White Christmas (film)
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Curtiz|
|Produced by||Robert Emmett Dolan|
|Music by||Irving Berlin|
|Editing by||Frank Bracht|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Running time||120 minutes|
White Christmas is a 1954 American musical film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney. Filmed in Technicolor, White Christmas features the songs of Irving Berlin, including the title song, "White Christmas". Produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures, the film is notable for being the first to be released in VistaVision, a wide-screen process developed by Paramount that entailed using twice the surface area of standard 35mm film. This large-area negative was used to yield finer-grained standard-sized 35 mm film prints.
On Christmas Eve, 1944, somewhere in Europe, two World War II U.S. Army buddies, one a Broadway entertainer, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby), the other a would-be entertainer, Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) give a show to the troops of the 151st Division in a forward area. But the mood is somber: word has come down that their beloved commanding officer, Major General Thomas F. Waverly (Dean Jagger), is being relieved of command. He arrives for the end of the show and delivers an emotional farewell. The men give him a rousing send-off ("The Old Man"). An enemy artillery barrage ensues, and Davis saves Wallace's life by carrying him out of the way of a toppling wall, wounding his own arm slightly in the process. Using his "wounded" arm and telling Bob he doesn't expect any "special obligation", Phil convinces Bob to join forces as an entertainment duo when the war is over. Phil using his wound to get Bob to do what he wants becomes a running gag throughout the movie.
After the war, the pair make it big in nightclubs, radio and then on Broadway. Becoming successful producers, they eventually mount their newest hit musical entitled Playing Around. Phil is increasingly concerned that his pal Bob has not met a woman with whom he can settle down and several clumsy attempts to set him up with showgirls fail.
In mid-December, after two years on Broadway, the show is in Miami, where they receive a letter from "Freckle-Faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy," their mess sergeant from the war, asking them to audition his two sisters. When they go to the club to audition the act ("Sisters"), Phil notices that Bob is smitten with Betty (Rosemary Clooney), while Phil has eyes for her sister, Judy (Vera-Ellen).
Following their number, Betty and Judy join Bob and Phil at their table, and believing he may have found the right woman for Bob, Phil brings Judy on to the dance floor so that Bob and Betty can get to know each other better. Phil and Judy hit it off ("The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing"), and Judy tells Phil that she and her sister are headed for the Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont, where they are booked to perform over the holidays. Back at the table, Betty reveals to Bob that Judy, not their brother, sent them the letter. The two get into a brittle argument, and the prospects for a romance seem doubtful.
When Betty and Judy's landlord claims the sisters burned a $200 rug and is trying to have them arrested, Phil hears the news and helps them escape out the window, giving the sisters their Phil and Bob's sleeping-room accommodations aboard the train to Vermont.
To give the sisters time to make it to the train, Phil convinces Bob to don Betty and Judy's forgotten costumes and lip-sync "Sisters" from a record, after which they arrive on the same train two hours later. The sisters are all over Bob in appreciation for giving up their sleeping accommodations and Phil uses "his arm" once again to convince Bob to travel with Betty and Judy to Vermont for the holidays ("Snow").
When everybody arrives to put on the show at the Pine Tree Ski Lodge, there's not a flake in sight, and the weather is so unseasonably warm, chances of it falling appear dim. Bob and Phil discover that the inn is run by their former commanding officer, Gen. Waverly, who has invested all his savings and pension into the lodge, and it's in danger of failing because of the lack of snow and consequent lack of guests.
Deciding to help out and bring business up to the inn, Wallace and Davis bring the entire cast and crew of their new musical Playing Around, and add in Betty and Judy where they can. At the same time, Bob and Betty's relationship starts to bloom ("Count Your Blessings") and they begin to spend a good deal of time together. Meanwhile, Bob discovers the General's rejected attempt at rejoining the army, and decides to prove to the General that he isn't forgotten.
Bob calls Ed Harrison (Johnny Grant), an old army buddy, now the host of a successful variety show (intentionally similar to that of variety show pioneer Ed Sullivan). Bob tells Ed that he wants to make a televised pitch to all the men formerly under the command of the General, asking them to come to the inn on Christmas Eve as a surprise.
In response, Harrison suggests they go all out and put the show on national television, playing up the whole "schmaltz" angle of the situation and generating lots of free advertising for Wallace and Davis in the process. What Bob doesn't know is that nosy housekeeper Emma Allen (Mary Wickes) has been listening in to the phone conversation on the extension but has only heard about the whole schmaltz suggestion, hanging up before Bob rejects the idea.
Mistakenly believing that her beloved boss will be presented as a pitiable figure on a prime-time coast to coast broadcast, Emma reveals what she heard to a shocked Betty who is originally loath to believe Bob would pull such a stunt for his own gain, but mistakenly comes to believe he would indeed stoop to such depths.
