1954’s White Christ­mas has not im­proved with age

Fee­ble mu­si­cal watched an­nu­ally is any­thing but a big-screen clas­sic

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - JAMIE PORT­MAN

It’s in­evitable that the 1954 movie White Christ­mas will be show­ing up on tele­vi­sion screens this month. It’s as in­evitable as Ru­dolph’s red nose.

But it’s not an oc­ca­sion for cel­e­bra­tion.

This fee­ble 1954 mu­si­cal star­ring Bing Crosby and Danny

Kaye may have done well in the­atres when it was first re­leased, but it re­ceived in­dif­fer­ent re­views at the time — and de­servedly so.

Yet, more than 60 years later, it con­tin­ues to be ex­humed ev­ery Christ­mas and is con­sid­ered a sta­ple of yule­tide view­ing.

To be sure, it doesn’t stand alone in its aw­ful­ness. One of the more de­press­ing as­pects of the hol­i­day sea­son is the pro­lif­er­a­tion of bad Christ­mas movies that are re­peat­edly dusted off and res­ur­rected on the small screen.

Items such as 1996’s Jingle

All the Way, in which Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger and Sin­bad wage bat­tle over a hard-to-find toy. Or Sur­viv­ing Christ­mas, a 2004 ex­cres­cence that has a seven-per-cent rat­ing on Rot­ten Toma­toes and al­most de­stroyed Ben Af­fleck’s ca­reer.

Other con­tenders: the deplorable Deck the Halls (2006) which of­fers the sight of a hapless Matthew Brod­er­ick cov­ered in green camel mu­cous; the crit­i­cally scorned Na­tiv­ity Story (2006), which sent its pro­duc­ers into a ner­vous break­down when it turned out the 16-year-old ac­tress play­ing the Vir­gin Mary was preg­nant dur­ing shoot­ing; the 1998 Jack Frost, in which Michael Keaton plays a de­ceased dad who re­turns to life as a snow­man and is promptly uri­nated on by the fam­ily dog; Christ­mas with the Kranks (2004), an ex­e­crable adap­ta­tion of a John Gr­isham novel star­ring Tim

Allen and Jamie Lee Cur­tis.

And per­haps it’s best sim­ply to drop a veil over 1964’s Santa Claus Con­quers the Mar­tians.

But what is it that places White Christ­mas in its own du­bi­ous niche?

It’s by no means as bad as most of the movies men­tioned above — but none of them can claim a “clas­sic” sta­tus. White Christ­mas does, and it’s un­wor­thy of the des­ig­na­tion.

The movie owes its un­de­served aura to its ti­tle. There’s the mis­placed be­lief that Irv­ing Berlin’s ev­er­green yule­tide bal­lad, White Christ­mas, was in­tro­duced in this film. But in fact it was un­veiled 12 years ear­lier in Hol­i­day Inn, a much bet­ter movie star­ring Bing Crosby and Fred As­taire.

Crosby had the good sense to em­brace White Christ­mas as one of his sig­na­ture songs, and it be­came per­haps the big­gest hit of his ca­reer.

Its con­tin­u­ing po­tency in 1954 was suf­fi­cient for Paramount to cap­i­tal­ize on it at a time when it was in­tro­duc­ing au­di­ences to its new widescreen Vis­taVi­sion process. Paramount wanted to chal­lenge the widescreen Cine­maS­cope tech­nol­ogy suc­cess­fully in­tro­duced by 20th Cen­tury Fox a year be­fore — and what bet­ter ve­hi­cle for a launch­ing of its much-vaunted sys­tem than a new Irv­ing Berlin mu­si­cal called White Christ­mas star­ring Crosby?

Paramount wanted to re­unite Crosby with As­taire, who was wise enough to turn down the script. Then plans to cast Don­ald O’Con­nor op­po­site Crosby also failed. Kaye be­came the last-minute re­place­ment for a project that also stars Rose­mary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Crit­ics were pos­i­tive about Vis­taVi­sion, de­cid­edly glum about the movie it­self, a piece of trite non­sense about a cou­ple of song-and­dance men who pass up a lu­cra­tive en­gage­ment else­where in or­der to come to the aid of their old com­mand­ing of­fi­cer from the Sec­ond World War. He’s try­ing to make a go of it as the owner of a tourist lodge that is fail­ing dis­mally, so the guys come to his aid by putting on a show there.

It is a movie that leaves no cliché un­turned and which, apart from the ti­tle num­ber, of­fers sec­ond-drawer songs from Berlin. Kaye’s work was fre­quently undis­ci­plined, which caused a prob­lem dur­ing shoot­ing, and Crosby seemed bored. The di­rec­tion of Michael Cur­tiz, who brought us Casablanca, was tired.

Yet this de­cid­edly in­fe­rior movie has be­come a much-loved Christ­mas tra­di­tion. In truth, the only thing clas­sic about it is that it is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of myth tran­scend­ing re­al­ity.

The bot­tom line: Pass on this one. Seek out the real clas­sics. Items such as the orig­i­nal Mir­a­cle on 34th Street from 1947.

Or two stellar ver­sions of a Christ­mas Carol — Alas­tair Sim’s mar­vel­lous Scrooge from 1951, and Michael Caine’s mem­o­rable turn in the 1992 Mup­pet Christ­mas Carol, the only re­cent film that can justly be called a yule­tide clas­sic.

Bing Crosby, left, Danny Kaye and Rose­mary Clooney star in the clunker White Christ­mas, re­leased by Paramount Pic­tures in 1954.

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