Friday, December 1, 2017

HOLIDAY INN

It is once again that time of year for me to do Christmas reviews, and if you read my post about the three changes that I'm making for my blog, then you already know that I'm discontinuing my 12 Days of Christmas reviews. So to begin my reviews for the Holiday Season, I thought what better way to start with my mini review series than with the classic holiday themed musical...



Crooner Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby), dancer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), and singer Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) are about to perform their final act together on Christmas Eve in New York City, since Jim is about to retire from showbiz and live on a farm in Connecticut with his girlfriend Lila. But it turns out that Lila doesn't t want to quit showbiz and decides to marry Ted instead. After spending a year alone on his farm, Jim comes up with the idea to turn his farm into an entertainment venue open strictly on the holidays only (which really doesn’t make much business sense, does it?). As Jim is looking for talent to perform at the Inn during the holidays with him, he meets an aspiring performer named Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), who he grows an immediate attachment too. Feeling like that his Inn is going to be a success and that he now has a woman that he can settle down with, a heartbroken and drunk Ted arrives at the Inn after discovering that Lila left him to be with a Texas millionaire, and starts dancing with Linda. When his agent (Walter Abel) discovers that he and Linda are a hit with the crowd as the two danced together, he and Ted decide that Linda would be the perfect replacement for Lila. Jim is displeased when he finds out, and tries to do everything he can to be with Linda, as Ted and his agent try to woo her away.




Judging by the premise, it doesn't seem too heavy on plot. It just seems like a typical romantic musical comedy that's not full of surprises in terms of who gets the girl, aaaand it is. The plot in the long run is just an excuse to tie the many song and dance sequences that this film carries together. The characters themselves don't feel like characters either, its really just the actors playing themselves just with a different name and background, and if they weren't played by Crosby or Astaire they wouldn't stand-out as memorable. On top of it, the film is not a flat-out Christmas film from beginning to end. Most of the important and memorable scenes in the film do take place on Christmas which is why people like to take this film out during this time of year, but truthfully you can watch this film on practically any Holiday of the year...except for Halloween, but don't worry Crosby has covered that a few years later.



But as standard as the plot and characters are that doesn't mean that none of that stuff is entertaining, because it is. And I mean very entertaining. The whole love story is simple and basic (in fact, so basic that it makes me wonder why this film was even nominated for the Oscar for best original story), but it never moves slow or feels boring. They give the actors enough time for them to emote their love and affection for Reynolds, but it never drags on, since the film's overall intention is to just be a fun musical for audiences to enjoy, as we're given many comical scenes of the rivalry between Crosby and Astaire whether they're doing a musical act or not. And speaking of Crosby and Astaire they too play a big contribution of why the film is so entertaining. Obviously most of that comes from when they're given a musical performance (and will get to that later), but even outside of those scenes they still keep your attention. It's Crosby's dry sarcasm and Astaire's snobby attitude that makes their little rivalry fun to watch. But even when they're not going out at each other, they still manage to carry plenty of charm and grace without coming off as dull.




The supporting cast of characters, while there's not too many of them, they’re for the most part just as fun as watching Crosby and Astaire. Walter Abel hamming it up as the selfish agent that's determined to get Ted and Reynolds together never seizes to be entertaining. Irving Bacon as the comical hired hand Gus brings a couple of good laughs, mainly the scene when he tries to keep Reynolds away from the Inn. And Louise Beavers as the housekeeper Mamie as stereotyped as her character and performance is, is still a likable character who's later on given a nice scene for her to help inspire Crosby. She also has two adorable kids that she takes care of which is pretty cute to watch. The only characters and performances I didn't find too intriguing are the love interests. Sure Reynolds and Dale can dance and sing well (ok, the singing part only goes to Dale since Reynolds singing was dubbed by Martha Mears), but I didn't find them to be as good as our leads or the rest of the cast. Dale's performance and character comes across as so selfish that she's unlikable, nor do I buy her sudden change of heart towards the end of the film. And Reynolds, while she can be charming in a few scenes, she does get pretty annoying from time to time.


