What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that one musical number rhapsodizes nostalgically about minstrel shows. But viewers don't see any blackface makeup or overt racist images; it's just verbal gags, and kids who don't know the history won't realize the degrading black stereotypes that gave rise to the patter.
What's the story?
Featuring the Irving Berlin tune "White Christmas" and other music from the Berlin catalogue, this 1954 holiday musical centers on Bob (Bing Crosby) and Phil (Danny Kaye), two song-and-dance men who meet while serving in the army in Europe and now produce and perform Broadway revues as Wallace & Davis. When the pair meet the Haynes sisters (Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney), two blonde performers on the run from their landlord. Phil and Bob help the girls make a clean getaway, and then the ladies accompany the fellas to their next engagement, at an obscure and financially strapped Vermont guest lodge. By an amazing coincidence, the lodge is owned by the men's old Army major-general, Waverly (Dean Jagger). Bob and Phil decide to help their former CO by mounting an entire Broadway-level show at the venue to attract customers and while they're at it throw a surprise reunion for their whole combat division. Keeping this a secret from Waverly accidentally convinces one of the Haynes sisters that the good deed is just a heartless publicity stunt connived by Wallace & Davis , but the plot all ends happily, with a reprise of "White Christmas."
Is it any good?
The closing number includes a chorus of children, who, notably, have been absent throughout this rather stiff, old-school entertainment (though Kaye provides an ageless, overgrown-kid enthusiasm). Even with the Berlin songs and Kaye's dancing, the Paramount team, under dialogue-oriented director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca), can't compete with golden-age Hollywood musicals like Singin' in the Rain that feature a deft pace and fleet feet. The most amusing piece here has Kaye making fun of minimalist modern-dance "choreography" (he even sneers at that word), and, like most of the rest of WHITE CHRISTMAS, it's just photographed flat-on, like a play.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the way the story plays off the WWII generation's strong military ties and stalwart respect for battlefield buddies and commanders, even in civilian life. It's a legacy that's perhaps a little too rosily painted here, but it still reflects the mindset of an America of yesteryear, where almost the entire country joined together in the war effort.
Later commentators would say the same syndrome of unquestioning loyalty and faith in the commander-in-chief got the United States into questionable wars in Vietnam and elsewhere. Do you agree?
Families can also talk about what makes this a classic. Is it just Bing Crosby and a catchy holiday tune, or is there more to it?