My Latest Book

My Latest Book
By Jim Manago, Biographer (Shirley Booth, Huntz Hall, and Kay Aldridge)

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Best Part of the Holidays. . .

The Best Part of the holidays has been re-watching some really well-made films from so many years ago!

Holiday Inn (1942) - This entertaining film is saturated with thirteen Irving Berlin tunes. One of my favorite moments comes early on as the amazing Astaire and Virginia Dale number, "You're Easy to Dance With." It is the simplest though best dances ever filmed, being shot in almost one continuous take (with only two cuts). I just love it! 

Interestingly, although the film features the major holidays, it does not have anything for the lesser ones, such as St. Patrick's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Labor Day and Halloween! I would have loved to see Marjorie Reynolds & Bing Crosby do a Halloween number!  

Here's my excerpt of my review which The Big Reel published back in December of 1983.  What I would add now is that I just love the fact that it's a film within a film and that we get to see actual film production techniques. Also, I just love that final scene when we pull back from inside the ballroom of the inn to be outside to the singing of "Let's Start the New Year Right." It is a truly wonderful moment that surely ends the film quite well.

HOLIDAY INN
by Jim Manago

One of my favorite films to view during holiday times is the Paramount 1942 film Holiday Inn. It was directed and produced by Mark Sandrich, one of those studio directors pretty forgotten today—perhaps his best films included the Astaire-Rogers vehicles The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935), and Holiday Inn. The film is saturated with 13 tunes by Irving Berlin, with a comical scenario based upon the idea of Berlin, and heavily laden with Bing Crosby’s and Fred Astaire’s star charm. 

First opening during the beginning of August, in a month lacking any holidays, Holiday Inn "offers a reason for celebration not printed in red ink” concludes the reviewer for The New York Times.

‘Lazybones’ Crosby leaves the difficult life of nightclub performer (the 365-day grind) to become a farmer. Realizing the physical routine is harsher than what he left, Crosby conceives of "Holiday Inn" while resting up in a sanitarium: a place of home cooking, relaxation, and entertainment—open holidays only. Thus, Crosby has some 350 days to “kick around in” as he says. Astaire, unsatisfied with his dance partner (actually she left him), tries to steal Crosby’s girl throughout the film’s remainder, but eventually fails.

The most notable song from the film, “White Christmas” is introduced by Crosby to co-star Marjorie Reynolds in a cozy New England farmhouse living room with a fireplace burning and snow falling outside. The song’s lyrics are “impressionistic” since they suggest a mood by sensory impressions of things happening at Christmas time. A “White Christmas,” “glistening treetops,” the sound of “sleigh bells in the snow” and the writing of Christmas cards are elements evocative of that warm atmosphere of Christmas. Holiday Inn will hold your interest even after this lovely tune is performed early in the film. The numbers for the other holidays are equally outstanding (they include “Let’s Start the New Year Right,” "Be Careful, It’s My Heart," "Abraham," "I Can’t Tell a Lie," "Easter Parade," "Say it With Firecrackers”).

Undoubtedly, Holiday Inn has to be examined as another example of Hollywood’s escapist films. This musical is among the Paramount Studio’s best accomplishments at the time. A film dealing with the holidays, particularly with songs for each holiday, was new to film musicals. Yes, the clichéd triangular love story does weaken the film somewhat. However, this type of film certainly entertained millions and kept the film industry alive even during a major war.

It’s really fascinating that such a light-hearted song-and-dance routine film could be made at this horrible time in world history with only a one-minute reference to the pressing problems of the real world. In the middle of the number “Song of Freedom” with Crosby singing, the stage curtains open to a screen showing a montage sequence of war preparations, factory operations, the President speaking, etc.

Though none of the war’s evils are shown, this brief sequence reminds the viewer that even though they are experiencing a fictional story, there exists a real responsibility of each viewer to our beloved nation to protect his freedom so that “all God’s people shall be free” (lyrics to song). Though some may consider the sequence an obvious propaganda intrusion, I believe it functions beyond that on a more legitimate level of instilling an intense pride for American values and acts as an exhortation for us to be sure to continue defending those values.

Holiday Inn, really a forgotten film, has been criticized for being episodic in narrative structure. However, despite any such alleged flaws, it is an enjoyable experience. A relaxing spirit pervades the film no doubt, and this is due to the angelic charm of Bing Crosby. The romantic conflict is even played for its comic possibilities, and it is never to be taken seriously. 

*****

Scrooge

This 1951 classic is no doubt the best version of Charles Dickens’ immortal story “A Christmas Carol.” It stands the test of time. Available in b&w and colorized versions.

Most portrayals of Charles Dickens’ miser Scrooge make him into an overly mean one-dimensional, cardboard character to the point that he is not fully human anymore. I recently sat through nearly a dozen versions of Dickens’ perennial holiday favorite, including the starring Seymour Hicks, Reginald Owen, Mr. Magoo, Albert Finney, George C. Scott, and so on. 

The best remains the 1951 British production. Here, Alastair Sim shines as Scrooge, accompanied by a superb supporting cast. No one has surpassed the actor’s brilliant interpretation of Scrooge. His portrayal makes Scrooge a very real and sympathetic person. You could feel for his frailties, and appreciate how unhappy he is, because of his hardened heart.

He is played as a three-dimensional, suffering human being, struggling with his greed, forced to find peace and serenity. When he awakes on Christmas morning after being visited by the spirits, you have a believable exhilaration.

What really matters most from Sim’s multi-layered dynamic portrayal is that Scrooge realizes that life is only meaningful when you live with faith, tolerance, and kindness. What is truly remarkable about these qualities is that the more you give of them, the more you have!

*****

It's A Wonderful Life

The 1946 slice of life classic looks better with each passing year. This inspirational film makes it known once and for all time that life, despite its trials, disappointments and sadness, is indeed worth living! 

Anytime is a good time to dust off your copy of this holiday masterpiece. Most certain is that you must own this one movie on DVD. 

In this endearing fantasy, George Bailey is on the verge of killing himself. However, his guardian angel shows him what a mistake that would be to give up living. The powerful but simple message that the movie so beautifully offers is that each person, like George Bailey, has a very special unique gift -- his very own life. Most importantly, that gift of life is meaningful only when it is shared with others.

Throughout his films, the Italian-American director and producer Frank Capra (1897-1991) presented us with a profoundly optimistic view of life. Capra once said that although he had a very humble peasant origin in Sicily with plenty of hardships, he vowed not to die a peasant. With It’s A Wonderful Life, Capra achieved royal status. 

Even though it was a box-office disappointment when first released, television has made it more and more popular each year. Some seventy years later, Capra’s moving expression of his belief in and love of humanity remains one of the best films of all time.

Twenty-five years ago, I contributed a video review to a weekly local paper. As I look back over all those years, re-read my review and watched this movie once again, I discovered that many things have changed in my life. However, It’s A Wonderful Life still remains the same. The acting by James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, and others is just as convincing as it seemed so many years ago. The dialogue and the scenes are unforgettable. 

Even after a lifetime of viewing this movie more than seventy-five times, I find it has become more relevant and enjoyable. I know undoubtedly that It’s A Wonderful Life will remain forever a brilliant life-affirming movie. Its uplifting and joyful finale (perhaps the best ever) is always refreshing in a world darkened by pessimism, cynicism, and insanity. 

It truly is a wonderful life! 


Happy New Year!

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