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Film / White Christmas

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"...and may all your Christmases be white."

"We'll follow the old man wherever he wants to go
As long as he wants to go opposite to the foe.
We'll stay with the old man wherever he wants to stay
As long as he stays away from the battle's fray.
Because we love him, we love him,
Especially when he keeps us on the ball.
And we'll tell the kiddies we answered duty's call
With the grandest son of a soldier of them all!"

Take Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen, mix in a bunch of Irving Berlin tunes, and throw in a light but solid plot to put them all together. This 1954 musical film directed by Michael Curtiz is what you end up with.

The two male leads play Bob Wallace and Phil Davis respectively, 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 as a duo, 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 revues.

A few days before Christmas 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.

Yet Vermont is struck with a warm spell. 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. Wallace and Davis decide to do test shows at the lodge to help attendance, and their relationship with the Haynes sisters starts to blossom further.

Okay, that doesn't seem like much, 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 spirits on Christmas Eve.

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). A Screen-to-Stage Adaptation hit Broadway in 2008 and has since become popular with amateur and community theaters during the holiday season.

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."
    • "Well, it's not a good reason, but it's a reason."
    • "It should be beautiful in Vermont this time of year, all that snow".
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • In the opener, General Waverly is shown with his replacement. Upon hearing that the men are being entertained in an impromptu show by Wallace and Davis, the replacement General snidely comments that they should be standing for inspection. Waverly is apologetic and deferential. The problem is that the replacement General is indirectly questioning Waverly's leadership by saying that they should be standing for inspection. Combat troops who are being moved forward don't waste time standing for an inspection; they're instructed to eat, rest, and get their gear together so they're ready to move out when the time comes.note  Waverly is a two-star general, and the replacement is a one-star. No two-star general would tolerate this bullshit from a one-star. Waverly is being relieved for health reasons, not because of a failure to command or that his men aren't getting the job done. In reality Waverly would have ripped him a new asshole, and if he was sufficiently pissed he would have contacted HQ and informed them that they'd better get another general out here, because he's not turning over command of HIS men to this martinet.
    • Despite his 'injury' being the result of enemy artillery, Phil does not wear a Purple Heart on his dress uniform at the end.
  • Artsy Beret: Phil wears a beret and all-black costume for his "pretentious artist" persona, directing a bizarre avant garde dance routine. Watch.
  • Bowdlerization: Small in-universe example: the General has Bob skip a dirty word in a letter he's reading aloud.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Betty could tell Bob why she's upset at him, but doesn't get up the nerve. She has to see Bob's TV appearance to realize he's not doing what she thought he would.
  • Captain Ersatz: Ed Harrison, who hosts one of the most popular variety shows in the country.
  • Costume Porn: Edith Head did the costumes for this movie, and the dresses are subtly intricate. You'd have to watch this in theaters or high definition to see many of the details.
  • Crowd Song: "The Old Man"
  • Curse Cut Short: Bob almost says a swear word when reading a letter out loud, but Waverly tells him to skip that part.
  • Birds of a Feather: Phil and Judy, Bob and Betty.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Emma gets in some good zingers. Doubles as a Badass Boast:
    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. Phil later does the same.
  • Dreaming of a White Christmas: Subverted, until the end. Also, the title song — first heard in Holiday Inn 12 years earlier — is the Trope Namer.
  • 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. The page quote is one of the songs, which is basically about his men's admiration for him. While in Vermont, Bob and Phil reminisce about him:
    Bob: We ate, and then he ate. We slept, and then he slept.
    Phil: Yeah, then he woke up, and nobody slept for 48 hours.
  • 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.
  • Guyliner: Phil puts some on in the "Choreography" number, as part of spoofing that style of dance.
  • Happy Holidays Dress: Two stunning ones worn by the Haynes sisters at the end. They are red ballgowns trimmed with white fox, to give a grand Mrs. Claus look to the regular Santa outfits Wallace and Davis are wearing.
  • 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 Eavesdropping).
  • "The Hero Sucks" Song: Downplayed with "Love - You Didn't Do Right By Me", which Betty tries to avoid singing after she learns Bob will be in the audience, as she found it awkward singing about "a Joe who had winter and snow in his heart" in front of the man she'd been personally entangled with not a few days ago. Alas, she's overruled by the bandmaster and ends up singing it anyway.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Wallace and Davis have known each other since their days in WWII. When the war ended, they began working together and have developed a close friendship to the point where Davis is actively trying to help Wallace find a gift.
  • Hey, Let's Put on a Show: Large elaborate dance scenes took up a lot of the movie time.
  • High-Class Gloves:
    • Betty's outfit at the nightclub includes glittering crystal-encrusted gloves to go with her glamorous evening dress.
    • The holiday dresses Betty and Judy wear at the end include matching gloves.
  • Hollywood New England: Much of the film takes place in Vermont.
  • 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.
  • In-Joke: When General Waverly tells his driver to take a short cut to get back to headquarters, he really means for the driver to take the long way back in order to give him time with his men without their new commanding General being around. His aide notes that the driver-a Sergeant-will be demoted to private by the new General for wasting his time, to which Waverly replies "Yes. Isn't he lucky?" The new General, while he had only one scene and a few lines, still came across as a fussy martinet. Generals are authorized to have Sergeants be their drivers, so the driver getting demoted to Private meant he would be away from the new General and wouldn't have to put up with his bullshit all the time, so getting him demoted was really doing him a favor. Most movie-goers who'd served in the war would understand this immediately.
    • I always understood this line as "yes, isn't he lucky, he'll still be on active service", which General Waverly was about to retire from and didn't want to leave.
  • 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.
    • "If someone is pulling you out from under a falling wall, just spit in his eye."
  • Landline Eavesdropping: The housekeeper at the inn eavesdrops on Bob's phone call with show host Ed Harrison, but doesn't hear the part where he refuses to make a publicity stunt out of helping the retired General.
  • Leg Focus: Vera Ellen was given outfits in the numbers "Choreography" and "Mandy" just to show off her dancing figure (similar to how Rosemary was given more songs to show off her voice). In a publicity picture for the movie, she wears the holiday dress without the underskirt.
  • The Matchmaker: Phil and Judy spend half the movie trying to get Bob and Betty together. They fake an engagement hoping Betty will be willing to look for love herself instead of worrying over her sister constantly.
  • Military Salute: Bob and Phil do this after they encounter their former general in the Columbia Inn. Waverly tells both of them to be at ease.
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: Wallace suffers at most a hairline fracture while saving Davis, but proceeds to milk that injury for the next decade.
  • Minstrel Shows: The "Mandy" number is preceded by a brief, sanitized tribute to minstrel shows. There's no blackface makeup (thankfully!), and the infamous "Abraham" song from Holiday Inn, which did have blackface and very racist lyrics, appears only as an instrumental dance number.
  • Montage: Several, including a Time-Compression Montage showing the progress of Wallace and Davis's joint career.
  • Musical: If the names Irving Berlin, Bing Crosby and Vera-Ellen didn't clue you in.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Betty has a non-verbal one when she sees Bob on TV and realizes that Emma was wrong and she horribly misjudged him.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Subverted. This is what Phil says after saving Bob. It really is just a flesh wound (while never specified, it looks like he got a minor fracture in his arm), but the former will never let the latter forget it.
  • 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 Bob 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: 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 High-Class Gloves for "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me".
  • Playing Sick: To get Waverly away from the TV when Bob's about to go on, Phil fakes a really bad fall down the stairs so he'll be distracted. He overplays it a bit and Waverly almost calls for the doctor, but he manages to convince him to stay away long enough.
  • Poor Communication Kills: At no point does Betty actually say why she's upset at Bob (she thinks he's deliberately commercializing the general's guilt), to Bob or to anyone else. Bob assumes he must have offended her by flirting with her the night before, and Judy thinks Betty's being emotional because she's in love and can't express it. Betty completely abandons the show and Judy and then comes back without ever explaining what happened or what made her change her mind.
  • 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.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: The climax of the film centers around a plot Bob concocts to quickly rally the veterans of the 151st Division (or at least those living in the northeast) to surprise General Waverly for Christmas.
  • 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 re-purposed as the bridge of "Counting Your Blessings".
    • The plot echoes that from Holiday Inn very closely, too. Of course, both are set at an inn that was converted from a farm around Christmas time.
  • Sexy Packaging: The 60th anniversary video release does this to the leading ladies. We see just the heads of Kay and Crosby, but the full bodies of Rosemary and Vera. Rosemary is drawn to wear a dress far more slinky and form fitting than anything she wore in the movie, and Vera is wearing the holiday dress, but without her petticoat, to show her dancer legs.
  • Shipper on Deck: Much of Phil and Judy's actions are pushing Bob and Betty together.
  • Showgirl Skirt: Judy wears a detachable one in the "Mandy" number. The ladies in the last Florida performance are wearing outfits with these skirts.
  • Simple, yet Opulent: Many of the outfits don't look that fancy until you look closer at the details.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Singing "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 of the time.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: Used throughout the film, especially the "Ok, let's rehearse the next number for our big show!" variant. At least two-thirds of all the songs in the movie are set up this way!
  • The Men First: General Waverly has this attitude, as Bob fondly remembers.
  • 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!".
    Phil: Wow!
  • Unplanned Crossdressing: To give Betty and Judy time to slip out of the Florida nightclub ahead of a chiseling landlord and the sheriff who's there to back him up, Phil talks Bob into lip-syncing a parodic reprise of the "Sisters" number. The "drag" consists of scarves, sashes, headdresses and the sister's huge feather fans, plus rolling up their trousers to expose the gartered socks that all well-dressed men wore then. It's still the comedic highlight of the film, mostly because Danny Kaye's outrageous and improvised campiness had the much more conservative (onscreen and in real life) Bing Crosby totally laughing throughout the number.
  • 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 and the hotel that he sank everything into.

