December 15: Holiday Inn

holiday-innI was raised on Holiday Inn. This heart-warming tale of a guy so lazy he only wants to work on holidays is best known as a vehicle for a whole year’s worth of Irving Berlin seasonal songs. It is White Christmas‘s older, slightly more obscure and, well, bizarrely racist cousin.

Did you know that Bing Crosby can sing but not dance, and Fred Astaire can dance but not sing? Basically the whole plot revolves around this one conceit (skip to 3:12 for the musical exposition of the entire movie):

So…who would you choose? Fred Astaire always looks like himself, but at least in this movie Bing Crosby hasn’t yet taken on the appearance of a shriveled orange with Mr. Potato Head ears stuck in the sides (*cough* *cough* White Christmas *cough*).

Rosemary Clooney is surprised that you think she would be romantically linked with....this....

Rosemary Clooney is surprised that you think she would be romantically linked with….this….

(FWIW, I grew up watching Holiday Inn on a video we hastily threw in to record when we saw that it was on TV one time, so until a couple of years ago, I had never seen the first two and a half minutes of the movie, including Fred Astaire’s dance with the Salvation Army Santa and the busker kids.)

Basically, Bing Crosby opens up a club in rural Connecticut where they have dinner shows every holiday. Fred Astaire crashes his party and steals his girlfriend (lovely Marjorie Reynolds, who I was pleased to learn apparently had a long and fruitful career, even though I’ve never seen her in anything else). Much singing and dancing ensues.

Astaire gives us glorious, gimmicky seasonal dances by the handful, from his New Year’s Eve drunken dance, to stalling a show with cigarettes and fireworks on the 4th of July (don’t try this at home, kids), to (most amazing of all!) the Founding Fathers jitterbug.

And of course, this is where Crosby debuts “White Christmas,” which remains the best-selling single of all time, busting out his signature grace note on “dre-a-ming.”

I think overall, my favorite number in the movie is this one, which gives just a taste of everything good that Holiday Inn has to offer–dancing, gorgeous gown, song with hilarious lyrics, dramatic silhouettes, pouting Bing Crosby, and Ted and Linda so caught up in the moment they destroy the set before the show even happens.

Be careful, it’s my heart
It’s not my watch you’re holding, it’s my heart
It’s not the note I sent you
That you quickly burned
It’s not the book I lent you
That you never returned

Be still my beating, well, heart:

Oh, MAN, I have always wanted to glide into a room wearing a giant bow and say, “Hello, boys!”

Ok, you might say. You have convinced me so far that Holiday Inn is the greatest movie ever made. So where does it all go wrong?

Well, I recommend fast forwarding through Easter Parade, which is just extremely long and hella boring.

The long video montage of WWII footage is slow and, um, has nothing to do with the plot, but it is perhaps not out of place for 1942.

And then we come to it.

Sigh. For Lincoln’s birthday, the holiday show is a really inexcusable blackface number. I’ve thought about whether the whole thing could/should just be cut from contemporary screenings of this movie. It’s key to the plot that Jim (Crosby) is trying to disguise Linda from Ted. So my revisionist proposal is: drop the Lincoln number and replace it with a Groundhog Day number (which, conveniently, would fall in the same slot on the calendar and thus place in the plot), where Linda wears a giant rodent costume. There! Easy peasy lemon squeazy!

Problem solved? Well, no. Not really. Mamie, Jim’s housekeeper, is played by the wonderful Louise Beavers, but unfortunately her character is basically a shade of Mammy from Gone With the Wind. It’s true that Holiday Inn was made only three years later than GWTW, but it’s set in contemporary Connecticut, not Civil War-era Atlanta. That Mamie’s character, who inhabits a universe 80 years and hundreds of miles away from the Civil War, is virtually indistinguishable from a stereotypical portrayal of a slave (which in and of itself has also been deemed extremely problematic) is just…not OK. Not OK. Worse yet, Mamie’s kids are basically used as props, literally appearing and disappearing on demand to be displayed for an audience.

There’s so much about this movie that I love. I watched our crappy old videotape again this year, like I do every year. But I don’t think I would show it to small children lacking the historical context and critical thinking skills to make sense of it all. This is not the kind of indoctrination the world needs.

Verdict: Tragically irredeemable classic

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