75 YOF: “White Christmas,” When Musicals Were Fun (1954)

You’ve heard the song every year on the radio, but have you seen the actual movie? I hadn’t, so we got to enjoy one more classic musical in our series.

STORY:
Army buddies Bob (Bing Crosby) and Phil (Danny Kaye) form a wildly popular two-man show after the end of World War II. While staying in a Vermont inn to spend time with an attractive sister duet, the boys learn that their old army general is the owner of the inn, which isn’t doing well. They decide to put on a whole show to attract customers to help their beloved general stay afloat.

IS IT ANY GOOD?
Yes indeed. It’s a lot of fun and a real pleasant film, meaning it’s just so upbeat without being cheesy. I liked the characters and wanted them to succeed. The songs were hit and miss, but none of them felt out of place or forced. And, of course, the dance numbers were awesome. The film did drag on a wee bit too long, and while I probably wouldn’t own it, I’m very happy I saw it. 3.5/5 stars.

IMPRESSIONS:
I’ve touched on this before, but I’ll give it more detail here: musicals have evolved in tremendous ways. The one massive identifier for an older musical isn’t just the crooning style, but the fact that musicals back in the day were just plain fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for musicals having darker natures and/or dealing with unpleasant issues (Phantom, Rent, etc.) and musicals that run the full spectrum of emotion are divine (Fiddler on the Roof). However, you don’t see any just-plain-fun musicals anymore.

NOTE: If I’m dead wrong about that, please let me know what fun musicals are being made nowadays! I’d be happy to see them.

White Christmas 1

First of all, older musicals saw themselves as entertainment spectacles. There are countless dance numbers as well as songs. There’s also a scene where the men perform the “Sisters” song to the amusement of an audience. According to IMDB.com, this was unscripted. Crosby and Kaye were goofing off, so the filmmakers used it. In fact, they deliberately kept the “worse” take where Crosby couldn’t keep a straight face.

That’s the air of fun the film possessed, and it permeates the screen and reaches into our living rooms.

White Christmas 2

Second, there was simply a positive air and it shows, considering the film is about honoring an army man. How many movies do you know that honor military personnel without war footage? Most such films show the soldiers in action, blowing the crap out of whomever is the enemy. These can be good and fun, but fankly, they have an air of “Boom, boom! ‘MURICA! Pow-Pow-Pow!”

Not in this film. There’s only about sixty seconds of war footage all of which is soldiers taking cover. The only wartime bravery is Phil saving Bob from a falling building. Rather than glorify a warrior, this film glorifies a man. They show early on that the general loves his men and they love him back, and the boys go out of their way to show him admiration and respect.

Few American films would honor military personnel anymore without taking glorifying America or violence instead of noble character  *coughTransformerscough*. White Christmas glorifies mutual respect.

White Christmas 3

Finally, White Christmas, like most old musicals, doesn’t think it’s gay or feminine for a man to dance. Remember Fred Astaire? Or the entire male case of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? Dancing was something men an women alike did and nobody blinked. This was in the mainstream, too!

But somewhere between 1954 and now, dancing became unmanly. Men were allowed to be into cars, motorcycles, sports, and guitars, but dancing was for chicks and queers. Even today, there’s the unspoken assumption that dancing men are effeminate and/or homosexual.

Oddly, these stereotypes have an air of truth to them. My brother is a dancer and if memory serves, he was the only straight male in his troupe. In fact, he danced for a year or two before anybody realized he was straight. They just assumed.

What happened? Well, it seems dancing itself has changed. Dancing has been a part of society for centuries–millenia! Even the Bible talks about men and women alike dancing. But once more, somewhere between the 50s and today, dancing as a social and entertainment medium waned.

Religion can probably be blamed in part–many Christian parents didn’t want their children doing such a “devilish” thing. But in the 60s, drugs took over the mainstream, too. Nowadays, kids don’t go out to dance, they go out to get high. “Parties” are places to drink and take drugs. Culture has shifted.

But also, dancing became more sexual in recent decades. People still go dancing, yes, but it’s mostly clubbing. Yes, that picture above shows a lot of leg, but today’s motions are more about bumping and grinding than kicking and stepping. True, dancing is a beautiful body art, and certainly sensuality is part of it. However, that’s all you see anymore, at least in the mainstream.

Personally, all this makes me sad. I’m sad to see men of any sexual orientation ridiculed or put into a box because of dancing. I’m sorry to see this active, social, and historic art die out in favor of sitting around getting wasted. And I’m sorry to see an impressive and beautiful performance chopped down to chemicals and close-ups for rap videos.

I guess that’s why I liked White Christmas. Something so upbeat, positive, and energetic couldn’t be made today without being a goofy or raunchy comedy. Perhaps we’ve grown too cynical in recent centuries. Our films certainly point that way.

But art is fluid. Perhaps one day people will start kicking their feet and having fun again without drugs or sex to keep them going.

NEXT: 1955–Rebel Without a Cause

PREVIOUS: 1953–War of The Worlds and Silly Sci-Fi Scariness 

FULL LIST: Click here

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8 thoughts on “75 YOF: “White Christmas,” When Musicals Were Fun (1954)

  1. You make a good point about dancing and perceived effemininity and homosexuality. I’ve noticed the stereotypes too, not just about dancing, but about other areas as well. Like, there’s the stereotype that gay men are stylish while straight men are slobs. And in the Olympics, only women do rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming. Though men do do those elsewhere.
    https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-swimming-blog/2013/dec/18/male-synchronised-swimming-london-ots-angels
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhythmic_gymnastics
    Is there some general notion that artistic is feminine?

    My high school Spanish teacher told me that, in Latin America, a man who can dance is actually considered quite masculine.

    Someone on Reddit explained that it’s probably because men are often results oriented that many of them don’t dance– dance is expression for its own sake rather than scoring higher points or finishing a faster race.

    I really like dancing too, even though it’s not my strength. And art that is just about fun is very enjoyable! You’ve probably heard of tropes like “True Art is Angsty” but it’s nice to have a break from that too.

    I would consider it a plus if my future husband has a good sense of style and can dance. 🙂

    What do you think of Dancing With the Stars?

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    1. I don’t watch reality TV in any form and when I do, my brother’s dancing is better. Go see a real dance, not a celebrity showcase.
      As for masculinity, somewhere along the line, the macho image came along of the he-man doing hard, big, manly work. Men got sterotyped into cars, beer, and chicks and the alpha males led that pack. Not quite sure how or why that happened, but I’m sad that it did. I’m no dancer, mind you, but you’re right: art in general was perceived as feminine. Probably because, like you said, it’s an expression and men were taught to suppress their emotions. Glad that’s changing a bit.

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  2. It has been a tradition at our house to watch this in December during the anticipation for Christmas. I love the story behind Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s characters doing the sister’s act. Danny kept hitting Bing Crosby with the fan in order to get him to laugh since Bing was not all that happy to film that scene at first. As you mentioned by the end of it Bing couldn’t even hold it in which meant Danny accomplished his mission. It is nice that the filmmakers decided to keep that take in the film because it is so funny to watch. You don’t see too many filmmakers doing that these days and which is a shame.

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