Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Audience and White Christmas

If you visit my home in the Christmas season, you are likely to watch a holiday movie. It might be Holiday Inn, one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol or if we are feeling lighter in spirit Scrooged and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. The absolute must for seasonal viewing is White Christmas. It is a wonderful musical that is a romantic comedy but no one calls it that because it was made in 1954. It's also not about Christmas in 1954. It's about Christmas in the immediate years after World War Two.

White Christmas is fantastic because of the production values for a '50s film (excellent) and Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney's great singing. Listen carefully in the song "Snow". It's just Crosby and Clooney singing, as Danny Kaye and Vera Allen lip synch. One of the sets is one of those dinner and dancing clubs that went extinct by the time I was old enough to go out. Lots of bit players who were in many other movies, and bit of a wink and smile at the idea of a movie being a show they put on for us. We are watching it decades after it came out, so it was really a show for the 1950s crowd.

The movie opens with a little show for an Army unit in France of 1944. Bing is already sending a series of signals. He was there doing USO tour dates for GIs, Christmas of 1944 was when those Nazi bastards started their last offensive. In that scene, the younger male with no past sacrifices and helps the established star. They bond and form a friendship. They return and tear it up on the showbiz circuit. They meet sisters of an old Army buddy, another common returning GI thing. Sometimes for fun and sometimes they would go see a buddy's family to fulfill a promise to a dying man. The audience gets this.

The other set up is the sister duo. A buddy from the war is the ruse to get Bing and Kaye to see the ladies' act. Really 10 years later, they'd see their act for a war buddy? Maybe right after the war. Rosemary Clooney is the older sister while Vera Allen plays the hot young thing. Both are blondies with nice figures. These are the women that those GIs left behind, and they are meant to get together and collide like train cars. Picket fences, babies and happiness. The post-war dream. Clooney is the Rosie the Riveter chaste girl you GI Joe wrote letters to, and Allen is the younger girl that you were fighting for to return to in the future. This set up makes sense if it is closer to '45 not '54.

They all find their way to an inn in Vermont (who must've paid for the promotion it received) run by an old man. Not any old man but their old commanding general. There is a weird feeling of transition, change and a non-family family in the inn. The 'brothers' are reluctant to pair up but one makes a rash move to help the other out. Like other returning vets, Kaye's character pairs with the hot chick who crosses his path with a light head about it. Crosby's character is reluctant. Maybe other guys came back from the war a bit off from what they experienced and had intimacy issues or others just enjoyed the women they met there. Sadly, a tension no longer possible in modern films is present. The pairs definitely want one another but neither makes a serious move for sex onscreen and it was believable. Hollywood can't do it now because the audience would expect Bing and Clooney to get down by the fire during the "Counting My Blessings" scene.

The weird scene is the big sendoff. Bing has assembled men from the 'old unit' to come to the inn for the old general. They get quite a few guys to show up in uniform. The general wears his uniform. A bit weird for '54, but it would have been much more normal for '45 or '46. Even odder is that a man in an Army uniform tells the general something quietly. It's that it is snowing, but the man is obviously not an employee of the inn. He is a former soldier and addresses the general as it were official business. No one working at the hotel could tell him? It is also not Kaye or Crosby. It is a weird nugget in the film, but no one ever notices it being odd. Your mind is already viewing this as the normal circumstance of the setting despite it making no sense in 1954.

The final musical numbers are a song about nostalgia for the simple days of being in the Army and White Christmas. Before we get to White Christmas, the other songs in the movie are about the romance one can experience partner dancing (Kaye + Allen's great dance duet at the club) which was dying out, a song about mising the days of the minstrel shows, and another song mocking the transformation of dance into super serious choreography. Every song is a nostalgic look at the old world the audience knew pre-war versus the world of today. The war truly was the before and after transformation for those GIs as a nation and as men.

White Christmas is a key not just as the title song but for what it was to those men. It is the greatest selling song of all time. Released just as WW2 began, the song was the song that GIs listened to while away at war during the holidays. Sure it was written by a guy in the sunny southwest about his youth, but shipped off to Asia or North Africa would make plenty of men from the cold northern USA long for home during the holidays. Just like those men who returned home confused or a bit shy about resettling into American life, Bing and Kaye get their girls, and the entire cast gets involved with the final White Christmas lines. The final camera shot tracking out shows the stage as if winking at the entire concept of movies by saying, "the show is over". Boys, Bing was there with you during the war, and you listened to him when you finally found that girl when you got home, so thanks for enjoying the show.

1 comment:

Toddy Cat said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again - the period 1945-1965 was one of the most interesting times in American history. It tends to get overshadowed by the rebellion of the late 60's today, but in many ways it was far more important. It's also interesting to note that the "old world" that the hippies rebelled against was really not that old, and that it could be argued that the world that the Vets constructed after WWII was cut off before it really matured and showed what it could do and be. Oh, well, as I always say, the true history of the 1960's "rebellion" has yet to be written.

May all your Christmases be white...