The 2008 stage adaptation includes examples of:

  • Adaptational Backstory Change: Housekeeper Emma is renamed Martha Watson and given the background of having been a Broadway legend before working at the inn.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Phil is still an affable guy, but is portrayed in this version as more a willing womanizer than a Clueless Chick-Magnet. While wooing Judy, he still flirts with chorus girls, causing their central conflict. On the other hand, since his saving of Bob's life is Adapted Out, he's not holding that over his friend's head in this version.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • General Waverly's granddaughter, Susan, gets more focus and her own solo number.
    • Mentioned above, the housekeeper in the film is given the backstory of a Broadway legend and gets multiple numbers herself.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: At the ending, when it finally snows and the cast reprises the title number, Bob invites the audience to sing along. Some local productions also have him invite real-live servicemen and women to be recognized.
  • Captain Ersatz: Averted in this version, where they actually call the Ed Sullivan show by name.
  • Large Ham: Mike Nulty, Phil and Bob's stage manager, who's always shouting at everyone to calm down and get the show together.
    Phil: "I think I'll turn him into an opera."
    Bob: "Just add a title."
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Since it's a stage show that's partly about putting on a stage show and about half are diagetic numbers, some winks are thrown in. Mike the stage manager yells, "Curtain! Curtain! And blackout!" Right as those things happen in and out of universe.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Keeping the basic plot but shifting songs around and changing certain details.
  • Snobs Vs Slobs: Fussy, professional stage manager Mike is rather put-off by laid-back farmboy Ezekiel.