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The number 1 reason why many people watch the film is obviously for the song and dance numbers that feature Crosby and Astaire, with music and lyrics composed by the legendary Irving Berlin. There are only two numbers that involve Crosby and Astaire singing together that are solid bookends to the film's story and musical element. Pretty much the rest of their on-screen musicals performances is just them performing either alone, or with one of the leading ladies. The scenes that Astaire dances too are spectacular. He's full of so much energy and movement that it’s almost as if dancing is second nature to him. Even when you see him dance with any of the two the leading ladies whether its him singing "You're Easy To Dance With" to Dale, or on Valentine's Day as he and Reynolds’s dance behind a giant heart and suddenly jump out of it, his dancing still comes across as natural along with his partners moving as swiftly and yet so naturally as he does, especially Reynolds. Despite her never actually singing in the film, her dancing does indeed make up a lot for it. These two dance so perfectly together that it's no wonder why Astaire and the agent want her so badly. Though the scene of a drunk Astaire dancing with Reynolds’s the first time they meet is a sequence in the film that always stands out to me for how comical and greatly choreographed it is, my real praise for the two dancing together is for the "I Can't Tell A Lie" sequence that takes place on Washington's Birthday, mainly for how they have to constantly swing back and fourth from ballroom dancing to jazz dancing since Crosby is changing the tempo to prevent them from kissing, which is both hilariously entertaining, and incredible considering the amount of times that both dancers have to change their pace. However, out of all the scenes that involve Astaire's dancing, none of them can ever top his 4th July tap-dancing solo where he dances and hops around firecrackers that go off around him. I really can't describe how jaw-dropping amazing that this scene for how he flawlessly dances around explosives with no signs of fear. You just have to see it for yourself!


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While you have Astaire dancing and occasionally singing some of Berlin's songs, the one who sings the majority of them with his stunning vocals is Bing Crosby himself. Crosby has such a soothing voice and an endearing presence when he sings the songs at the Inn, that you feel welcomed as you are enchanted by it. And each song he sings, he completely owns, as the songs themselves bring the spirit of the holiday that's being celebrated in front of you. "Let's The Start New Year Right" captures the parting of a year and embracing a new one so touchingly; him playing a Valentine's day song that he wrote for Reynolds’s called "Be Careful It's My Heart" is utterly romantic; his rendition of "Easter Parade" as he drives Reynolds’s in a carriage on a bright and sunny Spring day is marvelous; and his 4th Of July musical act "Song of Freedom" is highly patriotic as its accompanied by footage of soldiers marching and aircraft's flying. The only holiday song we hear him sing, but don't see him perform is the Thanksgiving song "I've Got Plenty To Be Thankful For". The song itself is catchy and brings the spirit of the Thanksgiving Holiday that's of course well sung by Crosby, but rather than having a musical number based around it, Crosby just listens to a record that he recorded and makes fun of it as he sits down to eat his Thanksgiving meal alone. Outside of the scenes that involve Crosby and Astaire performing together, the only song that Crosby sings that is not holiday oriented at all is "Lazy" that's a comforting and carefree tune, where we watch a montage of Crosby's first year living and working on the farm alone as each holiday goes by as he humorously isn't as relaxed or acting as lazy as the song implies.


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The primary reason why the film is considered to be a Christmas film by many is because it was responsible for giving us two classic and iconic Christmas songs. The first one is "Happy Holidays" that's heard in the overture, and sung during the New Years Eve sequence when the Inn first opens, that's sung by Crosby, Mears, and the guests. Only instead of the song being about the Christmas Season that you hear Andy Williams sing on the radio, Berlin's is all about the joys of celebrating the holidays all year long that goes at a much slower pace compared to the version that was recorded years later. Obviously the one we hear on the radio is more famous than the song featured in the film, but the film is still important for originating the timeless melody and popularizing the now overused phrase. The real and number 1 popular and iconic song from the movie that is considered to be one of thee best Christmas songs of all time that's a classic household Christmas tune is "White Christmas" and I bet half of you thought that the film named after the song was where the song originated from didn't you? What can I say that the billions of people who've heard the song over and over each year haven't said or felt about it before? It's beautifully sung, it has a heartwarming Christmas melody, the lyrics are unforgettable for how perfectly it associates with Winter and Christmas, Crosby's whistling is haunting, I mean what is there that I can't say about it. Well I'll say that the film's visuals represent the song just as ravishing as the song itself. The first time it’s sung is when Crosby and Reynolds’s are sitting by the piano next to the fireplace and in front of a Christmas tree in their robes as the snowfalls outside, a setting as laid-back and Christmassy as the song itself. Crosby's singing of the song in the film is just as magical as the recording that you know and admire, and Mear's dubbing for Reynolds’s is also quite lovely. And if you think Crosby's singing and whistling isn't haunting enough, how about hearing him humming, and hitting a few Christmas belles on the tree with his pipe for the lyric "children listen to hear the sleigh belles in the snow"? It's just ever so chilling. The second and last time the song is sung in the film is towards the ending, that's shorten but still carried out just as enchanting for a very sweet scene.

