12/23/09

Holiday Inn (1942)

Bing Crosby (Jim), Fred Astaire (Ted), Marjorie Reynolds (Linda), Virginia Dale (Lila)

Directed by Mark Sandrich (The Gay Divorcee)

IMDB Summary: Jim Hardy and Ted Hanover have been vaudeville partners for many years but when Ted announces that he and Jim's girlfriend, dancer Lila Dixon, are going to set off on their own, Jim decides the time has come to retire. He buys himself a farmhouse in New England and settles into the country life but soon realizes that he has an opportunity to do something special. He decides to open his inn to the public, but only on major holidays. Things are going well for him until his old partner Ted shows up and sets his sights on Jim's new friend, Linda Mason.

What an awesome film. SO much fun. I can't wait to see it again next year, and to make it a part of my Christmas viewing tradition.

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 was a trial run of sorts 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 marvellously 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 scene in which Ted arrives at the Holiday Inn and dances drunk with Linda, 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've been on such a kick listening that I didn't know how many of these songs I'd already come to enjoy. "Easter Parade," "Song of Freedom," and "Be Careful, It's My Heart" have all been on my heavy rotation list. 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.

The dynamic between Bing and Fred was much more pronounced here than the dynamic between Bing and Danny Kaye in White Christmas. Fred's character, Ted, was very self-serving, almost nasty, and Bing's portrayal of Jim was laconically calm. And they aren't on the same side. That created a stronger conflict between them as leads. In White Christmas, Bing was more driven and outright comedic, and Danny Kaye's Phil Davis character was scheming and silly, not overtly hostile. The subtle differences in their interactions made for two movies that felt very different, despite their on-paper similarities.

Because I watched this on AMC, I didn't get to see the "Abraham" number as part of the film. Grrrr...I hate films edited for content. I don't have any beef with this scene because I'm white and I'm absolutely certain that blackface doesn't affect me the same way it would an African American. Also, as Keven said, it's heart was in the right place. Celebrating Abraham Lincoln is an awesome thing. Kev likened it to your grandma using the word "colored" instead of whatever might be appropriate today. No offense was meant, but times have moved on.

I haven't said much about the two female leads, mostly because they didn't strike me as forcefully as did Bing and Fred. But that might change as I get to know this film better over the next few Christmas seasons.

No comments: