The Christmas foursome.
Take Bing Crosby
and Danny Kaye
, mix in a bunch of Irving Berlin tunes, and throw in a light but solid plot to put them all together. That's more or less what this film is.
The plot is worth noting, though. The two leads play Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, a mid-level entertainer and a nobody who meet up as they fight in World War II
in the same unit. In the wake of an at-the-front Christmas show thrown as a farewell to their respected leader, General Waverly, Phil saves Bob's life, taking a minor injury in the process.
Phil — himself a wannabe entertainer — uses both Bob's gratitude and his guilt over the injury to convince him to try a partnership after the war. Despite Bob's initial misgivings, the pair not only work, they become one of the biggest acts in the country, moving in ten years from club gigs to their own radio show and ultimately to writing and producing their own Broadway revue.
On Christmas Eve on tour in Florida with the show, they receive a letter from Benny Haynes, another soldier from their old army unit, asking them to look at his sisters' nightclub act. It later turns out one of the sisters faked the letter, and the other sister is shocked at the dishonesty. It works, though, and Wallace and Davis actually end up falling for the sisters (but not willing to admit it yet), and even follow them to their new gig in Vermont. There they see it's got a warm spell, and even though it's the beginning of winter it's 70 degrees and there's no snow in sight. The owner of the lodge hires them anyway, and he turns out to be the now-retired General Waverly.
Okay, that seems contrived, but that's not the point. Aside from the musical numbers, the film keeps a strong focus on both the growing relationships between the male and female leads, and just as strong a focus on how Waverly feels washed up after leaving the army, and how Wallace and Davis manage to lift his spirts.
The film may seem odd to some, especially how Danny Kaye's socially awkward character seems Ambiguously Gay
to some these days (he's more meant to be a big kid, as indicated by his voice cracking at awkward moments).For the trope about snow at Christmastime, see Dreaming of a White Christmas.
This film includes examples of:
- Acid Reflux Nightmare: Bob informs us that if you eat liverwurst sandwiches right before bed you will "dream of liverwurst." That doesn't sound very pleasant.
- Arc Words: "Let's just say we're doing it for an old pal from the Army."
- Bowdlerization: Small in-universe example: the General has Bob skip a dirty word in a letter he's reading aloud.
- Captain Ersatz: Ed Harrison, who hosts one of the most popular variety shows in the country.
- Curse Cut Short: Bob almost says a swear word in a letter, but Waverly tells him to skip that part.
- Birds of a Feather: Phil and Judy, Bob and Betty.
- Dawson Casting: 32-year-old Vera-Ellen as "Little Judy". (By contrast, older sister Betty was played by 25-year-old Rosemary Clooney.)
- Deadpan Snarker: Emma gets in some good zingers:
Waverly: I got along just fine in the Army without you.
Emma: It took fifteen thousand men to take my place!
- Department of Redundancy Department: "If you're worried and you can't sleep/Just count your blessings instead of sheep/And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings."
- The Ditz: Doris Lenz, the "Mutual, I'm sure" girl.
- Dramatically Missing The Point: Bob thinks Betty is just being difficult, and not seeing that something is actually upsetting her.
- Dramatic Drop: Bob drops his luggage and coat upon seeing General Waverly walk in and springs to a salute.
- Dreaming of a White Christmas: Subverted, until the end.
- Exact Eavesdropping: Subverted; Emma Allen is distracted at exactly the wrong moment while listening in on a phone call, making her think Bob wants to make a fool out of the General. And then she tells Betty...
- A Father to His Men: Waverly, and one of the songs is basically about his men's admiration for him.
- Funny Background Event: Watch the reunited soldiers during the tribute to General Waverly at the end — there're lots of little bits of funny business. For instance, when he says "Ties will be worn in this area!", one fellow grins broadly and makes a point of very obviously adjusting his (already perfect) tie.
- Glory Days: Waverly tries to return to active service in the army, but they have no place for him.
- Happy Holidays Dress: Two stunning ones worn by the Haynes sisters at the end.
- Happy Ending: Wallace and Davis put on a hit show, get the girls, and give General Waverly a wonderful Christmas.
- Have a Gay Old Time: When Judy enumerates her requirements for a suitable candidate to be her bogus fiance, she includes "handsome ... gay ... witty".
- Headbutting Heroes: Bob and Betty, but only for the first five minutes together, and later when they get crossed wires (see Exact Eaves Dropping).
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Wallace and Davis.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: In one number, you can see future Academy Award winner George Chakiris, who played Bernardo in West Side Story.
