White Christmas (1954)

120 mins | Musical | November 1954

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HISTORY

The film’s onscreen title cards read: “Paramount proudly presents the first picture in VistaVision…Irving Berlin’s White Christmas .” White Christmas was advertised as a follow-up to Paramount’s 1942 release Holiday Inn , which starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and featured thirteen songs by Berlin, including “White Christmas” (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). The plots of the two pictures bear little resemblance to each other, however. “White Christmas,” which Crosby first performed on 25 Dec 1941 and recorded on 29 May 1942, became an enormous hit and acquired special significance during World War II as a song of hope and yearning. It won the 1942 Academy Award for Best Song and for over fifty years was the best-selling single in recording history. In White Christmas , Crosby sings the song during the opening war sequence. In addition to the songs listed above, snippets of Berlin’s songs “Heat Wave” and “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” are heard.
       According to a 2 Jan 1953 DV news item, Astaire originally was to star in White Christmas with Crosby, but bowed out and obtained a release from his Paramount contract. Crosby bowed out at the same time, citing the recent death of his wife Dixie Lee and his desire to spend time with his son Lindsay as reasons for his departure. In late Jan 1953, however, Crosby returned to the picture, and Donald O’Connor was announced as Astaire’s replacement. Shortly before production was to begin, O’Connor became ill and was replaced by Danny Kaye. According to a ... More Less

