Screen legends Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire sing and dance their way into your heart in one of the most timeless holiday classics of all time, Holiday Inn. Featuring the Academy Award-winning song, "White Christmas", Crosby plays a song and dance man who leaves showbiz to run an inn that is open only on holidays. Astaire plays his former partner and rival in love. Follow the two talented pals as they find themselves competing for the affections of the same lovely lady (Marjorie Reynolds). 'Tis the season for one of the most sensational musical comedies of all time!
Though many rightfully regard it as a yuletide film - after all, it begins and ends on Christmas Eve and introduced the most popular secular Christmas song of all time, 'White Christmas' - 'Holiday Inn' is actually an all-purpose holiday movie, suitable for viewing on Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Easter, even Valentine's Day. Composer Irving Berlin cleverly salutes almost every national day of celebration in this delightfully entertaining romantic romp that's been a regular in my family's December viewing rotation as long as I can remember. The ingenious teaming of crooner Bing Crosby with terpsichorean titan Fred Astaire, a bevy of beautiful Berlin melodies, and a snappy script by Claude Binyon (adapted from an idea by Berlin) all help elevate a pedestrian tale to surprisingly lofty heights. While 'Holiday Inn' stands as one of 1942's highest grossing films, its reputation has only increased over the ensuing decades, and it's unlikely its current stature as a pinnacle of seasonal entertainment will ever be diminished.
For more than a half century, 'White Christmas' sat atop the charts as the bestselling song of all time (Elton John's special 'Candle in the Wind' tribute to Princess Diana finally eclipsed it in the late 1990s), and 'Holiday Inn' owes much of its success and longevity to this nostalgic yuletide anthem that continues to warm hearts and evoke cherished memories of home, family, and seasonal festivities. Any artist worth his or her salt has recorded it, but let's face it, no one can rival Crosby's original rendition, performed simply at the piano in front of a lit tree with a roaring fire in the background. The song comes early in 'Holiday Inn,' with little fanfare, and though it didn't immediately catch on (America's entry into World War II spurred its popularity, as the tune became a special favorite of soldiers fighting overseas), its performance by Crosby is now considered an iconic movie moment, and its reprise by Marjorie Reynolds (dubbed by Martha Mears) late in the film wields additional emotional impact.
Most of 'Holiday Inn,' however, is all about fun and the clever romantic maneuvers of its dueling leads, who purport to be best friends, but spend most of the movie as double-crossing rivals. When gold-digging tap dancer Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) dumps crooner Jim Hardy (Crosby) on the eve of their wedding for Jim's partner, the slick and manipulative Ted Hanover (Astaire), Jim picks himself up, dusts himself off, and proceeds with his plan to quit the nightclub hurlyburly and relax on his Connecticut farm. Yet after a year of arduous chores and little sleep, farmer Jim (fresh from a stint in a sanitarium to calm his frazzled nerves) embarks on a new professional path better suited to his lazy personality. Almost overnight, Jim transforms his farm into an inn - "but what an inn!" The gimmick? It's open only on holidays, so Jim only has to work about 10 days a year (although the lavish productions Jim continually mounts would quickly bankrupt such an enterprise). Jim asks his former manager, Danny Reed (Walter Abel in a memorable frenzied portrayal), to send any starving performers his way, and Danny complies, referring flower shop employee Linda Mason (Reynolds) to Holiday Inn just to get her out of his hair. Jim hires the fresh-faced, bubbly Linda and quickly falls in love with her, but when Lila runs off with a Texas millionaire, leaving Ted without a dance partner (and girlfriend), Ted sets his sights on Linda to fill both roles. "Here we go again," sighs Jim, and in an effort to keep history from repeating itself, he uses all his wiles to keep Linda at the inn and out of Ted's arms.
Though the backstage plot (that features more than a few screwball elements) is just a framework on which to hang more than a dozen Berlin holiday-themed songs, there's enough arch dialogue and witty repartee to fuel the clichéd story. Crosby and Astaire create incomparable chemistry, and watching them spar with and manipulate each other is one of the film's most enjoyable aspects. The role of Ted Hanover is the closest Astaire would ever get to portraying a villain in his five-decade career, and he seems to relish the character's Machiavellian traits. Yet Astaire's charm always shines through, and somehow he makes the crafty cad likeable. Though both Reynolds and Dale never achieved much renown beyond their work here, both make strong impressions, holding their own with Astaire on the dance floor and providing a welcome dash of spunk when necessary.