- A grown-up Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer also makes an uncredited appearance in a photograph as Benny “The Dog-Faced Boy” Haynes.
- Sister Mary Lazarus is the housekeeper at the inn that hired a sister act.
- The dim-witted blonde dancer with the annoying voice is Barrie Chase, who would become one of Fred Astaire's last regular dancing partners between 1958 and 1966.
- Hey Lets Put On A Show: Large elaborate dance scenes took up a lot of the movie time.
- History Marches On: Crosby at one point mentions that it would be "impossible to find a Democrat in Vermont". Back in the day, Vermont was a GOP stronghold. This isn't the case now, due to shifting cultures and party changes.
- Betty mentions that Benny is in Alaska, "out of the country." Alaska would be made a US state 5 years later.
- Hollywood New England
- I Gave My Word: Waverly will not break a contract with the Haynes sisters, even when it is financially beneficial to do so and the sisters don't mind it.
- I Owe You My Life: Subverted; throughout the film we see Phil constantly reminding Bob of his "war wound", so he'll do what Phil wants — i.e. form the double act, become producers, go to Vermont, etc. Granted, we wouldn't have a plot otherwise, but on the other hand you can sympathize with Bob when he vents about how manipulative Phil is being.
- May-December Romance: Both Bob-Betty and Phil-Judy. Bob is clearly in his forties in 1954, and while Phil could conceivably be as young as the late twenties it's far more likely he's in his middle thirties. Meanwhile Betty is no more than 25, and Judy is even younger.
- Montage: Several, including a Time-Compression Montage showing the progress of Wallace and Davis's joint career.
- Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: Nosy housekeeper Emma has a habit of eavesdropping on phone conversations. She hears Ed Harrison (an Ed Sullivan expy) planning to bring General Waverly on his show, and immediately hangs up her phone receiver to tell the Love Interest... and misses the hero (Bing Crosby as George Wallace) rejecting this scheme.
- Pair the Spares: Judy and Phil deliberately invoke this in order to get Betty and Bob back together. It doesn't go quite as planned. But they all end up as couples anyway.
- Pimped-Out Dress / Simple Yet Opulent: Several fancy dresses. Of course there are the holiday dresses, but there are also the blue lace dresses in the "Sisters" number, the white lace dress with removable skirt in the "Mandy" number, and the black dress with flared hem and Opera Gloves for "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me".
- Pretty in Mink: The dresses at the end are trimmed with white fox and come with matching muffs, and Judy's dress also has a fox-trimmed cape and a fox hat. Then there are the fur wraps worn by all the wives and girlfriends of the soldiers showing up at the end.
- Self Plagiarism: Not at all uncommon in an Irving Berlin film (as his contracts mandated no music but his own in them), but taken to new heights here. Besides the wholesale recycling of numbers originally seen in Holiday Inn as parts of Wallace and Davis' stage show, there are quotes or entire songs from a handful of other Berlin films. Additionally, the verse melody from Holiday Inn's "Happy Holidays" is repurposed as the bridge of "Counting Your Blessings".
- Showgirl Skirt: Judy wears a detachable one in the "Mandy" number.
- Sound Track Dissonance: Singing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" in the middle of a destroyed town during WWII to a group of sad soldiers. Singing the same song while it's snowing... that was accidental, since the number was planned when snow wasn't falling.
- Take That: The "Choreography" number is one big Take That against Martha Graham and the Modern Dance movement.
- The Men First: General Waverly, as Bob fondly remembers.
- Throw It In: Bob's speech about the effects of sandwiches on dreams was nearly completely improvised by Crosby.
- Titled After the Song: Since the song "White Christmas" debuted in Holiday Inn
- Totally Radical Bob's a real hep cat. Pour yourself some cow, and let him tell you all about it.
- Much of Bob's odd lingo and slang was Bing Crosby's usual way of speaking applied to the script.
- Undisclosed Funds: Because "Wow!" doesn't need to adjust for inflation, and it's funnier than an actual number.
Phil: H... How much is "wow"?
Bob: Somewhere between "ouch!" and "boing!".
- Wake Up Make Up: Betty and Judy seem to go to bed with their hair still styled and wearing full make up. That red lip stick isn't going to do any favors to your pillow, Betty.
- Weather Dissonance: The plot hinges on the fact that there's no snow. Vermont would normally be draped in snow by Christmas, but it's basically spring weather there. No snow means no business, and no business is bad for Waverly.
- World War II: The movie opens there, and three of the main characters served.