Friday, November 25, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Holiday Inn (1942)

Bing Crosby
Fred Astaire
Marjorie Reynolds
Virginia Dale
Walter Abel
Louise Beavers

Holiday Inn is one of those films that most people drag out of the DVD closet to watch sometime between Thanksgiving Day and December 25th. It's not really a Christmas film in the strictest sense of the word, but it is a film that celebrates many of the Holidays throughout the year which makes it just as relevant on July 4th as it does on December 24th

I’m sure that some of you have stayed at a Holiday Inn at one time or another, although I’m more of a Motel 6 type of guy myself. You know, leaving the light on for you and all that crap.  Not to mention the important fact that it’s a lot cheaper to stay there most of the time.  The last Holiday Inn I stayed at was in South Carolina over 13 years ago and it was $70 for just one night.  And that’s in 1990’s dollars.

Legend has it that the Holiday Inns we all know and love and make love in today were actually named after the Inn in this movie. Other than the name though, the movie Inn has little in common with the real life Inns of today and not much in common with no room at the inn in Bethlehem either which is another reason why this isn't strictly a Christmas film. Although if Mary and Joseph had dropped in on Jim Hardy in this one, they probably would have had a pretty good time and stuck around a while longer even after the three wise men finally showed up.  And if they offered day care and babysitter services for the kiddies while Mary and Joseph partied all night, they’d have been all set.  Then again, with no real last names, they may have had a huge problem at the check-in counter.  Unless they had licenses for donkey driving in those days.  That might work.  

The real life Holiday Inns are open 365 days a year twenty four hours a day seven days a week holidays included. In the real world, any hotel chain intent on being opened for only one week around the Holidays would undoubtedly make its way quickly into bankruptcy court. It doesn’t matter though, because the 1942 Holiday Inn which was once in glorious black and white and is now brought to you in color courtesy of the fine folks at Legend Films who first did some restoration, then took their pack of electronic crayons to it, is far more of an entertaining place to visit than the cookie cutter Holiday Inn motels in the real world. No offense intended, but you’re not going to see Bing Crosby crooning or Fred Astaire tripping the light fantastic in the lobby of a Holiday Inn Express. Not even if they were still alive which of course they aren't. They'd be way too old for that kind of foolishness.

Although it is never clear how singer Hardy (Bing Crosby), dancer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) and singing and dancing threat Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) began working together, it doesn’t matter because when the film opens it’s quite obvious that this trio is soon to become a dancing duet leaving someone on the outside looking in or at the very least, home alone in the meadow. It seems that Lila and Jim are engaged to be married and Jim is ready to retire their act to a Connecticut farm. Unbeknownst to Jim, Lila is also in love with Ted or as Lila puts it, “I love Ted, I love Jim, I love everybody” which means you have to just love the air headed Lila.  Lila has also decided that plucking chickens, pitching hay, and flannel nightgowns just isn’t her idea of a swinging time.  Well, I can’t fault her there.

Of course Jim finds out about Lila and Ted, very sarcastically wishes the new dancing team luck, but heads off to Connecticut for the easy life away from the hectic world of show biz. Of course it turns out that the easy life isn’t so easy after all. Crooning a tune is much easier than pitching a fork into hay or grabbing a cow by the udders in below freezing temperatures. Worn out and exhausted, he retires from farming for a brief stay at a sanitarium where he comes up with a wonderfully brilliant idea, only possible in the imaginations of Hollywood screenwriters

Jim decides to turn the farm into an Inn and have it only open for the Holidays of which there are roughly fifteen of them. Being short on cash and talent, Jim returns to New York to visit his old dancing buddies Ted and Lila and their manager Danny Reed (Walter Abel).

At about the same time Lila and Ted's manager Danny stops into a flower shop to have some roses sent to Lila (she expects presents for every occasion including Father's Day) in Ted’s name where he is waited on by actress and singer wannabe Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds). Danny gives her free tickets to Lila and Ted’s act and also sends her out to Connecticut to audition for the Holiday Inn.

It is at the nightclub that Linda meets Jim for the first time, not knowing he is also the guy she will be auditioning for the next day. She proclaims herself to be old friends of Ted and Lila’s and Jim proclaims himself to be a big time entrepreneur.

When Linda does go to the Inn and she and Jim discover who each other really are, and since this is an old Hollywood type romance we can already sense that love is just around the corner. It is also at this time that we are introduced to one of the greatest song classics of all time (not to mention one of the biggest selling), White Christmas, sung by Crosby and Reynolds.

