White Christmas

This perennial Christmas favorite lands on our Christmas watch list every year, because of the Irving Berlin music (not just the one that yields the movie’s title), the dancing (choreographed by Robert Alton), and the excellent singing by both Der Bingle and Rosemary Clooney. I usually just barely tolerate Danny Kaye, but I actually like him in this movie and am surprised by his dancing ability in several numbers, especially “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing.”


A pair of army buddies who have become successful Broadway performers and producers head to Vermont just before Christmas to accompany a sister song-and-dance act who are slated to perform at a ski lodge. The lodge is owned by their former general, who is now about to lose everything because Vermont hasn’t seen snow in nearly a month. To help the general, they move rehearsals for their upcoming show from New York to the ski lodge and then try to make the general understand how well loved he is by staging a reunion of his army company. Misunderstandings ensue, but all is straightened out on Christmas Eve, and of course it starts snowing and all are able to celebrate a white Christmas.

New York is mentioned several times, and there is a number shot in a supposed Manhattan nightclub.


Christmas trees, a grand Christmas Eve dinner, gifts galore, and that song.


Mary Wickes, the housekeeper, played the nurse in The Man Who Came to Dinner. Percy Helton, the train conductor, played the drunk Santa at the beginning of Miracle on 34th Street.


There are probably more Astaire connections with this movie than any other on our watch list. Astaire was originally slated to play the role eventually taken by Danny Kaye. There are numerous stories about why Astaire didn’t take the role, most likely because he didn’t want to do a movie that would seem so similar to Holiday Inn from more than a decade before. Astaire had already done another film with Crosby, Blue Skies, and although he enjoyed working with the singer, Astaire may have also known that the movie would center more on singing than on dancing. Astaire starred in two films with Vera-Ellen: The Belle of New York and Three Little Words. Astaire knew Percy Helton, the conductor, from his Broadway days. In fact, it was Helton who nominated Fred to be a member of the Lamb’s Club in 1923. A future friend and dance partner of Fred’s has a small but distinctive part in White Christmas. Barrie Chase, who plays Doris Lenz (the chorus girl with the thick Brooklyn accent) would become Astaire’s dance partner in his Emmy award-winning TV shows starting in 1959 through the mid-1960s.


When composer Jerome Kern was asked what place Irving Berlin had in American music, Kern replied “He has no place in American music: he is American music.” Much the same could be said about Christmas music: Irving Berlin, the Jewish kid from New York, is Christmas music.