Monday, September 28, 2015

Holiday Inn (1942)

Director: Mark Sandrich


It would become a holiday classic and introduced to the world a song that would became the single highest selling tune of all time. Holiday Inn paired two stars of separate duo fame in a musical featuring the composition of world famous Irving Berlin. Despite being a feature that celebrates many holidays it would become a Christmas standard for decades to come. Featuring the tapping toes of Fred Astaire and the bass baritone of Bing Crosby this picture has a lot to like when it comes to being simply a feel good movie.

Holiday Inn is a musical about two former nightclub performing partners who are vying for the affection of beautiful budding singer set at an inn that operates only for the holidays. Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) was a New York nightclub performer who opened a showplace inn in rural Connecticut with the idea that it operates only during the holidays, “Holiday Inn.”  He discovers and hires the young aspiring singer Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) for whom he begins a romance with. Jim’s former nightclub act partner Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) visits Holiday Inn and believes Linda is the answer to his next dance partner after losing his previous partner and attempts to entice her away while Jim tries to keep her from leaving. Movie producers decide to make a movie based on Holiday Inn with Ted and Linda as the stars and Jim to write the music. Depressed having lost Linda, Jim decides to go to California to dramatically tell Linda how he feels about her, where on the set that exactly recreates Holiday Inn Jim and Linda rekindle the magic they shared while falling in love, over performing the song “White Christmas.”

The film is a fun, lighthearted motion picture filled with the mastery footwork of Fred Astaire and the soothing tones of Bing Crosby mixed into a love story that capitalizes on the skills of each showman.  Bing Crosby becomes the lovable hero of the feature, a man that looks to enjoy life at a slow, savoring pace. Meanwhile Fred Astaire plays a conniver of sorts, yet a likable fellow, as he enjoys the busy, fast paced world of show business. Mixed into the film are the warm carefree feelings of the holidays that fill the calendar, but of course the most memorable of all being Christmas. Beyond the entire plot and its love triangle the picture is sentimental piece of nostalgia that delivered unto the world a holiday classic of both motion pictures and music.

The genesis of Holiday Inn goes back to Irving Berlin while writing music for the 1935 Astaire-Rogers picture Top Hat, directed by Mark Sandrich. It was during this picture he wrote the tune that would later become “White Christmas,” the song a number of years later. In 1940 Berlin was hired to write new tunes for a movie based on the idea of an inn open for the holidays with each individual holiday sharing its own melody. Berlin would flesh out the potential of this movie finding the Christmas tune to be the most challenging, revisiting the tune he began during Top Hat. With “White Christmas” as a slow, almost romantic song, it became the holiday of focus in the feature as the calendar flipped to each month and is celebrated on screen.

Ted begins to win over Linda behind Jim's back.
Fred Astaire, now separated as a performer from his long time movie partner Ginger Rogers, was in a phase of his career where he was reaching to find new vehicles for sharing his mastery of dance. Bing was already a popular singer, but was becoming better known for his pairings with comedian Bob Hope in the Road to… series of movies. With Mark Sandrich as director the two were paired as romantic rivals and former partners that mixed song and dance beautifully on screen. The two would be supported by Marjorie Reynolds, as the woman of interest Linda, and Virginia Dale, as Jim and Ted’s former partner and prior love interest. Both actresses would play second fiddle to the star actors. Reynolds plays a wonderful love interest as Linda, dancing well enough with Astaire, however her singing voice was dubbed over by another vocalist.

The film plays with the notion near the end of the feature to give a new and interesting look at the film. Through the picture we become quite acquainted with Holiday Inn as a place in the story, but then the picture turns the perspective on its ear as the setting turns to Hollywood and the same sets for Holiday Inn are used as, well sets, built to look like Holiday Inn in the final scenes. Like Bing Crosby’s character in the film, we the audience are awed by how these simple facades are made to look like a real place as we experience these moments with his characters. It is fun to see the dimensions of the soundstage in which the movie being filmed as becoming also part of the sets in these scenes as we get a quick glimpse at small piece of the movie making process hinted in the movie itself..

The picture was not without is controversy, serving as a time capsule into American history for contemporary audiences. The most notably problem causing scene would be the “Abraham” segment where Crosby performs on Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday in blackface as a freed slave celebrating the Great Emancipator. The scene to contemporary audiences seems very short sighted, making one think “how could this even be considered acceptable to anyone?” Produced at a time where it was not considered offensive by the predominantly white audiences, a change in social consciousness has allowed the world to see the racism in this scene. Many later audiences may not be acquainted with this segment of the picture, because it has been removed in many re-broadcastings of the feature as to not offend the greater mass audience, but can be found on home video releases in full, intact forms. This should serve only as a reminder of how far we have come as a nation, allowing us to see how views of racism have changed through the years, even on a movie screen.

An interesting speedy segment that appears in the feature is a nod to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s political relationship with the holiday of Thanksgiving. In the feature when the calendar shows an animated turkey confused on which Thursday of November to sit on displays a brief period in the late 1930s and early 1940s where Roosevelt and members of his cabinet decided to move the holiday up one week to kick start the holiday shopping season in order to boost the American economy still feeling the effects of the Great Depression. This idea split the nation on the idea as some felt the fourth Thursday of November was sanctioned by Abraham Lincoln when the holiday was created and should be held on to despite what the Roosevelt plan was. For a short time the nation unofficially celebrated Thanksgiving on two different dates, depending on how one’s political views sat, Roosevelt’s Democrats or the steadfast Republicans.

Holiday Inn would open to great success at the box office and in future years become a holiday classic with regular television airing during the Christmas holiday season. Furthermore, the film introduced the world to the song of “White Christmas” which producers did not anticipate to be event he hit song out of the film. Belin, who happened to be a Jew by birth, questioned whether or not he could even write a Christmas song. While the producers were banking on the Valentine’s Day love song “Be Careful, It’s My Heart“ to be the hit song out of the feature it was “White Christmas” that stole audiences’ hearts for generations.

Performing "White Christmas," what will become an all-time classic.
Crosby’s voice and the Berlin tune of “White Christmas” would become synonymous with each other as the tune would top popular music charts several times through the 20th century around the holidays. The tune would win an Academy Award for Best Song and through the years would become the top selling song of all time thanks to the nostalgia it brings with each Christmas season. “White Christmas” would a few years later inspire the 1954 motion picture that shares its name, which also starred Bing Crosby.

Through the years Holiday Inn remains a holiday classic with its timeless rendition of the timeless tune that welcomes countless viewers into the Christmas season. The feature remains a popular movie broadcasted each holiday season. In 1952 a new chain of motels would be inspired to name themselves after this feature film, and remains a strong brand nationwide name to this day. As one can see Holiday Inn has had a large impact on American culture in the 20th century for various reasons and will continue to do so as the picture remains a nostalgic and romantic classic of the silver screen.

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