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To help convey the holiday look and feel for each musical sequence that takes place on a holiday at the Inn are the use of sets and costumes. They do a good job at making this place look like a festive joint that you'd want to visit on any of the holidays, whether it's wearing party hats on New Years Eve, waltzing in a ballroom while wearing 18th century clothing for Washington's birthday, or celebrating the 4th of July in the backyard of the Inn sitting at a table and holding an American flag while watching a musical act and fireworks. And the nice thing about the Inn is even when it's not jumping around with people and songs, there's still an old fashioned homely vibe to it that makes you want to settle down there for awhile, from the way the set is designed and built for both the inside and outside. The prettiest shots of the Inn are the exterior shots during the winter. Yes it is obviously a set, and there's no seeing around that at all (especially when the film itself reveals that it is one towards the end of the movie, when we're in Hollywood), but at the same time you don't care for how much it reminds you of a winter painting by Currier and Ives. Another cool addition to get you into the holiday is that every-time we transition to a new one; we cut to a calendar lying by a few props and decorations that associate with the holiday as we zoom in on the date that has an illustrated image from that holiday. Almost like how the characters from the stop-motion Easter Special "Here Comes Peter Cottontail" would go to each holiday through a calendar. The best transition involving the calendars is definitely the one with the animated Turkey jumping between dates as a reference to the "Franksgiving" controversy, when Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November instead of the fourth as it was originally celebrated.

Everything about the film music wise is perfect! There is not a single song or dance number that doesn't bore, drag on, or offend.

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Oh right, the "Abraham" sequence.

After when Astaire finds out about the girl he danced with, he and the agent try to find her at the next holiday show at the Inn, which is on Abraham Lincoln's birthday. To avoid Astaire and Reynolds from meeting each other, Crosby decides to use blackface for the number to turn her into this.

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Well that's not the least bit frightening or racially insensitive at all now is it?

Not only were Crosby and Reynolds performing in blackface, but so are the band and the waiters. This later on resulted with the sequence being cut when aired on Television for being deemed as too offensive for modern audiences. Now in the context of the story and the time of the film's release when blackface was acceptable, it makes sense why Crosby would blacken her up. I mean why not use a showbiz gimmick that was popular with audiences at the time to disguise a loved one, which I'm sure audiences who saw the movie when it came out were more than likely laughing at her, rather than being terrified and offended. I will also admit that the song itself does have a nice jazz swing to it, with lyrics that are just too damn catchy to forget. BBBBUT...it's still disgustingly racist. I know that was the time, but it's still wrong on so many levels. They look horrifying, the idea while not pointless to the plot is still cringe-worthy, and to have all this racist imagery represent one of the great presidents who helped free blacks from slavery is indeed disrespectful.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

"Holiday Inn" may not be great in terms of story or characters, nor have an emotional Christmas message, but it's kind of hard to fault it for that since the film is clearly not trying to tell a story. It's overall goal is to just be a fun musical film as you're given two of Hollywood's finest musically gifted icons performing wonderful holiday songs by the incredible Irving Berlin, as they would charm the girl and work off of each other when they're not doing their thing. And in that regard it's highly entertaining, that also carries plenty of good comedy, and visuals that's embracing each Holiday depicted in the film. Granted, the leading ladies lack the charm and fun that Astaire and Crosby bring, by either being too mean or too annoying; and the "Abraham" number is hideously racist. But aside from those distracting elements it's still a charming and (for the most part) innocent film full of grand showstopping performances that will make you wanting to come back to it time after time again.

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