Saturday, December 6, 2008

Michael Curtiz's WHITE CHRISTMAS: Not A Classic

With the holiday season upon us, we’re once again besieged by those so-called holiday “classics”; songs, TV specials, books, and movies that claim to be classics for no reason more than that they’re set during the holidays. Since Christmas only comes but once a year – and since people most have short memories – distributors all tend to believe that if it’s got anything to do with Christmas, then it’s got to be a classic, even if it is A VERY ROSIE CHRISTMAS, RUDOLPH & FROSTY’S CHRISTMAS IN JULY or CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS. Most people love the holidays and all that goes with it – the songs, the sights, the food – so they seem to be willing to cut second-rate crap a lot of slack if it’s merely fairly Christmasy, and because of that a lot of stuff passes muster that simply shouldn’t. I know that the holidays are all about peace on earth and goodwill to all, but that shouldn’t extend to the likes of the New Kids on the Block Christmas album (astonishingly re-issued this year), don’t you think? Lame is lame no matter what the season, so with that in mind, HQ 10 respectfully asks, can we please stop calling Michael Curtiz’s 1954 schmaltz epic WHITE CHRISTMAS a classic?

Look, I understand that there’s a lot of talent behind WHITE CHRISTMAS: Curtiz, of course, although he seems to be phoning it in; Irving Berlin; the four leads; beautiful Vista-Vision lensing by Loyal Griggs; great Edith Head costumes, ect. There’s no doubt that WHITE CHRISTMAS is a class production all the way, but that doesn’t forgive the film it’s many flaws, namely an incredibly flimsy script and some second rate songs that don’t do much to inflict entertainment upon the viewer. For all that talent, there’s also zero real inspiration, other than to make a little extra money off of the most famous song ever written. All they did was basically rip-off HOLIDAY INN (a much more entertaining movie, albeit a flawed one – that “Abraham” number still makes me wretch) and slapped what feels like a first draft script onto it; there’s nothing of any significance anywhere in this movie. They must have thought this would be an easy sell back in ’54 (and it was, as the film was a major hit), but the fact that it remains so for a lot of people is still a head-slapper. When was the last time you actually watched the damn thing, people?

Now just so you know, I’m not a total WHITE CHRISTMAS hatin’ Scrooge, because it’s not without its pleasures. This is all due mainly to the four leads, the only ones who seem to be making an effort and the only one who give it any value. Crosby is, of course, Crosby, and he’s great at it, though he was a hell of a lot better in HOLIDAY INN, but this slick, stylish crooner could sell pretty much anything and he sure as hell almost sells WHITE CHRISTMAS. He’s well-matched with Kaye, who gives more than the script gives back, and the same can be said for Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney, who really does steal the show. Clooney had the goods to become a real movie star of the era, and why that didn’t happen I don’t know; great voice, good performance, and is a major hottie, too. Why wasn’t she in more movies? If WHITE CHRISTMAS is the best she ever got then Hollywood obviously didn’t know what to do with her, and that’s a shame. The other thing I love about WHITE CHRISTMAS is the look of it, magnificent Technicolor Vista-Vision photography (the first film shot in the format) and even on regular TV airings (which happen every Christmas Eve) it’s still a beautiful-looking picture. I once had the pleasure to see the first reel of a mint IB Technicolor collector’s print of WHITE CHRISTMAS projected in true Vista-Vision and it was sincerely a site to behold. Even with some dirt and scratches it had more depth and texture and brilliant colors than any HD/digital photography or projection will ever have, and I must say that once Paramount gets around to releasing it on Blu-Ray I will probably buy a copy just to look at it with the sound off. Actually, there’s one scene I’d watch with sound, and that’s the number “Snow”, sung by the four leads. Most every song in the film is sub-standard work from Irving Berlin (even the Maltin book claims that “What Can You Do With a General?” is the worst song he ever wrote), but “Snow” gets it all right and I’d buy the soundtrack just to have that one track. Or maybe I’d just download the one song, if it’s available. That should just about do it for me as far as WHITE CHRISTMAS is concerned.

Now here’s a question for you: Do you actually like WHITE CHRISTMAS? Could you tell me why? What is it about this film that brings you back to it? Because I’ve never known who claims to love this movie, and I’ve never once heard it referenced, like by saying, “Remember that great scene in WHITE CHRISTMAS?” or some such thing. If I’m missing something, please tell me, cause I’d sure like to know what it is. We could all use a little more holiday cheer (especially this year), but I’ve never looked in WHITE CHRISTMAS’s direction for it and I doubt I’m going to start any time soon.

Humbug? No, just good taste.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"it's not a classic"
Yes, Virginia, it is. It is a classic because it is loved by millions, regardless of the schmaltz. And that aint no chicken fat.