help their old pal out, Wallis and Davis decide to put on their show right there in the guest house, which conveniently has an enormous stage set-up. I couldn’t help but think if Major General Wallace had invested more in guest accommodations rather than a massive theatre complex, he would have found it easier to turn a profit.
They certainly don’t make them like this anymore, and that’s probably a good thing. For a reputed Christmas Classic, for most of its almost two hour running time it’s just not very Christmassy. Oh sure, within four minutes of the film starting, the song ‘White Christmas’ has made its first appearance and the last three minutes are super-Christmassy (and it finally snows) as they reprise the title song. But in between, it’s an unremarkable, generic 1950s musical comedy, with gentle slapstick and a great deal of dependency on the charm and charisma of Crosby and Kaye. The thin plot depends on a series of coincidences and set pieces designed purely to shoehorn in the songs Irving Berlin wanted to include, strung together by romantic misunderstandings, break ups, make ups and sassy housekeepers aplenty.
While it’s not without charm, it’s too long, too slow and just not Christmassy enough. It may keep Granny occupied for a couple of hours but the rest of the family is likely to be fidgeting before they even reach the Vermont hotel.