Saturday, 8 May 2010

Holiday Inn (1942)

Directed by Mark Sandrich
Written by Claude Binyon, Elmer Rice
With music and lyrics by Irving Berlin

Seen on DVD

** 1/2

Holiday Inn has its place in film canon, but the film itself doesn’t merit it. It’s fluff, and not even particularly good fluff, compared to the stellar offerings of the period. Trivial and lacking in heart, the story barely hangs together, and though it’s dripping with supposedly charming situations, they are unconvincing and the characters unlovable.

Normally sparkling Fred Astaire plays Ted Hanover, dancer extraordinaire and show biz partner of singer Jim Hardy, (Bing Crosby.) The two are in constant competition to prove more talented and a bigger hit with the ladies. Ted settles it, and causes their break-up, by winning the affections of their co-star from under her fiancĂ©e Jim’s nose, and Jim bows out of show business for a quiet rural life.

Finding farm work tougher than anticipated, Jim launches an inn with a gimmick: it will open only on holidays, and feature musical performances themed for the occasion. Rapidly falling in love with Linda, his shop-girl-turned-hostess collaborator, Jim looks set: until Ted turns up, single again, and (surprise!) discovers Linda is his perfect partner as well. In a blink the two are up to their old tricks, each trying to win her as their partner on stage – and in life.

By unplugging your brain, it’s possible to find
Holiday Inn entertaining, but it can’t be called inoffensive. We are expected to believe any and all women must fall head over heels for two men who care more about their game of one-up-man-ship than they do about the woman they profess to love. Crosby and Astaire walk through their roles, coming alive only when performing - Astaire's solo tap-dance is a real cracker. The female characters are passed around, treated as possessions to be won or lost, barely granted their own free will, and neither they nor the men so in love with them show the slightest sign of real passion.

There’s also a number done in blackface, ostensibly necessary to the plot for reasons of disguise. Although cringe-making these days, such performances were common in at the time, and the scene’s recent removal from American television broadcasts of the film has caused much debate.

In spite of its many failings,
Holiday Inn is a remarkable piece of history, for the music which inspired it and the trivia surrounding it. The film includes a strange little insert of patriotism and munitions factories, which doesn’t mesh at all until you realise Pearl Harbour was attacked when the picture was filming and overnight, America stepped into World War II. The film's name lives on in the small hotel chain which became a global empire, but perhaps its most lasting legacy is one little song, overlooked on first release, which won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1942, and went on to become the best selling single of all time: “White Christmas.”

If you’re after exceptional musical comedy, check out Fred and Ginger setting the stage afire in Top Hat, instead. Lighter than air, it’s a farcical case of mistaken identity and true love filled with magnificent dance numbers and brilliant performances from a star-studded cast.

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