The film’s onscreen title cards read: “Paramount proudly presents the first picture in VistaVision…Irving Berlin’s White Christmas .” White Christmas was advertised as a follow-up to Paramount’s 1942 release Holiday Inn , which starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and featured thirteen songs by Berlin, including “White Christmas” (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). The plots of the two pictures bear little resemblance to each other, however. “White Christmas,” which Crosby first performed on 25 Dec 1941 and recorded on 29 May 1942, became an enormous hit and acquired special significance during World War II as a song of hope and yearning. It won the 1942 Academy Award for Best Song and for over fifty years was the best-selling single in recording history. In White Christmas , Crosby sings the song during the opening war sequence. In addition to the songs listed above, snippets of Berlin’s songs “Heat Wave” and “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” are heard.
       According to a 2 Jan 1953 DV news item, Astaire originally was to star in White Christmas with Crosby, but bowed out and obtained a release from his Paramount contract. Crosby bowed out at the same time, citing the recent death of his wife Dixie Lee and his desire to spend time with his son Lindsay as reasons for his departure. In late Jan 1953, however, Crosby returned to the picture, and Donald O’Connor was announced as Astaire’s replacement. Shortly before production was to begin, O’Connor became ill and was replaced by Danny Kaye. According to a 23 Jan 1953 DV item, by the terms of their contracts, Crosby and Berlin shared the film’s profits equally with Paramount. HR news items and production charts add the following actors to the cast: Millard Mitchell, Pat Denise, Leighton Noble, Nick Stewart , William Meader, Charles Morton and Jim Elsgood. The appearance of these actors in the final film has not been confirmed.
       VistaVison was Paramount’s widescreen process and, according to an Oct 1953 NYT article, used single-strip Eastman color film and a new camera with a double, or 70mm, frame. The camera exposed the negative horizontally rather than vertically “from magazines specially mounted on the side of the lens.” The image was then optically printed into a positive 35mm frame and projected in the usual, “vertical feed” fashion. As noted in the DV review, VistaVision boasted a “consistent picture quality in the various wide-screen projection ratios…from the standard 1.33 up to 2 to 1. The quality carries over into 2.55-1 when the VV negative is printed anamorphically for that aspect ratio.”
       The Los Angeles premiere of the film was a benefit for the Southern California Society of Mental Hygiene. Berlin's song "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" was nominated for an Academy Award. The film was re-released in the fall of 1961. A stage version of the picture, featuring all of the songs from the film plus a few other Berlin tunes, opened at the St. Louis Municipal Opera on 17 Jul 2000.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
28 Aug 1954.
---
Box Office
4 Sep 1954.
---
Daily Variety
2 Jan 1953
p. 1, 7.
Daily Variety
22 Jan 1953.
---
Daily Variety
23 Jan 1953
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
19 Aug 1953
p. 1, 11.
Daily Variety
27 Aug 1954
p. 3.
Daily Variety
31 Aug 1961.
---
Film Daily
27 Aug 1954
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 1953
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Sep 1953
p. 26.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 1953
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 1953
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Oct 1953
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Oct 1953
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 1953
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1953
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Nov 1953
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Nov 1953
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 1953
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Aug 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 2000.
---
Life
11 Oct 1954.
---
Los Angeles Times
28 Oct 1954.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
4 Sep 1954
p. 130.
New York Times
4 Oct 1953.
---
New York Times
15 Oct 1954
p. 16.
Newsweek
11 Oct 1954.
---
Time
25 Oct 1954.
---
Variety
1 Sep 1954
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Wrt for the screen by
Wrt for the screen by
Wrt for the screen by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus dir and vocal arr
Orch arr
Mus assoc
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
DANCE
Dances and mus numbers staged by
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Stage eng
Asst prod mgr
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
SONGS
"White Christmas," "Abraham," "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," "Blue Skies," "Count Your Blessings," "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army," "I'd Rather See a Minstrel Show," "Instead of Dance, It's Choreography," "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me," "Mandy," "The Old Man," "Sisters," "Snow" and "What Can You Do with a General?" words and music by Irving Berlin.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Release Date:
November 1954
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 14 October 1954
Los Angeles opening: 27 October 1954
Production Date:
late September--early December 1953
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
14 October 1954
Copyright Number:
LP4113
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
VistaVision
Duration(in mins):
120
Length(in reels):
13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16919
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On Christmas Eve, 1944, somewhere in war-torn Europe, soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 151st Division enjoy a show put on by song-and-dance men Capt. Bob Wallace and Pvt. Phil Davis, in honor of their beloved departing general, Tom Waverly. When the camp suddenly is bombed, Phil saves Bob’s life by pulling him out of the path of a collapsing brick wall. Later, Bob visits the injured Phil in the infirmary and declares that he “owes” Phil. Phil immediately pulls out a song he has written and suggests that Bob, a well-known soloist, repay him by performing it with him. Bob agrees, and the two become a popular duo following the war. One December night, in Florida, where they are performing their revue, Playing Around , Phil tries to fix bachelor Bob up with a chorus girl, but Bob angrily resists. The carefree Phil complains that because Bob has no love life, he spends all of his time working, and consequently, makes Phil work too hard as well. After Bob admits that he wants to find a “good” woman, the two head for a nightclub, where Betty and Judy Haynes, the sisters of a former Army buddy, are performing. Bob is instantly taken with Betty, while Phil is attracted to Judy. When Betty admits to Bob that the letter from their brother inviting them to their show was actually written by Judy, Bob laughingly accuses Judy of “having an angle.” Betty, the older and more serious sister, takes umbrage at Bob’s comment, and she and Bob quietly argue. Judy and Phil, however, hit it off and are delighted ... +


