(Note:This film was released 75 years ago today)
Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby), Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) are a popular song-and-dance trio. Jim decides he wants to quit the act, marry Lila and retire to a farmhouse in Connecticut.
Lila has other ideas and informs Jim that not only is she not ready to quit show business, but she has fallen for Ted! So Jim moves to his farm alone, but discovers that life as a farmer isn't all he thought it would be.
The following year at Christmas time, Jim decides to convert the farm into Holiday Inn, a hotel with dinner and floor show that's only open during holidays. He makes a trip to New York to tell Ted & Lila of his decision and try to maybe recruit them to participate, they're not convinced.
Meanwhile, Ted's agent Danny (Walter Abel) runs into a flower shop sales clerk named Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds). She recognizes Danny and seizes the opportunity to ask him if he can help her break into showbiz.
He recommends her to Jim, who hires her and she arrives at Holiday Inn on Christmas Day. Jim realizes he rather likes Linda and would like to see more of her -- maybe their partnership at the Inn will lead to romance?
Ted and Lila's business and romantic partnership comes to an abrupt end when Lila dumps him on New Year's Eve. Having no place better to be, a drunken Ted shows up at the Holiday Inn's New Year's Eve party. He dances with Linda and they put on quite a show for the New Year's Eve crowd.
Ted is smitten with his new dance partner but the next morning, he can't remember what she looks like since he was drunk. Jim, fearing he will lose another romantic and performing partner to Ted, does what he can to obfuscate Ted's search for her -- up to and including inviting his old flame Lila to come perform at the inn as a distraction!
But Ted is determined to learn the dancer's identity and decides to stick around Holiday Inn each holiday until he can figure it out.
Can Jim keep Linda's identity secret from Ted? Will Ted steal another partner from Jim? Will the Holiday Inn be a success?
This is a special holiday film for a number of reasons, the great song and dance performances by the cast and the wonderful Irving Berlin music being the most notable. It's really not about the romance plot so much as it is about the various holidays portrayed and the musical numbers.
Holiday Inn is the film that introduced Bing Crosby's signature number "White Christmas" to a worldwide audience. The song went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song and the single has sold hundreds of millions of copies making "White Christmas" one of the best selling songs of all time. One imagines that the mix of nostalgia and melancholy inherent in the song really resonated with WWII audiences and contributes to its enduring popularity.
The film also focuses not just on Christmas and New Years, but on other holidays throughout the rest of the year as well.
There's an interesting comedic minuet/jitterbug number for George Washington's birthday. The switch in styles is one of Jim's ploys to sabotage Ted's dance partnership with Linda.
The Valentine's Day number "Be Careful It's My Heart" was, I suspect, intended to be the "breakout hit" from the movie and it's nice, but doesn't quite hold a candle to "White Christmas."
"Easter Parade" also makes an appearance to good effect.
There's a standout Fourth of July dance number in which Fred Astaire sets off firecrackers onstage while he's dancing which really adds flash and bang (literally AND figuratively!!) to the proceedings.
A couple of other fun facts:
* According to multiple sources, Fred Astaire took two shots of bourbon before the first take of the "drunk" dance for the New Year's Eve sequence and the same after each successive take. The seventh (!) take was the one that was used in the film, so Astaire's performance was really a couple of sheets to the wind.
* There's an animated sequence for Thanksgiving featuring a confused turkey running back and forth between dates on the calendar which was a topical (at the time) reference to the "Franksgiving" controversy of 1939/40.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to change Thanksgiving from the 3rd Thursday in November from the 4th Thursday in order to extend the holiday shopping season and bolster the retail economy. Eventually, an Roosevelt signed a 1941 act of Congress designating the 4th Thursday of November as the official day. No wonder the 1942 animated turkey was confused!
* The movie also lends its name to the Holiday Inn motel chain, which first opened its doors in the 1950s.
The one thing that keeps me from unreservedly naming Holiday Inn an absolute must watch classic is some unfortunate racial humor that while common at the time is decidedly not respectful to people of color. There's is a blackface number for Lincoln's birthday which is just straight up unpleasant to watch. It's of it's time, but that doesn't make the stereotyping okay.
That being said, Holiday Inn is fun to watch - my advice is to just skip the Lincoln's birthday sequence and enjoy the rest.
3 candy canes.
J.A. Morris says:
I’ll echo what my co-blogger said about the blackface scene. It’s ugly and was wrong then and now. That scene may be why Holiday Inn is often overshadowed by its cinematic "descendant" White Christmas. It's mainly remembered today for introducing the most popular Christmas song of all time.
The cast includes Louise Beavers, who plays Jim’s maid Mamie.
Beavers acted in dozens of films in a career spanned from 1927 to 1960, usually playing maids or slaves. She made TV history when she played the title role in the series Beaulah, the first TV sitcom to feature an African American lead.
It's worth noting that this film was released during the first year of the United States' entry into WWII. During Jim's 4th of July performance, a very patriotic film (some would characterize it as propaganda). is projected on the stage.
It features footage of soldiers and pilots preparing for war, war production in factories and it ends with an image of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt. If you're fascinated with history (like I am), you'll appreciate this scene.
As RigbyMel said, here isn't much of a plot here, just great singing and dancing by two of the biggest stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, with songs written by the legendary Irving Berlin. Since this blog covers programming related to every holiday, Holiday Inn is tailor-made for us.
Holiday Inn is generally good in spite of its threadbare plot. However, it has a few too many songs for my taste (I’m not a big fan of musicals). That, combined with the blackface scene keep me from giving it a higher rating.
J.A. Morris' rating:
2 and a half candy canes.