White Christmas

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As part of their annual Christmas Season of Movies, The Belmont Picturehouse in Aberdeen proudly presented Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” this morning. A packed screen full of excited festive folk enjoyed what is, in essence, a timeless Christmas movie – adorned with colourful jumpers, Santa Hats and seasonal scarves. Other films showcased in the next few days at the cinema include “Elf“, “Home Alone” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol“.

Full details and Listings can be found by clicking this link – The Belmont Picturehouse.

Now, going to see “Elf” and “Home Alone” at the cinema is all well and good – they have become essential holiday viewing over the past few years, but it is undeniable that “White Christmas” is one of the classics – a warm, colourful musical full of love and seasonal yuletide joy.

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After leaving the military at the end of World War Two, Captain Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Private Davis (Danny Kaye) team up to create the successful song and dance team of Wallace and Davis! After bumping into their female counterparts, the Haynes sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen) the foursome head to Vermont, hopeful of a snowy white seasonal adventure at the Columbia Inn. But when they reach the unsuccessful ski lodge (thanks to there being no snow this season) they band together to help the failing inn which just so happens to be run by Wallace and Davis’ old General from their army days, General Waverly (Dean Jagger).

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At the opening of the film we are told by the credits that this is Paramount’s first venture into VistaVision, which was the studio’s answer to Twentieth-Century Fox’s CinemaScope. The brand new widescreen, higher resolution variant on the 35mm film reel would stun audiences of the time (much like modern day HD stun audiences today). “White Christmas” was the perfect choice to showcase the studio’s brand new technological advancements, with swooping snowy landscape shots and bright, colourful musical numbers being held on wide stages.

“If you’re worried and cannot sleep… Just count your blessings instead of sheep! And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings!” – BING CROSBY, WHITE CHRISTMAS

This film is undeniably a showcase movie for the talents of Bing Crosby. It’s his name that gets first billing, and true enough his talents as a performer are evident in every scene he appears, however for me “White Christmas” belongs to Vera Ellen. As far as showcasing an individual performer’s talents then this movie is owned by her. Trained first and foremost as a dancer, then as an actress, Vera appears here in her 13th movie and stuns the audience with her amazing dancing talents. On the 2003 commentary track for the movie, Rosemary Clooney reveals “she wasn’t much of a singer, but she sure could dance!” The fact all of her vocals for the movie were dubbed is an insignificant fact when you see her jaw dropping routines for numbers such as “Mandy” and “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing“.

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 23.35.48Above: Vera Ellen appears from the ground in the stunning musical number “Mandy”

I remember the first time I saw the film, I couldn’t take my eyes off Vera Ellen. Her slim figure and tight fitting costumes always seemed to make her stand out from the rest of the cast. Rumours were that Vera battled with anorexia, a disease that resulted in her neck becoming far more wrinkled and elderly looking than her actual age. This is the reason each and every single one of her costumes in “White Christmas” covers her neck! Another interesting fact about Vera is that she liked to look directly into the camera. I remember noticing this the first time I watched the film. It was sometimes encouraged by directors during musical numbers for the performers to look directly into the camera, to make a connection with the audience, and true enough all the performers in this film do this. But Vera does it through the entire film. Once you notice it, you can’t help but notice it. I read in a film book years ago that she was shouted at several times during the filming of movies “Vera! Stop Looking at the Camera!” But alas, she never took any notice.

“She wasn’t much of a singer but she sure could dance!” – ROSEMARY CLOONEY about VERA ELLEN

Another of Vera’s amazing talents is portrayed during a routine called “Choreography“. After floating down from the sky she lands on the ground and performs what is called a ‘nerve tap’. The best way to explain this is to probably just go and watch the film, but in the dancing world a nerve tap is near impossible to do, and involves a dancer straining a leg or ankle muscle tightly to tap in super fast motion. While watching this scene, take note of the background dancer’s who watch on in shock and amazement.

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 00.31.01Above: Vera Ellen performs a nerve tap.

White Christmas” is by no means a flawless or perfect film. Storyline wise there are several plot inaccuracies and most of the story is hugely implausible. But somehow, asides all that, this film is perfect. There is a moment when the two male leads impersonate the Haynes sisters in a lip-synced rendition of “Sisters“, and Bing Crosby cannot help but corpse in the middle of the scene. The inclusion of his laughing just adds to this fun scene, and in no way takes away from the film’s flavour but instead adds to it.

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 00.23.01Above: Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye corpsing during the movie.

Another perfect moment in the film comes in the form of the musical number “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing“. This duet between Danny Kaye (who is severely overlooked during this film) and Vera Ellen is a perfect example of the golden age movie musical number. Just a couple, dancing, tapping and clapping in perfect syncopated rhythm with the music. It’s just perfect. And another thing I always notice about this scene, is a moment where Vera Ellen’s skirt gets caught in a rose bush… It’s an insignificant moment but it catches so perfectly that it looks as if it could have been stuck that way deliberately. It’s perfect.

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The finale of the movie, I believe, hits you in the heart every time you watch it. Wallace and Davis send out a call to all their former army troop pals to reunite at the General’s Ski Lodge to surprise him, and also boost the sales for the failing Inn. The moment the General walks down the stairs and into the room, to be welcomed by all his old army troops is heart wrenching, and while watching it at the cinema today the audience went completely quiet for the whole moment. Indeed, at the very end of the film once the cast had assembled to perform “White Christmas“, the audience applauded and it was that moment that I will treasure from my experience today.

For standing the test of time, keeping modern audiences feeling gooey with emotion and for entertaining with astounding big set-piece musical numbers, “White Christmas” gets 10/10 from me.

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