This is a five-part series of reviews of classic live-action Christmas films that are on my must-watch list every holiday season.
This is my favorite holiday-themed musical, and it is the origin of several famous songs that have come to be associated with other films. It also has many things in common with the film I reviewed yesterday, White Christmas. Both feature Bing Crosby in a leading role, music by Irving Berlin, and one special song that became a Christmas standard. They’re also both musicals about the ins and outs of show business and the hospitality industry, but instead of White Christmas‘s classic “put on a show to save the day” approach, Holiday Inn‘s shows create more trouble for all concerned.
Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire are song-and-dance partners (no typecasting here, rest assured). They also perform with Lila (Virginia Dare), who just can’t make up her mind which of them to marry. When she breaks off her engagement to Jim (Crosby) in favor of continuing her dancing with Ted (Astaire), Jim continues with his plans to buy a farm in Connecticut. His goal is relaxation, but farming provides anything but. After a year or so of hard labor, Jim turns his farm into an inn, Holiday Inn, which will only be open on holidays. Jim figures he can handle working the fifteen or so legal holidays on the calendar, and sets to work writing songs for each holiday stage show. Linda (Marjorie Reynolds) shares his vision and agrees to be in these shows. But Ted and Lila never made it to the altar, and when Ted shows up at Holiday Inn looking for work, the romantic rivalries start all over again.
“White Christmas” is featured in several places in this film, and none so beautifully as when Jim sings for Linda in front of a lit-up Christmas tree at the inn. “Easter Parade,” another song that eventually got a movie named after it, also debuts here. And while most of the songs are sung as stage shows instead of as part of plot or character development like later musicals (think Rodgers and Hammerstein muscials in particular), the songs often reflect the events of the story better than many other musicals of the 1930s and 40s. At the very least, they let you know what holiday you’re up to, which is helpful on a movie so dependant on the passage of time.
This film is just a lot of fun. The dances are great, as Fred Astaire’s dances always are, and my favorite solo dance of his, the “firecracker” number during the Independence Day show, is full of energy. That same show also features “Song of Freedom,” really the only indication that the US was in full war mode by the time this film was released, with its newsreel images of war production and lyrics such as “all God’s people everywhere shall be free.” As I watch it, I like to imagine my characters watching it in their local theater, forgetting their cares for a couple of hours, “killing time just being lazy.”