While Holiday Inn is certainly not my favorite Fred Astaire film, it does have several wonderful dances and many familiar Irving Berlin holiday-themed tunes, including “White Christmas.” It was directed by Mark Sandrich, who directed five of the Astaire-Rogers musicals at RKO: The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Shall We Dance (1937) and Carefree (1938). Holiday Inn was the first of two films that Astaire would do with Bing Crosby, the other being Blue Skies (1946). Sandrich was to direct that movie as well, but died of a heart attack at age 44 just as production began.
Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby and Virginia Dale are a song-and-dance performing on Christmas Eve. Crosby and Dale are to be married, retire from show business and move to a farm, but Astaire has convinced her to ditch Crosby and keep dancing. Crosby goes alone to the farm but after a year finds it harder than he thought and decides to convert it to an inn opened only on holidays: Holiday Inn. Marjorie Reynolds, an aspiring dancer, meets Crosby and they start to fall in love. Meanwhile Dale has left Astaire, who drowns his sorrow in a bottle of scotch and heads to Holiday Inn, where he dances drunkenly with Reynolds and decides she should be his new partner. (As Crosby says, “Here we go again.”) After Crosby uses a clumsy trick to keep Reynolds from being seen by talent scouts, she leaves with Astaire for a career in Hollywood making a movie about Holiday Inn. Crosby finally turns to the tables on Astaire, and Reynolds realizes that it is Crosby she loves, and the pair return to the real Holiday Inn. Obviously you don’t enjoy this movie for a deep narrative but for the delightful musical numbers.
Holiday Inn is one of many must-see Christmas classics, primarily because it was the film that introduced the all-time best secular Christmas song, “White Christmas.” The film has scenes set on Christmas Eve during three different years in night clubs and a movie studio: the opening scene when the trio splits up, the following year when Crosby announces his plan for opening Holiday Inn, and the third year when Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds are filming the last scene of their movie.
Robert Homans, who plays Pop (the studio guard at the end of the film) appeared as the police sergeant in yesterday’s film, Beyond Tomorrow. He had tiny roles in hundreds of films, often as policemen or guards, including Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), Dead End (1937), Stella Dallas (1937) and one of my favorite screwball comedies, Easy Living (1937) with Jean Arthur and Edward Arnold.
Irving Bacon, who plays Gus the hapless driver, will be the link to the next film on our list, Meet John Doe (1941), and we will learn more about his long career in the commentary for that movie. We have already seen him as the exchange desk clerk in Bachelor Mother (1939).
Walter Abel, who plays the agent Danny Reed, appeared in an interesting film Skylark (1941) with Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland, which was also directed by Mark Sandrich.
Louise Beavers was seldom allowed to get far beyond parts as housekeepers or maids, but she always brought dignity, wisdom and a grand sense of humor to her roles in such films as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) and Shadow of the Thin Man (1941). Her best role was in Imitation of Life (1934), where she moved far beyond the stereotype to a part of three-dimensional substance. We will see her again soon in Good Sam (1948).
Leon Belasco, who plays the flower shop owner, will reappear as a musician in It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947). He may be familiar as the dealer at Rick’s in Casablanca (1942) or a poolside waiter in My Favorite Wife (1940), but he appeared in hundreds of film and TV roles.
Julia Faye, who plays the guest at the inn on New Year’s Eve who insists on dancing with Bing Crosby, was born in my hometown, Richmond, Va. in 1892. We will see her briefly in Remember the Night (1940) as a member of the jury. During her long career, she was best known as a silent film star and mistress of Cecil B. Demille, and she continued to appear in movies that he directed through The Ten Commandments (1956).
Karin Booth, who plays the hat check girl on New Year’s Eve, appeared in Ziegfeld Follies (1945), which included several Astaire dance numbers.
Brooks Benedict appeared in three Astaire films: Follow the Fleet (1936), The Story of Vernon & Irene Castle (1939) and The Sky’s the Limit (1943). We will see him again soon in Remember the Night (1940), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and The Lemon Drop Kid (1951).
Astaire and Crosby (whom Astaire called “Cros”) shared a long-time connection after this film, although they had appeared together 10 years earlier in a benefit performance for the Jewish Federation in New York on November 29, 1931. They briefly did joint USO tours during World War II, appeared together in another Irving Berlin tune-fest (Blue Skies) and in 1975 recorded a nostalgic LP, A Couple of Song and Dance Men. The tracks from that record are included in the audio Fred Astaire: The Complete London Sessions available on Apple iTunes and Amazon. Fred also appeared in 1975 on one of Crosby’s annual Christmas TV specials.
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
First and most of all: FRED ASTAIRE. We specifically love the “Say It with Firecrackers” number for the Fourth of July and his comic dance routines on New Year’s Eve (“You’re Easy to Dance with”) and Washington’s Birthday (“I Can’t Tell a Lie”). We all know how well Astaire could dance sober, but could anyone dance better drunk? In his autobiography, Steps in Time, he recounts how to get in the mood he took two stiff shots of bourbon before the first take and another before each of the six succeeding takes.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM
Turner Classic Movies will show Holiday Inn twice in the coming weeks: December 8 at 8 p.m. and December 23 at 6 p.m. (EST).