Lush, beautiful, bright, funny, touching are a few choice words I use for “White Christmas”, released in 1954, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Produced by Robert Emmett Dolan, distributed by Paramount in VistaVision (first movie released in this perspective), with cinematography by Loyal Griggs, costumes by Edith Head (with close to 450 film credits in her career, to me as good as any of her Oscar winning work) Set Decorations by Sam Comer and Grace Gregory, the dances and musical numbers staged by Robert Alton, the choreography by Bob Fosse, although his work went uncredited.
To say that everything in this film is beautiful is an understatement; each costume takes full advantage of the Technicolor process and the dance sequences are given the Broadway treatment in VistaVision. Clooney, Crosby, Ellen and Kaye never looked better, nor in my opinion were their physical attributes and particular talents more advantageously used during their careers; kismet for Christmas.
I don’t want to wax long over my love and infatuation with this movie, I know that in many respects it is a slight offering, yet, with each viewing I am transported to the state of Kind and Gentle, populated by a people that have made it so. The characters of this State are persons that we want to know, and we feel welcomed by them, who, having their arms wide open, invite us to stay this while, enjoying their loyalty, their care and integrity, along with the snow; enough said with regards to my review.
It occurred to me as my wife (Margaret) and I watched “White Christmas” at our local Cinemark Theater (the Classic Series), that this romantic musical was not helmed by someone with a career spent, in directing Hollywood musicals, but instead, it was crafted by the man whose style cannot be spotted as many directors can be by a characteristic stamp, such as Billy Wilder and George Cukor.
White Christmas was directed by the very same man of whom classics and near-classics such as The Adventures of Robin Hood and Four Daughters , 1938, The Sea Wolf, 1941, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca, 1942, Mildred Pierce, 1945, Young Man with a Horn, 1950, and The Proud Rebel in 1958, these titles representing five decades of film making, in nearly every genre and doing it well; a true journeyman with the directorial skills of an auteur, with none of the discernible tell-tale signs, the one the only, Michael Curtiz.
I guess the case could be made that Curtiz had a certain technical approach to film-making that is traceable movie to movie, but, clearly this method is not as pronounced as say John Ford’s or Alfred Hitchcock’s. I have always been fascinated at Curtiz’s ability to move from film to film, effortlessly, timely, as if he were moving from aisle to aisle in a grocery store, not searching for anything in particular, excepting that “particular item” strike his fancy.
White Christmas was the top grossing film of 1954, despite lukewarm reviews from critics. Audiences were pleased and at 59 years of age, to me, she looks very good. What a pleasure for all of us who wish to find two hours of reprieve from the hustle and bustle of life, a Technicolor light is still shining through “White Christmas” into our dark a sometimes dreary world. Enjoy… and Merry Christmas!
Notes from the side: Filming took place from September through November of 1953, with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire set to star, Astaire declined and Donald O’Conner was next in line to portray Phil Davis, O’Conner fell ill and Danny Kaye was brought in. Barrie Chase appears unbilled as Doris Lenz (which was not uncommon for her), the “mutual I’m sure” girl.
Future Oscar winner George Chakiris is one of the black-clad dancers with Rosemary Clooney in “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me”, in the Carousal Club scene. Dynamic dancer John Brascia and his strong steps appears opposite Vera-Ellen in much of the film, but especially in the “Mandy”, “Choreography” and “Abraham” stagings.
The only singing of Vera-Ellen that is heard is the “Pine Tree arrival” scene at the railroad station where Crosby, Clooney, Kaye and Ellen reprise the opening lines of “Snow”. The rest of the singing for the character Judy Haynes is performed by Trudy Stevens although there appears to be some debate to that point, Gloria Wood is also listed as doing some backup vocals for dubbing for Ellen in White Christmas. Rosemary Clooney sang both parts of the duet: Sisters.
By C. S. Williams