Starring: Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale and Marjorie Reynolds
Running time: 100 minutes
Final thought: It is a wonderful and entertaining movie despite its flaws
The holiday season is nearly here, and it is time to break out some Thanksgiving and Christmas classics.
One classic often overlooked in favor of more modern movies is the 1942 musical “Holiday Inn.”
Featuring entertainment legends Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, “Holiday Inn” is a quintessential Christmas movie. It marks the first time the song “White Christmas” was used in a film. The number would later win an Academy Award for Best Original Song and become one of Crosby’s most recognizable performances.
The film starts with a stage performance by Jim Hardy (Crosby), Ted Hanover (Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) in a New York City nightclub. Hardy plans to leave show business after this performance to marry Dixon and retire with her to a farm in Connecticut. However, Dixon decides to marry Hanover and pursue her career in acting, leaving Hardy alone on the farm.
After a year of enduring difficult farm work, Hardy suffers a breakdown. He visits Hanover and Dixon after a stint in a sanitarium to tell them about his idea to open a hotel with live performance. The catch is the hotel is only open on public holidays. The couple laughs him off, but Hardy insists the idea is golden.
Through a string of coincidences Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), a New York City florist with dreams of becoming famous, visits the Holiday Inn to become a performer. Soon Hardy and Mason become local hits and engaged to be married. At the same time, Dixon leaves her act to marry a Texas millionaire, sending Hanover into an alcohol binge.
While drunk, Hanover visits the Holiday Inn to catch up with his old friend, but he ends up dancing with Mason first. Despite his intoxication, the couple’s performance quickly takes over the dance floor, soliciting raucous applause. The next day, Hanover remembers the performance, but can’t remember who his partner was.
Fearing Hanover would seek to steal Mason as his new partner and Mason would accept the proposition, Hardy attempts to hide her to foil Hanover’s ambitions. The effort backfired when Mason, feeling betrayed by Hardy’s attempt to obstruct her career, joins Hanover to become a movie star. Despite the continued success of his inn, Hardy feels discontent and travels to Hollywood to win Mason back.
“Holiday Inn” is one of the most music-intense films I have ever seen. It seems like every other scene is an energetic dance or a slow, romantic song. The music, written by famed songwriter Irving Berlin, is catchy and iconic.
It is hard not to get swept up in the talent of the performers, even if the acting seems insincere at times. And given the constant betrayal, the dynamics of Hardy and Hanover’s friendship seems implausible but ultimately forgivable because of their entertainment expertise.
The movie is not a traditional holiday film, meaning it doesn’t contain a moral about charity or the importance of family, but it is an enjoyable depiction of show business and early entertainers.
There is, however, one glaring fault in “Holiday Inn” that threatens to overturn the entire production. In celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Hardy and Mason don blackface and perform as a group of African-Americans thanking Abraham for freeing the slaves, complete with stereotypical dress and mannerisms. Though the scene is not hateful, it is offensive, even repulsive, to modern sensibilities. Some channels and distributors have chosen to cut the scene from the movie, but many still include it.
There is no excuse for racism, but it would be a mistake to discount the entire film because of this scene. It is no doubt a better movie with the “Abraham” performance excluded, but I still enjoyed watching “Holiday Inn” despite this transgression. It is something to be aware of before purchasing the movie though.
“Holiday Inn” is a wonderful and entertaining movie, despite its flaws. It is possibly one of the best musical performances on film, and its major themes are perfect for the holiday season.
It is available on Amazon Instant Video for $3.99 to rent and $13.99 to own. Alternatively, the DVD, with audio commentary and special features, is available from a variety of internet outlets
Andrew Akers is a columnist for The Times. He reviews classic or iconic films on a monthly basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.