Yet when all is said and done, 'Holiday Inn' is all about the music and the dancing, and Berlin's catchy cadre of memorable tunes makes it easy to revisit this breezy film year after year. In addition to the Oscar-winning 'White Christmas' and perennial favorite 'Easter Parade,' the score includes the lilting 'Be Careful, It's My Heart' (exquisitely sung by Crosby and danced with ethereal grace by Astaire and Reynolds), the festive 'Happy Holiday,' the soulful 'Abraham' (performed as a black-face minstrel number), the rousing 'Song of Freedom' (a bit of wartime propaganda featuring clips of FDR and American troops in action that was hastily inserted after the Pearl Harbor attack, which occurred during the movie's production), and the explosive 'Let's Say It With Firecrackers,' one of the most intricate and exciting dance numbers of Astaire's career. With astonishing precision, Astaire taps his feet off while tossing various pyrotechnics across the dance floor in perfect syncopated rhythm, resulting in an electrifying routine and defining example of how seamlessly Astaire weaves together invention, artistry, and flawless technique.
Another awe-inspiring display of Astaire's genius occurs when an inebriated Ted takes to the floor with Linda and performs a series of perfectly executed drunken moves. Reportedly, Astaire took a shot of whiskey before each take (there were seven in all) so he could appear authentically soused, and the resulting bumbling and stumbling - all meticulously choreographed, but performed to look like anything but - is one of the film's many high points. Equally humorous (and impressive), the dance to 'I Can't Tell a Lie' alternates between highbrow classicism and lowbrow buck-and-wings, as Jim mercilessly and continually changes the song's style and tempo - prompting Ted and Linda to continually alter their rehearsed routine on the fly, and thus prevent them from locking lips.
Like the hotel chain that was named after the movie, 'Holiday Inn' isn't particularly unique - dramatically or musically - but producer-director Mark Sandrich, who helmed five of the legendary Astaire-Rogers films, knows what's he's doing, and crafts a buoyantly entertaining motion picture that continues to stand the test of time. Of course, "timeless" is the perfect adjective to describe the gifts of both Crosby and Astaire, and their easygoing partnership helps transform the modest 'Holiday Inn' into one of the most beloved musicals of all time.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Holiday Inn' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve with a bit of embossing. Tucked inside the front cover is a leaflet with instructions on how to access and download the digital copy. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, a static menu without music prompts viewers to select between the original black-and-white and colorized versions of the film. After the selection, the movie immediately begins. Supplements only can be accessed via the pop-up menu button on the remote.
Two versions of 'Holiday Inn' are included on this Blu-ray disc - one is the original black-and-white edition, while the other has been artificially colorized by computer (and doesn't deserve the time of day). According to the packaging, the black-and-white version has been "digitally remastered and fully restored from 35mm original film elements," and it looks it. The crisp, clear picture sports a faint grain structure that maintains the appearance of celluloid, and nary a nick, mark, or scratch dots the pristine print. Exceptional gray level variance heightens detail, and rich, inky blacks lend the image necessary weight. Whites are well defined, too (there's a lot of snow in this film), and never bloom, and patterns remain rock solid and resist shimmering. At the 43:10 mark, the left side of the screen looks substantially softer than the right, but of course, that's where leading lady Marjorie Reynolds is positioned, and her close-ups often look a bit gauzy when compared to those of Crosby and Astaire. Otherwise, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer from Universal looks pretty spiffy, and is a noticeable step up from the previous DVD. If, like me, you give 'Holiday Inn' an annual spin, you'll certainly want to upgrade to this high definition edition.
While my purist sensibilities are offended by the very idea of a colorized 'Holiday Inn,' the reality isn't much better. The source material for the computerized color version is noticeably more banged up than its black-and-white counterpart, featuring plenty of print marks and scratches, as well as a heavier grain structure. Contrast and clarity levels come close to rivaling the black-and-white rendering, but the colorization itself leaves a lot to be desired. If you're expecting the lush, vibrant hues of Technicolor, you'll be sorely disappointed. The colors here favor pastel shades more akin to Easter than Christmas, often looking anemic and washed out. (The reds for Valentine's Day are downright pale and sad-looking.) Many backgrounds, especially the snowscapes outside the inn windows, have been largely left alone, so they adopt a grayish tinge. Watching this subpar, slapdash effort truly turned my stomach, and I hope no one ever views this sacrilegious version of 'Holiday Inn.' This classic movie was filmed in glorious black-and-white and deserves to be seen in its native form.