The misunderstanding causes a now-disillusioned Betty to grow suddenly cold toward a baffled Bob. Unaware of the real reason for her sudden change of behavior, Judy becomes convinced that Betty, ever-protective of her little sister, will never take on a serious relationship until Judy is engaged or married. She pressures an extremely reluctant Phil to announce a phony engagement, but the plan backfires when Betty abruptly departs for New York City, having received a job offer.
Distraught, Phil and Judy reveal to Bob that the engagement announcement was phony, and Bob, still unaware of the real reason behind Betty's annoyance, heads to New York to explain. Bob goes to see Betty's new act ("Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me") and reveals the truth about the engagement, but is called away by Ed Harrison before he can find out what is really bothering her. Meanwhile, back at the Inn, Phil fakes an injury to distract Gen. Waverly so he won't see the broadcast or Bob's announcement.
On the broadcast, Bob proceeds to ask the veterans of the 151st Division to come to Pine Tree, Vermont, on Christmas Eve ("What Can You Do With A General"). When Betty is backstage between performances, she catches Bob's pitch on a television set and realizes she was mistaken. She returns to Pine Tree just in time for the show on Christmas Eve. Emma convinces Gen. Waverly that all his suits were sent to the cleaners and suggests he wear his old uniform to the opening of the show. Initially reluctant, he agrees. When the General enters the lodge where the show is to take place, he is greeted by his former division, who sing a rousing chorus of "The Old Man." Just as the following number ("Gee, I Wish I Was Back In The Army") ends, he is notified that snow is finally falling.
In the finale, Bob and Betty declare their love for one another, as do Phil and Judy. The background of the set is removed to show the snow falling, everyone raises a glass, and toasts, "May your days be merry and bright; and may all your Christmases be white."
- Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace
- Danny Kaye as Phil Davis
- Vera-Ellen as Judy Haynes
- Rosemary Clooney as Betty Haynes
- Dean Jagger as General Waverly
- Mary Wickes as Emma Allen
- John Brascia as Joe (specialty dancer)
- Anne Whitfield as Susan Waverly
- Percy Helton as Train conductor
- I. Stanford Jolley as Railroad stationmaster
- Barrie Chase as Doris Lenz
- Even though Judy is the younger Haynes sister, Rosemary Clooney was actually seven years younger than Vera-Ellen.
- "White Christmas" (Crosby)
- "The Old Man" (Crosby, Kaye, and Men's Chorus)
- Medley: "Heat Wave"/"Let Me Sing and I'm Happy"/"Blue Skies" (Crosby & Kaye)
- "Sisters" (Clooney & Vera-Ellen)
- "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" (Kaye with Vera-Ellen)
- "Sisters (reprise)" (lip synced by Crosby and Kaye)
- "Snow" (Crosby, Kaye, Clooney & Vera-Ellen)
- Minstrel Number: "I'd Rather See a Minstrel Show"/"Mister Bones"/"Mandy" (Crosby, Kaye, Clooney,& Chorus)
- "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" (Crosby & Clooney)
- "Choreography" (Kaye)
- "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing (reprise)" (Kaye & Chorus)
- "Abraham" (instrumental)
- "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" (Clooney)
- "What Can You Do with a General?" (Crosby)
- "The Old Man (reprise)" (Crosby & Men's Chorus)
- "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army" (Crosby, Kaye, Clooney & Stevens)
- "White Christmas (finale)" (Crosby, Kaye, Clooney, Stevens & Chorus)
All songs were written by Irving Berlin. The centerpiece of the film is the title song, first used in Holiday Inn, which won that film an Oscar for Best Original Song in 1942. In addition, Count Your Blessings earned the picture its own Oscar nomination in the same category.
The song "Snow" was originally written for Call Me Madam with the title "Free," but was dropped in out-of-town tryouts. The melody and some of the words were kept, but the lyrics were changed to be more appropriate for a Christmas movie. For example, one of the lines of the original song is:
Free – the only thing worth fighting for is to be free.
Free – a different world you'd see if it were left to me.
A composer's demo of the original song can be found on the CD Irving Sings Berlin.
The song "What Can You Do with a General?" was originally written for an un-produced project called Stars on My Shoulders.
Trudy Stevens provided the singing voice for Vera-Ellen, except for "Sisters", where Rosemary Clooney sang both parts. When the time came to record the soundtrack album, Clooney's contract with Columbia Records made it impossible for her to participate, therefore Peggy Lee stepped in. A soundtrack album with Crosby, Kaye, Clooney, and Stevens was not released until the recent CD anniversary reissue, in which the songs were taken directly from the film.
There are brief renditions of other Berlin songs ("Heat Wave", "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" and "Blue Skies").
Berlin wrote "A Crooner – A Comic" for Crosby and his planned co-star Donald O'Connor, but when O'Connor left the project so did the song. Crosby and Kaye also recorded another Berlin song ("Santa Claus") for the opening WWII Christmas Eve show scene, but it was not used in the final film; their recording of the song survives, however.
