White Christmas Review

It is Christmas Eve in 1944 in France and Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby), who was a successful singer before the war, is now a Captain in the American army but, tonight, he is putting on a show for his troops. He and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) end the show by singing popular favourite White Christmas and, over the sound of bombs falling nearby, honour their General, Thomas Waverly (Dean Jagger) who is being transferred that night. To the chorus of The Old Man, Bob Wallace, Phil Davis and the rest of the men in Waverly's company say farewell to the man who led them safely through occupied France. As the party ends, the bombs rain down on their location and as Waverly drives off, Davis saves Wallace's life, pulling him to safety when a wall collapses on him. One owes the other a great deal.

With the war over, Wallace and Davis return to New York. With Davis reminding Wallace of what happened in France - says Davis, "if you're ever under a falling building and someone offers to pick you up and carry you to safety, don't think, don't pause, don't hesitate for a moment, just spit in his eye!" - one forms a partnership with the other and they take Broadway by storm. Planning a working Christmas in New York, they meet the Haynes sisters, Betty and Judy (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) in a nightclub and before Wallace knows it, Davis has given their overnight tickets to the girls and is set on joining them in Vermont, where, wouldn't you know it, the Ski Lodge they're staying at is owned by their one-time general, Thomas Waverly. But business isn't good and Waverly is at something of a loose end. Wallace and Davis come up with an idea to mix business with pleasure and to help out the old man if they can. All they need is a little snow...

In spite of it being broadcast on BBC2 seemingly every Christmas in my youth, I had never actually gotten around to watching White Christmas until this year. Actually, not watching White Christmas might have been due to it being on BBC2 every year, knowing that the next year would bring another showing, there wasn't any urgency to watch it. However, in feeling rather more festive this year than last and with HMV offering this DVD for £3.99 in its sale, it was time to succumb to the White Christmas charms. And charming is what it is. Very much a let's-put-the-show-on-right-here kind of film, White Christmas borrows from Holiday Inn, including sets, Bing Crosby and the title song, as good a Christmas song as there has ever been..

With Holiday Inn's Fred Astaire passing on the film (as would Donald O'Connor) Danny Kaye joins Crosby, starring as a couple of musical producers and performers who hit gold in the post-war years. Unfortunately, this leaves them very little time for romance, with Davis telling Wallace, "I want you to get married. I want you to have nine children. And if you only spend five minutes a day with each kid, that's forty-five minutes, and I'd at least have time to go out and get a massage or something." When Wallace argues that there's plenty of life in him yet, Davis tells him, "When what's left of you gets around to what's left to be gotten, what's left to be gotten won't be worth getting, whatever it is you've got left." Early in the film, there's plenty of dialogue like this, Crosby and Kaye bickering like a pair of unmarried aunts, with the cold feet of Crosby trying to hold Kaye back as he lands them in yet another fix.

Like the two Doris Day films in which she starred, On Moonlight Bay and By The Light Of The Silvery Moon, Mary Wickes plays a nosy housekeeper and it's her listening into a telephone call that sends the romance between Betty Haynes and Bob Wallace into a tailspin. If romance, showtunes and hijinks are the order of the first half of White Christmas, the second offers misheard conversations, misunderstandings and Phil Davis, watching Betty running away from Vermont and from Bob, if Bob will ever have those nine kids and if he'll get those forty-five minutes of free time. With the Broadway cast putting on a great set of song and dance numbers, including Kaye, Crosby, Clooney and Vera-Ellen performing an astonishing minstrel show, White Christmas bides its time until the snow falls and the fragile plans of Bob and Phil come good.

Even if you've never seen the film, you will have watched the finale, in which snow falls, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye open the barn doors wide and the two of them sing White Christmas around a Christmas tree that towers over them. With Kaye, Crosby and Clooney on magnificent form throughout and Vera-Ellen looking every part a great dancer, White Christmas is a treat, coming to a heartwarming close as the snow falls and the halls echo to the sound of Waverly's troop of soldiers, squeezed into their army uniforms again, all paying tribute to their general. He may shed a tear and though it's unlikely you will, this is a fine Christmas film, which should, on DVD, find its place on televisions over the festive period. It's the BBC's loss that they have decided not to broadcast it this year.



Transfer

From what I understand from reading about VistaVision, although Paramount always referenced 1.85:1, the process could cope with 1.66:1 to 2.0:1. White Christmas was, inasmuch as I can find anything definitive on the subject, was released by Paramount in VistaVision with a preferred aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but is presented here in 1.78:1. Granted, not a great deal is lost from the image if indeed 1.85:1 was the original aspect ratio but with so little in it, it's a surprise that Paramount made the change at all. The image itself is certainly colourful with the greys and browns of the opening scene in France giving way to autumnal shades in Vermont before the bright reds of the final performance of White Christmas but this isn't a problem, more that there is some smearing of colours, which leaves skin tones bleeding into the surrounding image. The result of this is a softness to the picture and a lack of background detail, although this is more noticeable in some scenes, such as the nightclub performance than in others.

Brightness and colour, though generally reasonable, varies slightly throughout with there being a noticeable visual fading to the picture. Skin tones aren't quite as rich as they could be, which suggests the colour balance is off slightly. Otherwise, there is a little print damage and some grain, although neither are as bad as in some other pictures of this age. Like the Region 1, White Christmas has not only had its original mono soundtrack restored but also comes with a DD5.1 audio track. To be honest, I preferred the mono as the surround track doesn't add anything. The dialogue, music, songs and ambient noise are perfectly clear in both with the surround track only sounding that little bit thinner in spite of the suggested use of the subwoofer but either would do and I would think that most people would be perfectly happy with the DD5.1 default.



Extras

The main extra on this release is a Commentary with Rosemary Clooney, who was, at the time of the release of this DVD, the only surviving member of the cast but who passed away in 2002. At first, Clooney is very quiet and says very little but as Kaye and Crosby bicker backstage, she gets into the spirit of the recording and laughs and sings along with the film, commenting not only on her performance but of those of others in the film. There are a few anecdotes but most of what is good about this track comes with how Clooney is simply really enjoying watching the film and shows a great affection for White Christmas throughout. In the dance numbers, it's hard not to smile at the comments she makes about herself, which makes this a nice listen.

As well as a couple of Trailers (2m17s, 2m03s), there is an Archive Interview with Rosemary Clooney (16m03s), which doesn't have very much overlap with the commentary. Instead, she talks with affection about Vera Ellen, about how Vera Ellen was one of the best dancers on Broadway but how she needed her singing voice dubbed and how patient she was with Clooney's dancing. As Clooney says, "If they could have dubbed my dancing, we would have had a perfect picture!" A narration fills in the gaps between Clooney's comments but it's really about Clooney's memories of the time and, speaking very kindly about her co-stars, she is on fine form.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
5 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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