In 2009, Paramount released White Christmas in an Anniversary DVD edition and probably made more than a few dollars for the company coffers. In 2010, hoping all those people who shelled out for the DVD version now had Blu-ray players, they released the movie again, this time on Blu-ray. Is it worth it to make the HD jump? Probably depends on how much you love White Christmas.
As I noted in the 2009 review of the White Christmas (Anniversary Edition) reissue on DVD, White Christmas is a hugely popular Christmas movie that has almost nothing to do with Christmas. Much like It’s a Wonderful Life, it is primarily about something else and is only tenuously attached to Christmas in terms of the actual film content.
In this case, the “something else” is the usual mid-1950s musical shenanigans. After one saves the other during an enemy bombing raid, former Army comrades Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) team up as a song-and-dance team after the war. They soon become a hit, but Wallace is a bit of a work-a-holic. Davis is constantly trying to get him a little action, but he’s not having any until the duo meets the up-and-coming sister act, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen). Two gents and two ladies; how could there not be a dual courtship of Bob and Betty on one hand and Phil and Judy on the other? There couldn’t not be, that’s how. So the guys follow the girls to their next gig, singing at a Vermont inn that happens to be run by, of all the coinkidinks, the guys' old general (Dean Jagger).
Since running a Vermont inn seems like a normal career for a two-star general, it’s time to get to the other problem set up by the film. There is now snow in Vermont, and thus no skiers and no inn customers. Fortunately, Phil and Bob decide to bring their whole Broadway show troupe up to Vermont to live and work while the guys try to get their respective girls. As is the case with most Vermont inns, not only is there enough room to store all of the participants and equipment of a big Broadway show, there is plenty of room to stage hugely elaborate costumed musical numbers with a full orchestra and extra dancers. This way, in addition to the regular breaking into song that you often get in a musical, you get staged musical numbers that are supposed to be, well, staged musical numbers.
Eventually, there is one of those romantic misunderstandings where Betty thinks Bob is a real douchebag and then, instead of asking him about it, she runs away. It’s all resolved, of course, and everyone comes along in the end to sing “White Christmas.” That’s the big Christmas connection, the song being sung at the beginning (by Crosby alone during the war) and at the end by the whole big cast and some never-before-seen kids. Other than that, it’s your standard musical romantic comedy.
Still, this is an Irving Berlin musical starring some real musical heavyweights, so the song-and-dance numbers are on the scale from very good to great. If you can forget that the whole idea of the movie is just preposterous -- almost a movie musical prerequisite -- then you can sit back and enjoy fantastic songs like “The Old Man,” “Love, Do Right by Me,” “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing,” “Sisters,” and “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army” performed by Clooney, Crosby, Kaye, and Vera-Ellen, who are all supremely talented. There is a lot of good humor, and while they shoot almost everything on a sound stage, ignoring giving us an actual look at Vermont, everything is staged with amazing costumes and props. It’s a big-time musical that’s well made.
Maybe the fact that it isn’t really a Christmas movie is no big deal. It has the biggest Christmas song of all time (originated in the superior Holiday Inn) and a nice ending with a huge tree and everyone dressed in Santa Claus suits. It can still be enjoyed around Christmas time, or any time, as a good Hollywood movie musical from the genre's peak period.
A simple warning to anyone who purchased the Anniversary Edition of White Christmas on DVD last year. With one (somewhat big) exception, this is exactly the same release. Exact same extras, same commentary (itself recycled, I think), same everything. The one (somewhat big) exception? Why, this is HD, of course! Even the extras have been upgraded to HD, and this is a movie that looks pretty freakin’ good in HD, let me tell you.
White Christmas was the first movie shot in VistaVision. I don’t know exactly what VistaVision is (nor do I want a lengthy email from you explaining it to me, thank you) the gist seems to be that it made everything look a lot more epic and clear. The lack of almost any non-sound-stage shooting makes this an odd choice to kick off this new format, but whatever. The bottom line is that the big production numbers, the colors, the “bigness” of everything that is going on, combined with the new (in 1954) filming style and high definition on your big screen television makes this a very “wow” experience. White Christmas in HD is just much, much better visually than White Christmas on DVD or, worst of all, White Christmas on regular television or *shudder* VHS tape.
If you only have the movie on tape, then you aren’t even reading this, I’m sure. So you either don’t have it or have it on DVD. My recommendation is that if you have the Anniversary DVD (released in 2009), you only need to get the Blu-ray if you are such a big fan of the movie that seeing it in as close to the manner it was intended, with everything super clear and eye popping, is really important to you. If you can’t say yes to those things, stick with the 2009 DVD. If you have some previous version without the new bonus features from the 2009 DVD or an average transfer, then go for the upgrade. It really looks great.
Since the extras have not changed from last year's release, you can check that review for details, but there are seven featurettes, which cover Rosemary Clooney’s reminisces about the movie, a general extra about Bing Crosby, one about Danny Kaye that mostly deals with his charity work, one about song writer Irving Berlin, a shameless promotion for the touring stage production based on the movie, and something about a museum in one of Rosemary Clooney’s old houses. They are not earth shattering, but they do give you some background on the movie and more general info about the old stars. Also, as I noted last year, you get to see the guy who played Bernardo in West Side Story interviewed (he had a minor dancing role in this film), and he just looks freaky.
I listened again to Rosemary Clooney’s commentary to see if I was maybe too hard on it last year. No, I wasn’t. It’s very bad. She leaves long, long gaps with no comments at all and then says things like “Oh, Bing” or “They worked a long time on that” over footage of a complicated dance number (no duh). Or she just giggles at the jokes. Almost 40 minutes into the movie, her one backstage insight was that one of the make-up assistants would have sex with chorus girls in the dressing rooms during lunch. Also, that Bing Crosby said some of the things that his character said in real life (like “slam bang”). Hopefully, Bing didn’t say that while the make-up assistant was having his lunchtime quickie.
I’m not as impressed with White Christmas as some, but it is an enjoyable musical and holds a sentimental place for some in terms of its Christmas connection. This is now the best version to get if you are interested in the film, and while the extras won’t knock you out, you do get awesome visuals and enough old folks talking about old movie times to get your nostalgia gene activated.