Filming took place between September and November 1953. The movie was the first to be filmed in Paramount's new VistaVision process, with color by Technicolor, and also introduced the Perspecta directional sound system which used three inaudible tones in order to pan the monaural sound into either left, center or right.
White Christmas was intended to reunite Crosby and Fred Astaire for their third Irving Berlin showcase musical. Crosby and Astaire had previously co-starred in Holiday Inn (1942) – where the song 'White Christmas' first appeared – and Blue Skies (1946). Astaire declined the project after reading the script and asked to be released from his contract with Paramount. Crosby also left the project shortly thereafter, to spend more time with his son after the death of his wife, Dixie Lee. Near the end of January 1953, Crosby returned to the project, and Donald O'Connor was signed to replace Astaire. Just before shooting was to begin, O'Connor had to drop out due to illness and was replaced by Danny Kaye, who asked for and received a salary of $200,000 and 10% of the gross. Financially, the film was a partnership between Crosby and Irving Berlin, who shared half the profits, and Paramount, who got the other half.
Within the film, a number of soon-to-be famous performers appear. Dancer Barrie Chase appears unbilled, as the character Doris Lenz ("Mutual, I'm sure!"). Future Academy Award winner George Chakiris also appears as one of the stone-faced black-clad dancers surrounding Rosemary Clooney in "Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me". John Brascia leads the dance troupe and appears opposite Vera-Ellen throughout much of the movie, particularly in the "Mandy", "Choreography" and "Abraham" numbers. The photo Vera-Ellen shows of her brother Benny (the one Phil refers to as "Freckle-faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy") is actually a photo of Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in The Little Rascals, in an army field jacket and helmet liner. A scene from the film featuring Crosby and Kaye was broadcast the year after the film's release, on Christmas Day 1955, in the final episode of the NBC TV show Colgate Comedy Hour (1950–1955).
Unfortunately - unlike many other musicals of the 1950s which have been able to be remixed to Stereo or 5.1 - this is impossible for White Christmas due to the fact that although the picture was released in an extremely limited fashion with a full three-channel stereo mix carried on 4-track mag release prints, no complete true stereo print has ever been able to be assembled from all known elements.
In addition - all the original separate recording angles for both the pre-records and post-records for the picture were destroyed in a fire, and all that remains is a magnetic high-fidelity monaural music master, prepared for international release, and a low-fidelity optical mono composite master which includes all dialogue, sound effects and other elements. These were restored and combined for the Criterion Collection LaserDisc release, however on the newer releases, the monaural composite occupies the front center and the magnetic music-only track is fattened up a bit and placed in the surrounds by itself.
Box office performance
This film was enormously popular with audiences, earning $12 million in theatrical rentals – $102.7 million in 2012 dollars, adjusted for inflation – making it the top moneymaker of 1954 by a wide margin. The second highest moneymaker of that year, The Caine Mutiny, earned $8.7 million. Overall, the film grossed $30 million at the domestic box office.
A stage adaptation of the musical, titled Irving Berlin's White Christmas premiered in San Francisco in 2004 and has played in various venues in the US, such as Boston, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Detroit and Louisville. The musical played a limited engagement on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre, from November 14, 2008 until January 4, 2009. The musical also toured the United Kingdom in 2006 - 2008. It headed to the Sunderland Empire in Sunderland, Tyne & Wear from November 2010 to January 2011 after a successful earlier run in Manchester.
- Box Office Information for White Christmas. The Numbers. Retrieved April 15, 2013
- Arnold, Jeremy. "White Christmas". TCM. Archived from the original on 2012-10-16. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
- "Notes" on TCM.com
- "Biography for George Chakiris" on TCM.com
- "The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954", Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955.
- "CPI Inflation Calculator" of the Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Steinberg, Cobbett (1980). Film Facts. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 22. ISBN 0-87196-313-2.
- Jones, Kenneth."Merry and Bright? Producers Hope White Christmas Will Play Broadway This Year", playbill.com, June 25, 2008
- Jones, Kenneth."White Christmas Will Make Broadway Debut in November, Playing to Early 2009" playbill.com August 4, 2008
- Review of San Francisco production talkingbroadway.com November 14, 2004
- Byrne, Terry. Review of Boston production The Boston Globe November 30, 2007
- Snow in L.A.! Irving Berlin's White Christmas Begins Nov. 22 in City of Angels playbill.com November 22, 2005
- "Berlin musical comes to life: 'White Christmas' stays true to form" Louisville Courier-Journal, November 15, 2008
- White Christmas theatrelouisville.org
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to White Christmas (film).|
- White Christmas at the Internet Movie Database
- White Christmas at allmovie
- White Christmas at the TCM Movie Database
- "White Christmas heads to Marquis" Variety August 4, 2008
- Official site White Christmas the Musical
- Internet Broadway Database listing