1954’s White Christmas has not improved with age
Feeble musical watched annually is anything but a big-screen classic
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.