We kicked off our Christmas Movie watching season the other night by watching this 1942 can of corn from composer Irving Berlin and director Mark Sandrich, "Holiday Inn". This is a staple of the Christmas season, but, believe it or not, it was the first time that Marilyn and I ever saw it.
In his movie guide, Leonard Maltin describes this as having a "paper thin plot", and he's not far off. The song and dance team of Hanover (Fred Astaire), Hardy (Bing Crosby), and Dixon (Virginia Dale) is about to break up because Hardy and Dixon are going to ditch show biz, get married, and move to a farm in Connecticut. Trouble is, Dixon has now fallen for Hanover, and wants to stay in show biz, so, on Christmas Eve, Bing gets dumped and moves to the farm anyway.
In the ensuing year farm life proves to tough for Der Bingle, so he hits upon the idea of converting his farm into a combination nightclub and inn that will be open only on holidays, hence the title. As two contemporary reviews of the movie I read while exploring the Internet rabbit hole put it, this then enables lazybones Bing to loaf around for the 350 or so days a year that the Inn won't be open.
On the next Christmas Eve, into his life strolls Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), looking to break into show biz. Bing sings her a little ditty that he had just written, something that you may have heard, "White Christmas", and they get ready to open up Holiday Inn for New Year's Day.
In the meantime, out on the road, Lila Dixon has dumped Ted Hanover for a Texas millionaire, and this brings a drunken Astaire to Connecticut to see his old partner and where he stumbles upon a new dance partner, the wonderful Linda, with whom Bing has already fallen in love. Trouble is, Fred was so plowed during his dance number with her, he can't remember her.
Will Astaire ever find this beautiful mystery girl and go Big Time in the show biz world with her?
Will Astaire steal Crosby's girl, again, and break his heart again?
And whatever becomes of the treacherous Lila?
Drunkenness and romantic two-timing are played for laughs in this one, and we are forced to endure a cringe-worthy Lincoln's Birthday number where Crosby, Reynolds, and the rest of the cast perform in black face, so throw in some casual 1940's era racism as well, but what the hell, you've got all these lively Irving Berlin numbers and some WW II flag waving (the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred in the middle of the filming of this movie), so the movie endures. And there are two great reasons for that, in my opinion.
The first is Berlin's all time classic song, the song that won that year's Best Original Song Academy Award, "White Christmas". In fact, Berlin and the producers of this movie figured that the breakout hit song would be the Valentine's Day song, "Be Careful It's My Heart". Nice ballad, but it was snowed under, so to speak, by "White Christmas", which remains to this day the biggest selling single recording ever according to the Guinness Book of World Records (although this may be subject to some dispute). It performed poorly at first compared to "Be Careful..." when the movie was released in the summer of 1942, but with a nation at war, the song "White Christmas" struck a chord that Christmas season, and it has never diminished in popularity.
The other reason to watch this movie, and, again, this is just me talking, is the opportunity to watch Fred Astaire dance.
He has four absolutely outstanding turns in this one. The first is the drunken New Year's Eve dance with Reynolds, pictured above, the "Be Careful It's My Heart" dance with Reynolds for Valentine's Day, a minuet with Reynolds for Washington's Birthday that Crosby tries to sabotage by jazzing it up at different points, and a solo performance for the Fourth of July amidst a barrage of firecrackers. I mean they just don't make them like Fred Astaire anymore.
It's corn, it's fluff, it makes no logical sense, but it's escapist fare and it's fun, and on that scale, it gets Two and One-half stars from The Grandstander. (It loses half a star due to that Lincoln's Birthday bit.)