Skip to main content

You know, in some ways, you’re far superior to my cocker spaniel.

White Christmas
(1954)

(SPOILERS) White Christmas is one of those beloved Christmas “classics” that gets its prescribed seasonal screening(s) but I doubt most people have watched all the way through. I certainly hadn’t. Having remedied that, I’m very doubtful you’ll have gained anything by giving it your full attention rather than having it on the background while you put your decorations up. And then wondering, when you do occasionally give it your attention, why it’s still on and nothing of consequence whatsoever appears to have happened.

It seems Paramount couldn’t get Fred Astaire back with Bing Crosby following Holiday Inn, so eventually ended up with Danny Kaye. Who adds a flavour of his antic-ness but by his standards is relatively subdued. Bob Hope might have been a better fit, sending up the whole affair– Road to the North Pole? Rather than Road to Vermont. In a very obvious, can’t-be-bothered-even-to-get-some-second-unit-shots studio (complete with the then obligatory asbestos snow, when it comes).

At least we have Bob (Bing) and Phil (Danny) sending up the signature showtune of Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen, who had worked with Kaye nearly a decade earlier in Wonder Man). Their version of Sisters was okayed as an unscripted addition by director Michael Curtiz after the duo had been larking about on set doing a send-up. Hence Crosby’s corpsing in response to Kaye is genuine.

Curtis may have been a versatile, talented and workaholic studio gun – an Oscar-winning one at that – but he was also ridiculously prolific, even after he parted ways with Warner Bros (White Christmas was one of a number he made for Paramount). With that can come perhaps a tendency not to be as selective with material as one might. White Christmas was his third film of 1954 and his choice may have been justified – it was an enormous hit, only beaten by Rear Window that year (although Wiki grosses for this period often need to be taken with a pinch of salt). It rather reinforces the idea that audiences will swallow anything with Christmas attached (well, maybe not Mixed Nuts), as White Christmas carries a self-satisfied “that’ll do” flavour, as if all Bing needed to do was show up and belt out White Christmas and that would be sufficient (so encoring his Holiday Inn performance).

Thus, there’s a nominal plot, with proceedings beginning in 1944, with Kaye and Crosby as unlikely soldiers entertaining the troops. Bing’s already a success, and Kaye – after saving his life, the constant reminders regarding which becoming a running gag – persuades him to try performing together back home. This leads to big success and big musical numbers, and meeting the Haynes sisters, also performers; Kaye is trying to play cupid for Crosby, but misunderstandings sour the latter’s relationship with Clooney. Kaye himself is reluctant/shy when it comes to romance (in typically Kaye fashion) but he and Ellen agree to an engagement of convenience to incite Clooney. Which doesn’t work due to those misunderstandings. There’s also a vaguely patriotic subplot running through White Christmas once the quartet arrive in Vermont, with the boys’ old commanding officer turned hotelier Dean Jagger in dire straits owing to a scarcity of snow (or asbestos). Naturally, it all turns out right.

White Christmas is a loooong, indulgent 120m minutes. In its favour, it doesn’t suffer the affliction of many a modern Christmas flick – of being inanely bad – but it sits there, rarely inclined to exhibit much of a pulse. Crosby and Kaye have strong chemistry, though. Ellen is likeable, but Clooney spends most of the proceedings in a bad mood. Irving Berlin’s tunes are all passable, but rarely have a pulse. Except for Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army, where, next to the Sisters encore, everyone is clearly having fun; it’s the most spirited, funniest (their oversized fat suit props) number here.

Also of note is that Kaye doesn’t do much in the way of dancing, not being Fred Astaire, so Ellen’s partner is mostly John Brascia, who performs with an unsettlingly toothsome rictus grin on his face, as if he’s auditioning for the Joker. Perhaps the most damning aspect of White Christmas is that if fails to exude an enticingly Christmassy atmosphere or warmth. Unless inducement of torpor while watching it with an eggnog counts.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Are you, by any chance, in a trance now, Mr Morrison?

The Doors (1991) (SPOILERS) Oliver Stone’s mammoth, mythologising paean to Jim Morrison is as much about seeing himself in the self-styled, self-destructive rebel figurehead, and I suspect it’s this lack of distance that rather quickly leads to The Doors becoming a turgid bore. It’s strange – people are , you know, films equally so – but I’d hitherto considered the epic opus patchy but worthwhile, a take that disintegrated on this viewing. The picture’s populated with all the stars it could possibly wish for, tremendous visuals (courtesy of DP Robert Richardson) and its director operating at the height of his powers, but his vision, or the incoherence thereof, is the movie’s undoing. The Doors is an indulgent, sprawling mess, with no internal glue to hold it together dramatically. “Jim gets fat and dies” isn’t really a riveting narrative through line.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.