On Christmas Eve, 1944, somewhere in war-torn Europe, soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 151st Division enjoy a show put on by song-and-dance men Capt. Bob Wallace and Pvt. Phil Davis, in honor of their beloved departing general, Tom Waverly. When the camp suddenly is bombed, Phil saves Bob’s life by pulling him out of the path of a collapsing brick wall. Later, Bob visits the injured Phil in the infirmary and declares that he “owes” Phil. Phil immediately pulls out a song he has written and suggests that Bob, a well-known soloist, repay him by performing it with him. Bob agrees, and the two become a popular duo following the war. One December night, in Florida, where they are performing their revue, Playing Around , Phil tries to fix bachelor Bob up with a chorus girl, but Bob angrily resists. The carefree Phil complains that because Bob has no love life, he spends all of his time working, and consequently, makes Phil work too hard as well. After Bob admits that he wants to find a “good” woman, the two head for a nightclub, where Betty and Judy Haynes, the sisters of a former Army buddy, are performing. Bob is instantly taken with Betty, while Phil is attracted to Judy. When Betty admits to Bob that the letter from their brother inviting them to their show was actually written by Judy, Bob laughingly accuses Judy of “having an angle.” Betty, the older and more serious sister, takes umbrage at Bob’s comment, and she and Bob quietly argue. Judy and Phil, however, hit it off and are delighted by Bob and Betty’s apparent pairing. Just then, Novello, the club’s owner, informs Judy that the sheriff is in his office, waiting to arrest her and Betty for non-payment of a $200 fee their landlord is demanding. After Judy, who along with Betty has an upcoming holiday job in Vermont, confesses to Phil that they are broke, Phil gives them the train tickets he and Bob were to use that night. While Novello stalls the sheriff, Betty and Judy sneak out of the club and flee in a cab. To assure the women reach the station, Phil and Bob go on stage in their place, sporting fans and garters and mouthing the words to a recording of one of the sisters’ numbers. Afterward, Bob and Phil dash to catch the New York-bound train, and Bob is annoyed when Phil claims to have lost their drawing room tickets. Bob eventually deduces what happened to the tickets, but before he can confront the sisters, they burst into the club car to thank him for his generosity. Thus cornered, Bob says nothing about the tickets, and before long, Phil and Judy convince Bob to spend a few days in “snowy” Vermont. When they arrive there, however, they are shocked to find green grass and warm temperatures. At Columbia Inn, where they are to perform, Betty and Judy learn that because of the unseasonable weather, the inn has few guests and cannot afford their services. Just as Betty, Judy, Bob and Phil are about to leave, Gen. Waverly walks in with his granddaughter Susan. The general reveals that, after retiring from the Army, he sank all of his savings into the now failing inn. The general insists on honoring the sisters’ contract, and that night, while the girls are singing, Bob and Phil concoct a plan to save the inn. Bob arranges for the entire cast and crew of Playing Around to come up from New York, explaining to the general that the inn is the perfect place to fine-tune the show before its Broadway opening. Later, after Phil and Judy connive to get Bob and Betty alone together, Betty admits to Bob she misjudged him and praises his selflessness. Although rehearsals at the inn go well, the general is crushed when he receives a letter from an Army friend, informing him that his request for reinstatement has been denied. Hoping to improve the general’s spirits, Bob decides to go on the Ed Harrison television show and invite the veterans of the 151st Division to a Christmas Eve show at the inn. While he is talking on the phone with Ed, Emma Allen, the inn’s nosy housekeeper, eavesdrops, but only hears Ed trying to convince Bob to exploit the event for publicity. Emma then tells Betty what she heard, and Betty, believing that Bob intends to take advantage of the general’s plight, grows suddenly cold toward him. Judy concludes that Betty is having second thoughts about Bob because she is worried about abandoning her little sister, and convinces the marriage-shy Phil to become engaged to her until Bob and Betty are safely reunited. At a cast party, Judy and Phil announce their engagement, and are confused when Betty continues to snub Bob. Later that night, Judy assures Betty that the break-up of their act was inevitable, and the next day, Betty leaves for a solo job in New York and writes Judy a goodbye letter. After reading the letter, Judy and Phil confess to Bob about their phony engagement, and Bob, upset, decides to drop by Betty’s club before his appearance on the Ed Harrison show. Despite his kind words, Betty treats Bob hostily. Bob then makes his live televised plea, and while Phil, Emma, Judy and Susan go to great lengths to prevent the general from watching the show, Betty tunes in and realizes her mistake. On Christmas Eve, hundreds of veterans and their families swarm to the inn to surprise the general, and Betty returns in time to appear in the revue. The general is deeply moved by the presence of so many of his men, and Betty is relieved to be reunited with Bob. Then, as snow begins to fall, Betty and Bob, and Phil and Judy kiss, happy in the knowledge that they will soon be married. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.