The film “White Christmas” is one of America’s best-loved movies and with good reason. The cast included some of the most popular screen stars of that era, performing spectacular dance scenes which, sadly, are not seen in the musicals of today. Perhaps the salaries of so many dancers would prove to be too expensive for the producers. We are fortunate that those old musicals are still available for today’s generation to watch.
Bing Crosby - Wikimedia
One Christmas Eve towards the end of World War II, Captain Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and his sidekick, Private Phil Davis, performed an act for the soldiers of the 151st Division in Europe. It was, in part, a tribute to their General, Thomas Waverly, who was retiring shortly. After the show, their area was bombed and Phil saved Bob’s life when the side of a building threatened to fall on him. Phil then asked Bob if they might team up as a duet when they got back to the States. Bob, who was used to a single act, reluctantly agreed to team up with his army pal.
Their nightclub act was successful and the two men, calling themselves Wallace and Davis, developed a musical entitled “Playing Around” which played on Broadway. Phil continuously chided Bob for working too hard and tried unsuccessfully to fix him up with some of the chorus girls they encountered in their work. He felt that Bob should get married and settle down. Bob was not interested.
Danny Kaye - Wikimedia
The Haynes Sisters
An army buddy of theirs asked them to take a look at his sisters’ act with an eye to advancing their careers. Bob and Phil agreed and went one evening to watch Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney) and her younger sister Judy (Vera-Ellen) perform their act at a local nightclub. The act they did included the classic song “Sisters” which is still a beautiful piece of work. You may remember that Rosemary Clooney is the brother of television host Nick Clooney and the aunt of actor George Clooney.
Bob seemed taken with Betty and Phil was drawn to Judy. Phil and Judy got out on the dance floor and busted some moves, the likes of which are not seen today. Vera-Ellen is a sensational dancer and managed to make Danny Kaye look extraordinary also. She has beautiful legs, and the costumes in this film (credited to the famous Edith Head) are fabulous, adding to the enjoyment of the viewer.
The boys had railroad tickets back to New York, and the girls were headed to the Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont where they were booked to do a Christmas show. Through a misunderstanding, the police came after the girls, and Phil gave them their railroad tickets to make a fast getaway. Because of this unforeseen circumstance, Phil and Bob filled in for Betty and Judy for the late show and reprised the song “Sisters,” where it was obvious that Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye could not stop laughing at their own antics.
Rosemary Clooney - Wikimedia
The Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont
Phil and Bob decided to join the girls in their trip to Vermont after negotiating with the railroad conductor. When they reach the Columbia Inn, they were all disappointed that the promised snow had not occurred. They were also surprised to see their former General, Thomas Waverly, at the Inn. They assumed he was the janitor because he was carrying a large load of wood. The General was actually the owner of the Columbia Inn. He had invested his life savings into the venture. Because of the lack of snow, there was only a handful of people at the show which featured the Haynes Sisters.
Because of their deep respect for the General, Phil and Bob decided to have the entire cast of their successful musical “Playing Around” come to Pine Tree to perform the show, starting on Christmas Eve. Scenes of the rehearsals were as good as the real show as we witnessed once again the exceptional dance numbers performed by the cast.
Familiar tunes brought back memories to me of that wonderful era. Songs such as “Count Your Blessings,” “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” “Love, You Didn’t do Right by Me,” “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army,” and “White Christmas” were sung, aided by back-up dancers who stole the show.
A Surprise for the General
Bob had a wonderful idea during rehearsals to go on the television show of another old army buddy, Ed Harrison, to invite all of the general’s men from the 151st Division to come to Pine Tree for the Christmas Eve show. As he was arranging this by phone with Ed Harrison, Emma (Mary Wickes), the general’s secretary at the Inn, listened in on an extension, and heard Ed suggesting that the show should be put on television, which would be free publicity for Wallace and Davis. Bob did not think it was a good idea and declined. However, Emma did not hear Bob turn down the offer. She told Betty what she had heard, and Betty was so disturbed at Bob’s selfishness that she left for New York where she had been offered a job at the Carousel Club.
Vera-Ellen - Wikimedia
Bob was disappointed to see Betty leave since they had developed a romantic relationship. Phil agreed to go along with Judy’s plan to pretend that they were engaged, so that Betty would feel that she no longer had to look after her sister and would be free to make her own plans for the future. They had been happy to see Bob and Betty getting along so well.
The rehearsals continued without Betty and everyone waited the week before Christmas to watch the Ed Harrison Show where Bob would invite the 151st Division to come to the general’s Inn in Vermont. Phil had a difficult time preventing General Waverly from watching his favorite show, the Ed Harrison Show. He had to fake a broken leg to woo him away from the television set. Betty watched in New York and was stunned that there was no mention that the show would be televised from the Columbia Inn. She hurried back to Vermont to apologize to Bob for her misunderstanding. It seems that all Hollywood movies must create some conflict between lovers to add to the suspense, and this episode provided that friction.
A Tribute to the General
The ending was superb in its patriotic tribute to the General given by his former soldiers. Of course, the snow arrived, giving the cast the opportunity to sing Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” along with the other tunes from Wallace and Davis’ successful musical “Playing Around.”
The beautiful song “Count Your Blessings” was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Original Song. I believe that millions of people have seen this wonderful holiday musical since it is rerun at every Christmas season.