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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: White Christmas

December 12th, 2010

White Christmas - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

In 1941, Irving Berlin wrote a song called "White Christmas" that was sung by Bing Crosby. It wasn't an instant hit, but by the Christmas of 1942 it had topped the chart and stayed for many weeks, returning to the top the next year, and the year after that. In fact, it has been called the best selling single of all time. In 1954, it was part of a Christmas movie called White Christmas, which was the biggest hit of the year and has since become a perennial classic of its own. The latest home market release came out early last month. The screener was delayed, but the review is finally here.

The Movie

The film starts in 1944 on Christmas Eve somewhere in Europe. It's World War II and two army men, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis are putting on a show for the rest of the troops, to raise their spirits. The new general shows up for field inspection and is determined to punish them for lack of discipline; however, they are protected by their outgoing general, General Thomas F. Waverly. Shortly after they say thanks to General Waverly and the show ends, they are under attack and Phil saves Bob's life, resulting in a minor injury to Phil's arm. Phil uses this to get Bob to agree to let him try out to be part of Bob's act, once they return to the States, even though up till now, Bob's always been a solo act. Reluctantly, he agrees.

Turns out teaming up was a wise choice, and their careers take off, first playing larger and larger clubs, then on radio, finally producing a Broadway show. However, all is not well and Phil is more than a little put off by Bob's work ethic. Bob works so hard and Phil has to keep up since they are partners, which means Phil has no time to himself. He figures the only way he can have any time off is if he finds someone Bob will marry. He gets his chance when an old army buddy asks them to look at his sisters' act, Betty and Judy Haynes. Phil and Judy think Bob and Betty are hitting it off right away, when their relationship gets off to a pricklier start than that. They get a chance to spend more time together when Phil and Bob help Judy and Betty out of a jam and they both head up to Vermont together, where the sister act has a job waiting for them.

When they get there, they find out the job isn't as promising as they had hoped. It's been an unseasonably warm winter in Vermont and with no snow, there's no tourists. And no tourists means no one is staying at the inn. At first the four of them are just going to head back to new York, but then they learn the owner of the inn is none other than General Thomas F. Waverly. They get working on an idea to put on a huge show to draw in the crowds. And of course, Judy and Phil and still hard at work getting Betty and Bob together.

Before I get to the quality of White Christmas, I should admit that I'm not a huge fan of musicals. In fact, my favorites from the genre tend to be animated films. When I think of my favorite Christmas Musical, The Nightmare Before Christmas before White Christmas. That said...

This film is widely regarded as a holiday classic, but I think nostalgia has a lot to do with that. I'm not saying its a bad movie, far from it. It has a handful of great songs, including the titular "White Christmas", as well as "Sisters", "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep", and "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing". However, it also has a number of songs that just sort of take up space. The story itself is rather predictable and there's not a lot of subtly found within. That's not an issue, because it is carried by a cast that has excellent chemistry together, and this includes Mary Wickes. For a lot of people, the name Mary Wickes elicits the same response. "Who?" However, you'll recognize the actress, as she was a very talented character actor with performances in dozens of movies and even more TV shows. Here she plays the maid at the inn and has some of the best lines in the movie.

It's hard not to get sucked in by the film, but it's a Christmas treat, and as such, not that substantial. Then again, Christmas is the perfect time to enjoy something sweet and fluffy like this.

The Extras

The only extra on the first disc is an audio commentary with Rosemary Clooney, who played Betty Haynes. It's not the most in-depth audio commentary you will hear; in fact, she spends more time watching the movie than commenting on the movie. But there are some nice insights here and there. Over on disc two we find a series of featurettes, starting with Backstage Stories from White Christmas. This 12-minute featurette talks about a few making of stories, including how Danny Kaye was cast, the directing, etc. Rosemary's Old Kentucky Home is a 13 and a half minute tour of Rosemary Clooney's house. Bing Crosby: Christmas Crooner is a 14-minute look at Bing Crosby, while Danny Kaye: Joy to the World is a 13 minute long and look at the career of Danny Kaye. Irving Berlin's White Christmas is a seven-and-a-half minute long featurette on what might be the most famous song in the history of songs. White Christmas: From Page to Stage is a four-and-a-half minute long featurette on the stage production of the film. White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney is the longest featurette at 17 minutes. On it, her and the narrator, tell stories on how the movie was made and its impact.

It also comes with miniposters, as well as a snowy DVD case. Fun, but not a huge selling point.

If you have the previous DVD releases, there's not enough here to upgrade, but the really important news was the Blu-ray debut for the film. So it's rather disappointing that I didn't get a Blu-ray screener to review. However, the Blu-ray is actually cheaper than the DVD on, so it is clearly the better deal.

The Verdict

If you have White Christmas on DVD, don't bother buying this version of the DVD. On the other hand, if you don't have it, or are looking to grab the film on High Definition, the Blu-ray is significantly cheaper and it is worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, White Christmas