You may not know who Irving Berlin is, but I guarantee you you’ve heard at least one of the over 1200 songs he wrote in his lifetime. Songs like “Heatwave,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and “God Bless America” are standards. And even if those sound unfamiliar I know you’ve heard one of his most famous songs, “White Christmas,” which is one of the songs featured in this 75th Anniversary Edition of HOLIDAY INN.
It’s New Year’s Eve and we meet performers Jim Hardy (Crosby), Ted Hanover (Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) as they prepare for their final performance together. Jim and Lila have decided to give up show business, get married and move to a farm in Connecticut. However, Lila has gotten cold feet and, not only will she NOT be leaving the group, she won’t be moving to the farm as she is now in love with Ted. Jim takes the news as best as he can and says his goodbyes. A year later he decides to give up farming and turn the extremely large farmhouse into a nightclub that will only be open on holidays to be called, naturally, Holiday Inn.
One of the most beloved screen musicals, featuring two of the biggest stars of their time, HOLIDAY INN is an entertaining look back at a more simpler and gentler time when anyone could “put on a show” just by using their imagination and drive. While Ted and Lila continue their act, Jim meets cute with Linda Mason (Reynolds) a florist assistant who can also sing and dance. Applying at the Inn on Christmas Day, Jim sits her down at the piano to play a new song he’s written, “White Christmas.” The Inn opens on New Year’s Day and is a popular success. Each holiday brings a themed performance, given before a packed house (like I said, it is an extremely large farmhouse). Lincoln’s Birthday. Washington’s Birthday – yes, there was a time when both days were celebrated and you got both days off of school. Now it’s just President’s Day. Easter. Independence Day. 15 days in all, each with their own show. When Lila leaves Ted to marry a Texas millionaire, Ted visits Jim, where he and Linda begin a possible collaboration, both professionally and personally. Jim is not happy, but as they say, the show must go on.
The film is a success based on two things – the incredible source material and the outstanding cast. Both Crosby and Astaire get the chance to do what they do best (sing and dance, respectively) and they do it well. Second only to Frank Sinatra as the era’s main crooner, der Bingle is in fine voice here. Hollywood legend tells us that, according to his RKO screen test evaluation, Fred Astaire was described as such: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.” I’m assuming whoever filled out that evaluation also came up with the idea for New COKE! Here Astaire is as fluid and graceful as a swan as he treads the boards.
Berlin fans will enjoy the music and the set pieces that accompany them, though I should note that, in a non-PC era, the Lincoln’s Birthday performance includes many in the cast, including Crosby, singing the song “Abraham” in blackface. I found nothing offensive about the performance – it’s not stereotypically broad – but felt it’s worth mentioning here.
Video: The film is presented in a 1.35:1 aspect ratio and is quite well transferred considering the age of the film. This set contains not only the original black and white version but a colorized one, which is not of the best quality. Some scenes appear to have not been colored at all, or just the main part of the frame. It’s not distracting but if you’re going to watch a classic, watch it the way it was intended..
Audio: The soundtrack is presented in DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 and is well distributed. Lots of tap dancing here and it doesn’t overload the soundtrack.
A Couple of Song and Dance Men (44:35): Not only the name of the opening number in the film, but an excellent profile of the careers of Crosby and Astaire, whose daughter Ava contributes some nice facts.
All-Singing, All-Dancing (7:14): A quick look at the film’s musical numbers.
Coloring a Classic (8:50): See how they colorized the film…poorly.
Feature Commentary: Film historian Ken Barnes shares stories about the making of the film. Also included are old audio clips discussing the film from Astaire and Crosby.
Theatrical Trailer (2:16)
There is also a second disc which includes a copy of the Broadway production of “Holiday Inn.” I was confused when it started as it states it is “based on the Universal Picture” because the film was produced by Paramount, and is introduced as a Paramount Picture. After some research I learned that in 1958, Universal bought 700 older Paramount films to use for television showings. The more you know!