We all know Joaquin Phoenix is a strange bird, ever
You wouldn’t expect much from a movie based entirely on a two-verse song, but behold Bing Crosby in a blue butterfly headband and Danny Kaye tap-dancing on a conveniently overturned rowboat. This is White Christmas, and it is magnificent– a 1954 classic about two WWII buddies who team with a sister act to (what else?) save their retired general’s inn.
It’s the only Christmas movie to include an instrumental number about Abraham Lincoln, an air raid, a tribute to vaudeville, and a critique of modern dance choreography. We don’t get to Christmas Eve until maybe the last five minutes. You will spend more time watching awareness-raising about unemployed veterans than you will looking at Santa Claus.
And yet, it works.
And yet, we are still left with questions.
But here are the answers:
1) Seriously, did the Haynes Sisters have any other numbers besides “Sisters”?
The only time we see super-dancer Vera-Ellen (who played Judy Haynes) and super-singer Rosemary Clooney (Betty Haynes) dance and sing together is this number. Apparently it’s the only one they’ve got. These girls are gonna ride to the top on two giant fans.
The off-screen reason for their tunnel vision is that Clooney self-admittedly struggled with choreography; Vera-Ellen’s singing was almost entirely dubbed. Why make a singer dance and a dancer sing, when Rosemary can musically have a midnight snack with Bing and Danny Kaye can escort Vera-Ellen down an Eisenhower-era zipline?
2) How is Benny Haynes “out of the country” if he’s in Alaska?
But wait! There’s (at least) a third Haynes sibling, and it’s Army vet Benny. Benny doesn’t have a giant turquoise fan. Benny doesn’t even have the comforts of ‘Murca. He’s in Alaska—“out of the country,” as Betty puts it. Did he trip and fall into Canada? Nope, he’s just in Alaska in 1954. It wouldn’t become a state for five more years.
3) Why were Betty and Judy sleeping on little shelves in hallway when they had a drawing room?
While on a New York-bound train, Bing Crosby (as Bob Wallace) and Danny Kaye (playing Phil Davis) accidentally bump past the room of the Haynes sisters, who are warm in their beds (and, of course, in full lipstick.) But the next morning, Bob romantically lifts Betty down from her sleeping perch on—there’s no better way to put this, the woman was sleeping on a shelf. Did the giant blue fans take up that much space? Wha’ happen’?
Nothing untoward: The four were now on a different train, from New York to Vermont, where nobody had a drawing room and everybody had a First Class Shelf in the Hallway. Just like most of us don’t have direct flights to our destinations, those who travel by train sometimes need to make layovers to switch lines. But they probably don’t lyricize that we’d like to “wash our hair with snow” while we’re at it.
4) What’s that on Betty’s butt during “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me”?
Studies indicate it’s a (and please correct me if I get the technical fashion terminology wrong here) a giant sparkly thing.
No, really– it’s a brooch, and it was placed there by costume designer Edith Head, who also worked on several Hitchcock classics.
Boy, did director Michael Curtiz love that brooch. There are several shots of Clooney from the back before the number (at one point she’s shown from the back in a mirror, so we get double butt sparkle) and near the finale, Betty’s dancers draw back like curtains, jazz-handing a dramatic exit for her glittery behind.
It’s Christmas. Why not.
5) Why didn’t Betty just ask Bob about whether or not he was exploiting the General?
Well, then we wouldn’t have a third act, would we?
White Christmas’ Big Romantic Misunderstanding is that just as Bob and Betty are becoming, you know, BOB AND BETTY, she is erroneously told that the show this plucky gang is working so hard to put on in the ol’ General’s inn is an exploitation move on Bob’s part. Betty’s response is to dump her sister, their act, Bob, the inn, and, presumably, the giant fans.
But why not just, you know, have a five-second conversation with Bob to clear things up? (Or, as Rosemary Clooney says to her character during a DVD commentary track, “You dummy.”) It stretches back to the first scene when the two crazy kids first met. They have a cat fight, as much as Bing Crosby can have a cat fight, as to whether or not most people in show business “have an angle.” She’s cynical! He’s suave! Time for a group number!
So Betty, predisposed to believe the worst about Bob, takes off in search of someone else to lift her glittery butt down off the train shelf.
But, of course, she didn’t make it very far. Fortunately for us all.