I begin this series with an obvious choice, White Christmas.
White Christmas is in every way, a quintessential Christmas movie. With the incomparable skills of Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney as the leading voices, and the peerlessly charismatic Danny Kay tapping and dancing his way around Vera Ellen, it’s little wonder that White Christmas has stood the test of time to become one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time.
Although White Christmas boasts Irving Berlin’s iconic songs and “the most fabulous music and mirth show in motion picture history” according to the movie’s tagline, it is neither of these things that, I believe, are the true reason why White Christmas has endured through the decades. Certainly no one can sing it like Bing, but the heart of White Christmas is gently hidden in the sweet lyric “just like the ones I used to know.”
More than anything, White Christmas simultaneously mourns and celebrates a bygone era for America, and for its individuals. When we first meet Bob Wallace and Phil Davis (Bing Crosby and Danny Kay), they’re dutifully entertaining their troops while deployed during WWII. When the war is over, the pair become hugely successful partners in the entertainment business. Bob Wallace immerses himself in workaholism to avoid being entangled with the bubbleheaded starlets he is necessarily surrounded by, while Phil Davis works tirelessly to try and get Bob to settle down and accept their new lives. A few subtle lines hint that Bob longs to find meaning and purpose in his work; something that the former captain has yet to find in show business. Maybe he doesn’t miss the war, yet as a viewer it’s clear that Bob is more at home standing on a makeshift stage on ruins in front of his fellow soldiers to raise morale, than he is consorting with showgirls backstage of elite clubs.
No character encapsulates this sentiment of seeking meaning and purpose more than General Waverly. There’s something in the life he used to know that is acutely lacking in his retirement. In the film’s most poignant moment, Waverly is publicly honored and remembered by his men for his years of leadership. The longing subtly aches for a company of men, a purpose to fight for, and the love and honor of the home country, just like they used to know. They don’t long for war, but for the comfort and warmth that coming home from war used to mean.
Elsewhere, White Christmas relishes in what we call old-fashioned romance in the midst of grand song-and-dance pieces. Characters act selflessly, mischievously, nobly, and humorously. All of the hallmarks of a great romcom are present in White Christmas, and while that’s not what the movie is remembered for, it wouldn’t be the same without the sweet relationship between Bob and Betty in all of its 1950’s charm, or the awkward schemes of Phil and Judy driving the subplot. Truth be told however, the real chemistry here is between Phil and Bob, with their endless supply of witty lines endlessly thrown at each other.
White Christmas has become an all-in-one picture of the life, the holidays, and the friends “just like the ones I used to know” or wish we did. It’s an homage to a time (real or imagined) when patriotism was running high, romance was sweet and simple, and men would rise up to bring goodwill to their fellow man. Whether or not things ever were this way, the years upon years that White Christmas has been replayed have embedded this sentimental idea in our hearts, carried on the wings of a warm and inspiring story, and sealed with unforgettable music and mirth.