So, despite what many may try to tell you, Holiday Inn is not a classic that everyone loves. It’s actually padded out with many, in my view, weak songs and the central plotline has a bit of a bitter coating to it. But when it hits the high points, BOY, does it hit them with style.
Bing Crosby is Jim Hardy, a singer who dances a little, and Fred Astaire is Ted Hanover, a dancer who sings now and then. You don’t say. The men work together except for one big problem. Tedalways falls in love with the woman who is his dance partner. Which is a shame for Jim because he was also in love with the woman, Lila Dixon (played by Virginia Dale). When everything is out in the open, Jim decides to quit the stage life and go to live on a farm. It’s not quite the idyllic life he envisioned, however, so he then comes up with the great idea of opening Holiday Inn – an Inn that ONLY opens to provide rooms and entertainment on national holidays. People are sceptical but when Jim discovers young Linda Mason (played by Marjorie Reynolds) he knows that he can make it work. He also falls for the lady. Which is why he becomes understandably worried when a heartbroken Ted ends up at the inn and dances with Linda. Fortunately, Ted is very drunk and struggles to remember and locate the woman he wants as his new dance partner. Jim, of course, does his best to hinder things as Ted starts to appreciate Linda and her dancing prowess.
Mark Sandrich directs this musical, developed from the musically-minded Irving Berlin, and he does an adequate job. The film often looks beautiful and, while it covers a number of holidays throughout the year, feels very seasonal when most of te bigger moments take place during the Christmas period. There are often plenty of times when the camera just stays still or gets in just the right position to capture all of the magic that the stars can produce. And what magic that is.
Bing Crosby may sometimes seem like a lesser leading man but it’s worth remembering that he’s one of the most successful recording artists of all time. I believe that he holds numerous records and is well worth taking note of and giving due respect to. No small part of that massive success was the song “White Christmas“, which is here and remains an undoubted highlight of Holiday Inn. When Bing Crosby sings that song in that setting with THAT voice you’re immediately transported to a room in a house surrounded by snow, a log fire burning in the background and the smell of seasonal spices in the air. The song is synonymous with the holiday and for good reason. Everyone knows that Fred Astaire “can dance a little” (to use the famous quote that may not be quite correct but that remains a classic ignorance of great talent) but here he gets to show off in two great set-pieces that stand out from any other scenes in the movie. One has him smoking and launching firecrackers and dancing in a way that’s very impressive but the other, and my favourite, has him dancing in a drunken manner that mixes wonderful phiysical comedy with superb choreographed dance moves. Crosby and Astaire also benefit in the way they interact with each other, it’s quite a solid double-act that they create. Marjorie Reynolds is just as talented, a beautiful singing voice and some great dance skills, and easily holds her own onscreen. Virginia Dale as money-chasing Lila Dixon isn’t required to do as much but entertains whenever she’s onscreen. Walter Abel is great fun as a smooth agent and Louise Beavers is the lovely Mamie.
Other people can probably sing along with every song in the movie but I didn’t really enjoy the likes of “Easter Parade”, “Abraham” (which comes completely with a cringeworthy blackface routine accompanying some very dubious lyrics – but just remember the time and context of the material), “Song Of Freedom” or any of the others, really. “I’ll Capture Your Heart Singing” is excellent, during the first performance and also during the reprisal later in the movie, but it’s elevated by the interplay between Crosby and Astaire.
It’s certainly a movie worth watching on a cold, wintery evening. It led to, of course, the chain of motels and hotels named Holiday Inn. And, if nothing else, it launched “White Christmas” upon audiences everywhere. Which we should be mighty grateful for.
DIRECTOR: MARK SANDRICH
WRITER: IDEA BY IRVING BERLIN, ADAPTED BY ELMER RICE, SCREENPLAY BY CLAUDE BINYON (PLUS NUMEROUS UNCREDITED CONTRIBUTING WRITERS)
STARS: BING CROSBY, FRED ASTAIRE, MARJORIE REYNOLDS, VIRGINIA DALE, WALTER ABEL, LOUISE BEAVERS
RUNTIME: 100 MINS APPROX