Saturday, December 12, 2009

12 Days of Christmas: Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye Team Up for a "White Christmas"

There was a time when I grumbled because White Christmas was shown every Yuletide season while Holiday Inn (1942) only made sporadic appearances. Most critics consider the latter film, in which the song “White Christmas” was introduced, to be the superior musical. It was only after my wife and I acquired both films on video that I recognized the virtues of White Christmas. It’s a near-perfect blend of music and comedy, with the cast and crew at, or near, the peak of their careers. With apologies to the amazing Fred Astaire, White Christmas holds up much better than Holiday Inn, thanks largely to one of Danny Kaye’s most delightful performances.

He plays Private Phil Davis, who saves the life of popular crooner Captain Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) during World War II. After the war, Phil and Bob team up to form a hugely-successful duo that plays nightclubs, has its own radio show, and eventually produces Broadway musicals. Concerned that Bob will never settle down, Phil tries to play matchmaker. He finds a promising love interest for Bob in Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney), half of a singing sister act (the other half being the spunky Vera-Ellen as Judy).

Phil and Bob follow the Haynes Sisters to Vermont, where the girls are scheduled to perform at a holiday resort. In their surprise, they learn that the inn is run by Tom Waverly (Dean Jagger), a retired general who commanded their unit during the war. The inn is doing very poorly financially, so Phil and Bob decide to put on a big show to drum up business.

It’s a thin premise for a two-hour musical, but it works amazingly well. The dance numbers are staged energetically, with the highlight being Danny and Vera-Ellen dancing outside a nightclub to the melodic “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing.” A lively performer with sex appeal, Vera-Ellen makes an ideal partner for the graceful, athletic Kaye. The two appeared together in two previous Kaye comedies (The Kid From Brooklyn and Wonder Man), though Virginia Mayo played the lead opposite Danny in both films.

Crosby and Clooney generate a more subdued, but no less effective, chemistry. Their duet “Count Your Blessings” was the big hit song from the film.

The most effective pairing in the film, though, is the one between Crosby and Kaye. They’re a sensational team, whether doing musical numbers or comedy (their version of “Sisters”, done originally as a joke on the set, is hysterically funny). Their relationship reminds me of Crosby and Bob Hope in the Road movies—which makes sense, considering that writers Norman Panama and Melvin Frank also penned the wacky Road to Utopia (as well as The Court Jester, Danny’s best film). Incredibly, Kaye was not the first choice to play Phil Davis. He took over at the last minute when Donald O’Connor dropped out of the film.

The postscript to White Christmas is a bittersweet one. Vera-Ellen made only one more movie and retired from acting at the age of 36. Rosemary Clooney never had another good film role. Director Michael Curtiz, who helmed such classics as The Adventures of Robin Hood and Casablanca, suffered a declining career. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye would also make fewer films, but each had one more memorable role to go: Bing in The Country Girl (which earned Grace Kelly an Oscar) and Danny in his finest role in The Court Jester.

My wife and I were lucky enough see the theatrical re-release of White Christmas in the 1980s. It looked splendid on the big screen in VistaVision (it was the first film produced in that widescreen process). In 2004, White Christmas was adapted as a stage musical and had a limited run on Broadway.


  1. Rick I saw this as a child on the "Big Screen" when it was first released. BTW Danny was not the first or even second choice for the role, first Fred, when he bowed out it was to be Donald O' Connor, bit he got sick so it went to Danny. Bing and Rosemary became good friends and did many great Lp's together. Their vocal blend was so good because they both sang in the same key.

  2. Rick, I'm a White Christmas fan from way back, further back than I care to admit. We watched it every Christmas and I still do. I always loved the "Choreography" number. Also, after "West Side Story" was released, I saw that during Rosemary Clooney's number "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me", one of the male dancers was a young George Chakiris. Good article about a wonderful favorite.

  3. Every Christmas Eve, after a candlelit service at our little church, we snuggle down with blankets, something sweet to eat, and "White Christmas." It is a tradition in our home in which we truly delight. I absolutely love the four leads and think "The Best Things" number is breathtaking. Danny could truly dance elegantly and effortlessly and he and Vera are magical together. Rosemary Clooney never looked lovelier and the dress she wears in "Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me" is absolutely gorgeous on her. She and Bing sing beautifully together in "Count Your Blessings." I always look forward to both versions of "Sisters" and love the fun Danny and Bing have in their version, especially. This is truly cinema magic. Thank you for your most excellent review, Rick!

  4. A beautiful review of a beautiful movie. This is a film that my wife must watch every year. Thanks, Rick!

  5. Rick, this was my father's favorite Christmas movie. I always watch it in December and think of him. Dad's favorite singer was Bing Crosby too. The music in this movie is fantastic and all the big stars do a great job. The story is really a heartfelt one and makes me think about all the good times I had with Mom and Dad when I was a child. Thanks for such wonderful review.

  6. Rick, I try never to miss watching White Christmas on TV during the Christmas season. I just love the dance numbers. Thank you for posting the wonderful dance vedio. My favorite part of the movie:)