As it is in most old Hollywood type romantic musicals, the path to true love is often fraught with peril. In this case the monkey wrench comes in the form of Ted Hanover who shows up unexpectedly on New Years Eve after Lila has left him for another guy or more appropriately, another guy’s millions. Upon arriving at the inn, Ted dances with Linda in a drunken stupor even though he can barely stand up.

Unfortunately Ted was also too drunk to remember what his dance partner looked like, so Jim does his best to hide Linda from Ted so that he never finds out who she is. And so it goes.

Okay, I know it’s all very predictable, but it’s also a heaping mound of fun thanks to a great cast at the top of their game, some great Irving Berlin musical numbers and a couple of truly exceptionally memorable dance sequences by Astaire. Astaire's drunken New Year's dance (He actually did the New Years Eve dance while intoxicated) and Firecracker Dance are by themselves worth the price of a DVD.

And most of all there’s that song Crosby happens to sing for the first time called White Christmas, which Berlin wrote for this film. It also won an academy award for Best Song, has probably sold a few gazillion copies and has been performed a few gazillion times in the past 64 years by practically everybody.  The song was so good in fact that it inspired a film as well,  also with Crosby (exit Fred Astaire, enter Danny Kaye). 

Marjorie Reynold’s glowing contribution to this film is often overlooked in between Astaire’s dancing and Crosby’s croon-de-tune. But her presence is every bit as important.  Whether you are watching in black and white or in color, she lights up the screen and mesmerizes you.

And the film is incredibly funny for having such a flimsy plot. Watching Walter Abel as the forever worrying wart and harried manager will keep you in stitches, especially when he is trying to figure out which girl is Linda Mason by sneaking up behind them and measuring their waists while Astaire is trying to see what dancing with them would be like. And then there’s a brief but hilarious bit where Astaire and Crosby are being bombarded in a dressing room with some runaway peach preserves missiles.

But despite all of that praise there are a few moments in the film that are very problematic. First and foremost is the performance of the Lincoln's Birthday number which is done in blackface in order to hide Linda’s identity. In 2008, it’s excruciating to sit through and you’ll find yourself squirming to get through it. In fact, the sequence has been excised completely in some television showings. There is also the Washington's Birthday number, which is way too silly and goes on far too long. But the rest of the musical moments in this film more than make up for that.  And yes, I know the scene is a product of it’s time, and despite what was acceptable then does not make it any more palatable now.  If you’re to enjoy the rest of the movie, you’ll just have to get through it.

When I watch the film now, I’m a little bit put out by the way Mamie’s maid is treated at time, although it’s obvious she may be the smartest person in this film. It really bugs me that her kids are relegated to having to eat in the kitchen, even though she seems to be somewhat of a partner in the Inn although the extent to which she is involved is never clear. That’s not meant to be a knock on Louise Beavers though, because she obviously had to play the part as written. This also brings up the question, if she’s a partner, why does she still have to perform maid duties for Jim? You can only look at these moments in a kind of historical perspective of the time and see how far we have progressed because there’s not much you can do beyond that.

All in all though, you won’t be disappointed with putting this film on your Holiday watch list be it New Years, Christmas, or even Valentine's Day . It’s more entertaining by a country mile than the hokey spinoff film, White Christmas. Think of Holiday Inn is an all occasion greeting card as I do. You certainly can't go wrong no matter what the occasion and if you can't, I have no choice but to give Holiday Inn my sterling grade of a B+.

As you can tell from the photo stills, they were taken from the colorized film which was recently released as a special edition DVD. A lot is often written about colorization, and most of that is negative written by total purists. I won't get in a debate about that but I did enjoy watching this film in it's re-mastered color print especially after having already seen the original black and white version countless times.

In this case I think it actually enhances the film to a great degree, making it seem more alive and lively. At any rate, the special edition DVD also includes a CD of the film's soundtrack and the black & white version of the film if that is your preference and is well worth the pittance that it costs. Also, don’t judge the process by the you tube clips as they degrade the quality somewhat of what is actually on the DVD. The stills are a better indicator of the quality.  

Like all movies I write about, whether they be good bad or indifferent, Holiday Inn is available from Amazon so how about stuffing one in your wallet and a few nickels in my pocket and we’ll both have a Merry Christmas.  Hey, you can’t blame a guy for trying can you?  Ho, Ho, HO!

Another review of Holiday Inn, which for the most part mirrors my own opinion.

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