Two New York song and dance men, Ted Hanover and Jim Hardy, form an act with a singer, Lila Dixon, to whom Hardy is engaged. Hanover also loves Lila and convinces her to run away with him instead of retiring to a farm with Jim, who wants to get out of show business. Jim finds farm life much more difficult than he bargained on and decides to convert his Connecticut farmhouse into a “holiday inn”, which only opens 15 times a year to celebrate various holidays. He is joined by a struggling performer, Linda Mason and begins his dream project. Meanwhile, Lila has left Ted and he winds up in Connecticut joining Jim and Linda at Holiday Inn where they form a new act. History repeats itself as Ted succeeds in stealing Linda from Jim. Linda and Ted leave for Hollywood to pursue stardom. Jim follows to win Linda back. Eventually on New Year’s Eve, Linda is reunited with Jim, Lila with Ted, back in Connecticut at Holiday Inn.
OSCAR winner for Best Academy Award for Best Song - White Christmas by Irving Berlin
CLICK HERE and read Classic Movie Reviews from every year and every genre!
“Holiday Inn” combines the some of the greatest popular musical talents of the mid-20th century in a charming, nostalgic package. The musical talent who predominates is Irving Berlin, whose “White Christmas” debuts here, and which epitomizes the sentimental quality of the film. “Holiday Inn” features 14 of Berlin’s songs. As well, the original idea of a story based around musical renditions of American holidays was his. Mark Sandrich, who directed three of the best Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals at RKO (“Top Hat” 1935, “Follow The Fleet” 1936 and “Carefree” 1938) directs Bing Crosby, the premier male singer in America at the time and Fred Astaire, then the coolest dancer in the movies, as the two vaudevillians who vie for the affections of their leading ladies.
The plot is utterly typical of American musical comedies of the 1930s and 1940s - built around romantic rivalries and friendly misunderstandings that never truly threaten to get in the way of the good time to be had from the musical numbers. The minor upsets between friends and lovers are really only excuses after all to move the movie along to its certain happy ending. Fortunately, we don’t watch movie musicals for their realistic plots and this one is as good, if not better, as the best Astaire/Rogers offerings.
Sandrich manages the same sparkling black and white glamour that characterizes those RKO musicals of the 1930s, only in a slightly more homespun atmosphere of rural Connecticut. It is a big part of the fun of watching these movies to witness, for instance, the overnight transformation of an abandoned building into a state of the art hotel night club with more elaborate costumes, props and lighting than seen in most big Broadway production numbers. Sandrich obviously understands musical talent and gets relaxed, funny performances out of both Crosby and Astaire. Especially enjoyable are the Astaire numbers where his famous smoothness as a dancer is ruffled. There is a wonderful drunken dance seen on New Year’s Eve at the inn, just after Ted Hanover (Astaire) finds out that Lila (Virginia Dale) has left him. Equally good is the number created to mark George Washington’s birthday where Jim Hardy (Crosby) has the orchestra manically switching from the minuet to jazz to swing to the conga while Hanover frantically attempts to keep up and woo Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) at the same time.
It’s impossible to write about this movie without commenting on the now controversial minstrel show set piece meant to mark Lincoln’s birthday and set to Berlin’s song “Abraham”. As film historian, Ken Barnes, remarks on the DVD audio commentary, many films of the ‘40s featured these routines, most notably the Oscar winning “The Jolson Story”, and that although this sequence is sometimes edited out in television showings of “Holiday Inn”, “... it is a disservice to pretend that black face routines never existed at all.” Fair enough. Still it is hard to watch this number now and one can’t help but notice the weirdly confused motives of the people who created it. The song “Abraham” is clearly meant to celebrate Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves, but with seemingly no recognition of the diminishment of their descendants that these depictions encouraged.
The rest of the holiday numbers, which are the backbone of the film, offer much enjoyment. Berlin’s lovely “Be Careful It’s My Heart” is the highlight of the Valentine’s Day production, with Astaire back in traditional mode, white tie and tails, floating effortlessly around a polished dance floor with a glittering partner, this time Marjorie Reynolds. The Independence Day routine reminds us that “Holiday Inn” was one of the early war time movies, released only a few months after Pearl Harbor. The sequence features a lengthy patriotic tribute to Franklin Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms speech. It ends in a completely different mode, however, with Astaire again shining, this time alone, amidst exploding caps, meant to mimic fireworks.
“Holiday Inn” was shot on a tight budget so most of the money went to Crosby and Astaire as they were the major stars. As a result, the studio hired two lesser known actresses, Virginia Dale and Marjorie Reynolds. They are both good, if not terribly memorable in their roles. Walter Abel is frenetic and funny as Ted Hanover’s manger who, when not joining in the romantic mayhem, is helping to create it.
“Holiday Inn” is a perennial Christmas favourite, largely due to Bing Crosby’s famous and lasting rendition of “White Christmas”, now a holiday standard. Overall, it is still a classic American musical which has many highlights to recommend it.