Saturday, November 19, 2005

Happy Holidays, all 15 of 'em

I was passing by in Wal-Mart and someone I was with pointed a DVD out. It was in the "Holiday Classics" section, a series of shelves I generally glance over before crossing to the other side of the aisle. Yes, there are some good Christmas movies, but most of what pass as such these days make me want to find Scrooge and shake his hand.

Anyway, I followed the line of the outstretched finger and found myself looking at bargain-priced copy of Holiday Inn [1942]. Suddenly, I was excited. Holiday Inn. I hadn't seen that since I was, oh, maybe 7 years old.

Holiday Inn had left it's mark on me, somehow. As a child I had studied the dissolves, the blocking, the character design as it for some reason sparked my interest in filmmaking. Oh, there were better directed films to study, but perhaps that was why they didn't engage me as much in that way. Perhaps it was simply that Holiday Inn's style felt more attainable.
No, it was more than that. The dozens of 30's John Wayne B-pictures I had seen felt just as attainable--Holiday Inn seemed attainable while at the same time infused with a specifically-designed style.

Viewing it again after these years was quite an experience. I was aware of things I hadn't been previously, such as the potboiler construction of Hollywood musicals (though, thankfully, this was released by Paramount before MGM got its mitts on the concept and infused it with flashy technicolor stupidity). But I was far from disappointed.

Most scenes played out exactly as I had remembered (and flashed back to at various times over the years), including the opening sequence, the farm-life montage, and the "White Christmas" performances (later to be the basis of another, less worthy film with that song's name). Other scenes I recalled only at seeing them again, such as the exploding peach preserves and the marvelous St. Valentine's Day number.

The concept is that of a singer/song-writer (Bing Crosby) founding a show venue open only on holidays, that he might be lazy the rest of the time. To listen to him, this utopian plan is admirable if you can get away with it for yourself. Following the shows planned for an entire calendar worked especially well when I was younger, as it almost felt that the year was going by on screen.

The great Irving Berlin wrote all the music, and the credits state that the film is "based on an idea by" him. I have to wonder if that "idea" is the one Crosby's character is given in the story. After all, Berlin was himself a singer/song-writer, and to listen to his outlook on "the bugler" he was also a respecter of leisure. This theory is sweetened by the fact that before it's all over Crosby's idea is left in the hands of Hollywood film-makers (who are somehow portrayed as dream-killers in this respect). Hmm...

Holiday Inn is generally considered a Christmas movie (after all, it opens with and ends with Christmas, with another Christmas between). But really you couldst watch it for almost any holiday. That's the point after all, isn't it? I heartily recommend it for Independence Day, if only because of Fred Astaire--in probably his most villainous role--throwing lit firecrackers at his feet in a tap dance number. A real gem, even if handled technically poorly at its conclusion.

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