Film Advent Calendar – Day 22: Holiday Inn (1942)

When I stayed at the Holiday Inn in Cardiff, I was very impressed with the room service… Oh, sorry. Not that Holiday Inn? You meant the 1942 film? Apologies. Fun fact of the day – the chain ‘Holiday Inn’ was founded in 1952 using the title of this film as its inspiration. So there is a link between Jim Hardy’s hotel of this film, and the Holiday Inn in Cardiff, which I hadn’t before appreciated. I have never yet been to a Holiday Inn in the world that had a massive ballroom with a stage for Fred Astaire to tap dance on, however, so that’s as far as the similarities go.

Cards on the table, when I volunteered to do this review I was getting Holiday Inn mixed up in my memory with another classic – White Christmas. On viewing the film tonight, I have no recollection of seeing it before, except for the first scene where the song ‘White Christmas’ is played, where Bing is teaching it to Marjorie Reynolds. D’oh! So this is a review by someone who is not a lifelong fan who watches the film every Christmas, but rather a total novice, viewing it for the first time. I apologise in advance that this review doesn’t have the rosy glow of nostalgia which a lifelong fan might convey. I have given myself only one glass of mulled wine tonight as a penance.

Strictly Just Dancing?

In a nutshell, the film has a wafer-thin plot about a singer and a dancer who are partners professionally and rivals personally, which is an excuse to showcase a series of songs written by Irving Berlin. They are performed by the inimitable Bing Crosby (as Jim Hardy, the reserved composer and singer) and Fred Astaire (as Ted Hanover, the extrovert dancer) which is the perfect combination, like Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman. The songs in question all relate to seasonal holidays from Christmas to Thanksgiving, giving the film a chronological structure. It takes place over the equivalent of two calendar years. In the first year Jim gives up a career in music to try (and fail) to be a farmer in Midville, Connecticut; in the second year he opens his farm as a hotel – Holiday Inn – for 15 days of the year, on public holidays. He employs a beautiful young woman, Linda Mason, (played by Marjorie Reynolds) as a singer, who turns out to be a nifty hoofer, too, and he and Ted end up competing for her affection. Quite why Jim thinks only opening a hotel for 15 days out of 365 is going to be successful is beyond me but somehow he not only keeps it open but is able to employ enormous numbers of waitresses and musicians – let’s just say the tariff for a double room at the Holiday Inn in Midville must be somewhat more expensive than the Holiday Inn just off the M4…

I’m Dreaming…

The film showcases Irving Berlin’s music beautifully, as well as the voice of Crosby, and the dancing of Astaire. I found myself smiling in sheer joy at some of the routines – Astaire’s Independence day dance with firecrackers is just stunning – and Crosby singing ‘White Christmas’ with that gorgeous, iconic voice of his is a stand-out pleasure. Yet… I’m afraid the film left me rather cold in terms of its characterisation. Jim and Ted are both pretty buttoned-up men, and in their professional and personal rivalry, which drives the plot of the film, they don’t really seem to care who gets hurt. The rivalry is played for laughs, and there are scenes reminiscent of French farce as Jim tries to hide Linda from Ted and business manager, Danny. Lila (played by Virginia Dale) is shallow, selfish and grasping and Ted seems to accept her back with amused resignation rather than any deep feelings; and gives up Linda, his (and previously Jim’s) fiancée, in the same offhand, casual manner.

Linda is probably the character with the most emotional range, but even she can be frustrating at times. She clearly loves Jim but she doesn’t fight for their relationship when he tries to sabotage her career out of jealousy towards Ted. She meekly goes off to Hollywood and gets engaged to Ted, primarily because it serves the plot. Jim’s attitude to his fiancée often seems offhand to the point of being indifferent – there is no real chemistry on show except during some of the songs – the wonderful ‘Easter Parade’ and the Oscar-winning ‘White Christmas’. And yet… I feel I am being nit-picky for criticising this – musicals frequently have characters behaving implausibly to on another in order to progress the plot, and this is hardly a kitchen-sink drama. Different rules perhaps need to apply.

It Was A Different Time…

The same is true, of course, of political or social sensitivities. The film is, naturally, a product of its time – 1942. This is very much in evidence in terms of how the film uses black-face in the ‘Abraham’ song for February, and in the jingoistic montage of the American war machine in the ‘Freedom’ song for Independence Day in July. Yet, I was pleased to see that Mamie, the main black character, is portrayed sympathetically. She has a great scene at Thanksgiving when she tells Jim to go after Linda and tell her he loves her and acts more as an equal to him rather than just his servant.

Yippee Ki-Yay, Mr. Fred

So, overall, I enjoyed parts of the film, particularly Astaire’s dancing – ‘fab-u-lous’ as Craig Revel-Horwood would say, but I don’t think it will ever be one of my seasonal favourites. It’s one which I might put on in the background, to listen to while I stuff my face with Quality Street and try to beat my relatives at Trivial Pursuit, but I’m not going to sit glued to it the way I am with Love Actually – a cheesy film but with flashes of heart and soul – or my personal Christmas favourite, Die Hard. Forget snow, Bing, I’m dreaming of a fiery Nakatomi Plaza, just like the one I used to know…