Sunday, December 12, 2010

Happy Holidays with "Holiday Inn"

I'm not sure if anybody will be able to get out to the Normal Theater in our current blizzard-like conditions, but it'd be a major shame if everybody has to miss "Holiday Inn." It's not a perfect movie (there's the issue of that blackface number when Bing Crosby's character chooses to use that unfortunate make-up choice to disguise his girlfriend from Fred Astaire's character's advances, plus some really silly plot choices and some fairly mediocre leading ladies) but still...

Fred Astaire gets to tap-dance with firecrackers as well as dance in a pretend-drunk state, both of which are pretty nifty, and Der Bingle gets to sing "White Christmas" and "Happy Holidays." There's a lot of nice snow and a very pretty inn in Vermont, so... All in all, I find myself looking for "Holiday Inn" every year about this time. The option of seeing it on the big screen at the Normal Theater instead of in my living room is even more appealing. If only it would stop snowing for real!

I should probably tell you that "Holiday Inn" the movie has nothing to do with the hotel chain. Instead, it's about a successful song-and-dance trio consisting of singer Jim Hardy (Bing), dancer Ted Hanover (Fred) and their sorta snotty third wheel, Lila (Virginia Dale). Jim wants to retire and take Lila with him, but Ted steals her at the last minute. Those two continue the act as a duet, while Jim goes off to Vermont and tries to be a farmer. He's a flop. He does come up with an idea to open a sort of combination inn and night club that only has shows on holidays. But then Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), a pretty girl from a flower shop, arrives at his inn to try to be a star, the two fall in love, and if it weren't for Jim constantly acting like an idiot, their lives singing holiday songs at the inn would be complete.

But he does act like an idiot. (See: Blackface as well as some other nefarious schemes.) Lila also dumps Ted, he comes looking for a new partner and tries to woo Linda, there's something about a Hollywood version of the inn, and everything turns out okay.

I'm not thrilled with the idea that Jim gets the girl or that Ted (my beloved Fred) gets stuck with the odious Lila again, but... That's Hollywood. It's all just an excuse to air some lovely Irving Berlin tunes, to introduce "White Christmas," the song, to the world, and to let Fred loose with his dancing shoes. That's what "Holiday Inn" is selling, and I will buy it every time.

"Holiday Inn" plays at 7 pm tonight at the Normal Theater. If you are snowbound and unable to attend, you'll find it popping up on the small screen, too. It's not as much fun, but as I often say, any Fred is better than no Fred.


  1. Alas, nobody in my house will watch such a thing. Except me.

  2. I have a memory of seeing it for the first time with the family around the TV at Christmastime. And I wasn't all that young either -- it was maybe around 1980. My parents recalled it being a major pleasure of their early adulthood at the movies.

    And the thing that kept distracting my attention was what a jerk the story forced Fred to be. And nobody in the movie seemed to notice, really. I asked my mother, didn't that bother anybody then? And she sort of shrugged and said it's a musical and nobody was expected to take it seriously, and the songs and Fred are so great after all. And that's it, I guess.

  3. That bothered me when I was young, but what I noticed this time was what a jerk Bing is, too. First, he expects Lila to just retire and move to a farm with him, when anybody with half an ounce of sense could see that she did not want to be some farmer's wife in the hinterlands. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. But Lila is shown as a vapid, shallow, selfish twit who enjoys her life as a star. Not a good candidate for retiring to Vermont to slop the hogs with Bing/Jim.) Then Jim moves to Vermont without her and sets up his inn and finds a girl he loves and can sing with, and instead of telling her that Fred stole his last girlfriend and partner so she should watch out for him, he lies and schemes and puts her in blackface. And THEN, when she is willing to give up any idea of stardom to stay at the inn because she thinks he wants to marry her, he hems and haws and doesn't want to marry her, but does scheme and lie some more instead of just telling her the truth. Or, for that matter, telling Fred/Ted the truth, that the woman he was dancing with is Jim's girlfriend and he will kick Ted into next week if he goes near her.

    Yes, I know that all these plot maneuvers are just that and not meant to be taken too seriously or examined closely, but they still make Jim look like a jerk.

    My only beef with the movie when I first saw it was that Fred's role was clearly inferior to Bing's and that is not right. Fred should always be the lead and the one who gets the girl. :-)

    When I got older, it really frosted my chaps that Fred's biggest money-maker of a movie was "Blue Skies," where he is again a supporting player to Bing Crosby. "Towering Inferno" must've changed that, though.

  4. One other point about Holiday Inn (casting- rather than story-related), which I thought I was alone in until I saw my identical thoughts articulated in print by, I think, Arlene Croce (in The New Yorker): how unmemorable the two women are as performers. And Croce (if it was she) wrote "They seem like stand-ins for two scheduled actresses who haven't shown up yet." Fred usually got the best dancing partners going, so the lack seems curious in what was clearly intended as a big release.

  5. I just called them "fairly mediocre," although Ms. Croce's point (that it seemed like better casting fell through and these are last-minute replacements) is well taken.

    Oh well. At least we weren't tortured with Betty Hutton.

  6. A point worth repeating to ourselves in so very many circumstances. "It could be worse -- we could be watching Betty Hutton."

  7. Perhaps I should stitch a sampler to that effect.