Note: The star rating for the video transfer of this film is based solely on the black-and-white version, as that is the original manner in which 'Holiday Inn' was intended to be viewed. The colorized version garners 2-1/2 stars.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track pumps out clear sound that's free of any age-related imperfections, such as hiss, pops, and crackle. A wide dynamic scale handles all the highs and lows without a hint of distortion, and though the orchestrations lack the lushness and depth musicals demand, the songs still sound bright and lively, and Bing's dulcet baritone possesses plenty of warmth and resonance. Accents, such as Astaire's tapping, the firecrackers in the Fourth of July number, and the popping of the peach preserve jars, are appropriately bold, but subtleties are more difficult to discern. Dialogue and song lyrics are always clear and easy to comprehend, and no noticeable defects creep into the mix. For a 72-year-old movie, 'Holiday Inn' sounds darn good, and once again, the film's legion of fans will be pleased with this solid, straightforward track.
All the supplements from the previous DVD have been ported over to this release.
Audio Commentary - Though his remarks often sound scripted, author, record producer, and historian Ken Barnes delivers a commentary that's both informative and enthusiastic. Barnes, who worked with both Crosby and Astaire many years ago and shares his personal recollections of the two men, calls 'Holiday Inn' the "definitive musical of the 1940s," and talks about the movie's genesis, how Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth were originally envisioned for the roles eventually played by Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale, and how the song 'White Christmas' didn't initially wow the public. He also chronicles Crosby's early life as a drunken, skirt-chasing ne'er-do-well, analyzes the film's politically incorrect minstrel sequence from its proper cultural perspective, and compares 'Holiday Inn' to its Irving Berlin sister film, 'White Christmas.' Enhancing his discussion of 'Holiday Inn' is a selection of archival audio clips of Astaire, Crosby, and Crosby's long-time music director, John Scott Trotter, which shed additional light on the Astaire-Crosby relationship, their tenure as USO entertainers during World War II, and their perception of 'Holiday Inn.'
Featurette: "A Couple of Song and Dance Men" (SD, 45 minutes) - Barnes joins Astaire's daughter, Ava Astaire McKenzie, for this unsatisfying dual examination of the 'Holiday Inn' stars. With the exception of Astaire's electrifying 'Puttin' on the Ritz' dance from 'Blue Skies' and a snippet of Crosby singing 'White Christmas' from the same film, all the included clips come from trailers, and the information provided isn't very enlightening, unless you're a total Astaire-Crosby neophyte. McKenzie reads from a couple of letters Astaire wrote to his wife during World War II, and we learn 38 takes were required for Astaire's explosive 'Let's Say It With Firecrackers' number (the dancer also got himself quite tipsy for a drunken routine with Reynolds), but otherwise this is a fairly pedestrian piece that sheds little light on the two men. Once again, the patter between Barnes and McKenzie feels scripted, which lends this 2002 featurette an uncomfortable air of artificiality.
Featurette: "All-Singing All-Dancing: Before and After" (SD, 7 minutes) - Also from 2002, this featurette examines the evolution of musical production and how pre-recordings and dance looping helped streamline the process and expand the art form. One number from 'Holiday Inn' is broken down to provide an example of how actors lip-synced to pre-recorded tracks and taps were often added in post-production.
Featurette: "Coloring a Classic" (SD, 9 minutes) - A step-by-step look at how a classic black-and-white film becomes bastardized...I mean, colorized. The technicians in this 2008 featurette claim colorization makes old movies more attractive to younger contemporary audiences, but they fail to mention it alienates older viewers.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - This re-issue preview hits all the high points of the Irving Berlin score.
One of the most beloved and timeless holiday films at last makes its Blu-ray debut! Thanks to the incomparable Irving Berlin and impeccable talents of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, 'Holiday Inn' is a veritable treat from start to finish, and suitable for viewing any time of the year. Packed with memorable tunes, including the iconic 'White Christmas,' and dazzling, inventive dances, this captivating musical never gets old, no matter how many times we see it. Both Crosby and Astaire are at the top of their respective games, and fine support from an excellent supporting cast keeps this immortal film pleasantly rolling along. Universal's Blu-ray presentation is distinguished by a stellar black-and-white transfer (by all means skip the shoddy colorized version), solid audio, and a comprehensive supplemental package. A host of yuletide films have attained classic status, but 'Holiday Inn' - more than seven decades after its initial release - continues to reside near the top of everyone's list, and this marvelous high definition edition, which is more than worthy of a double dip, ensures it won't lose its spot anytime soon. Highly recommended.