It’s hard to call yourself a classic movie fan without ever having seen White Christmas (1954) with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. How I had managed not to see it for more than 30 years is beyond me, but last week I saw it for the first time thanks to my friends Amy and Meaghan, who invited me to join them to watch it on the big screen last Wednesday.
I had a rough idea of what the story was about – a struggling ski lodge and how a group of four entertainers conspired to help bring in guests and save the lodge. I wasn’t expecting the opening scene: a war-ravaged village in Europe with American soldiers celebrating Christmas, and an emotional send-off for their beloved General Waverly. Nor was I expecting the war to be a recurring theme in the film. It seems a little incongruous for a Christmas movie and a musical. But the film reminded me why the people of this period are sometimes called “the greatest generation.” To have fought as young men in a war far from home, then to return after seeing unspeakable horrors to rebuild their lives. And the bonds that are created among the men who suffered these tragedies together, the fact they would do anything for each other. It’s not such a stretch for a Christmas move after all. In fact, entwining the themes of war and Christmas made the movie that much more powerful.
Another unexpected treat was to see Mary Wickes in the film as the lodge’s housekeeper. She is one of my favourite character actors of all time, usually playing a straight-talking, quick-witted “old maid”. She never fails to crack me up, and she brings real warmth and depth to her characters.
What a treat to see and hear “White Christmas” on the big screen (and here I give a nod to the great Irving Berlin). Rosemary Clooney’s scene where she sings “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me” probably benefited most from the large format. So glamorous, so elegant, so larger-than-life. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
If you want to catch White Christmas on the big screen, it’s not too late. It’s playing this Sunday, Dec. 11 at 1 p.m. at Cineplex theatres participating in the Classic Film Series. I’m really excited about this series; it’s a wonderful way to get to know some of these old films. I hope to catch more of these screenings and report back on them here. Until then, I’ll be dreaming of a White Christmas.