Before watching the movie:
What can this film offer to audiences seventy years later? It appears to be a show made of a bunch of Christmas songs (which have since become old standards) woven together with the lightest touch of plot. I’m sure some of the songs haven’t passed into the zeitgeist, but I wonder if the performances can be enough to really make a variety show with a plot worthwhile.
Maybe I’m coming at this too negatively. It’s very likely a fun, light way to get into the holiday spirit. Art doesn’t have to be weighty or novel to be good, what matters is if it elicited the response the artist and the audience wanted. Anyway, we’re still talking about it almost three quarters of a century later, so it’s clearly not garbage.
The Holiday Season is here, folks. Try to take it slowly enough to still enjoy it when your holiday of choice is here.
After watching the movie:
The trio of singer Jim Hardy, dancer Ed Hanover, and singer-dancer Lila Dixon breaks up when Jim decides to retire from show business, expecting to marry Lila and take her with him. However, she’s decided she loves Ed and performing more, and farm living turns out to be the exact opposite of the lazy life Jim wanted to lead. Jim comes up with an experimental idea: he opens Holiday Inn, a dinner-and-a-show venue only open on holidays. He falls in love with one of his first performers, Linda Mason, but then when Lila leaves Ed for a Texas millionaire he gets drunk, goes to Holiday Inn, and does some sensational dancing with Linda. Jim finds himself in the same predicament he fell into with Lila, and is determined that this time he’s going to keep Ed and his scheming manager from stealing Linda away from him.
I think this movie might have started as a challenge Irving Berlin gave himself. Sure, it’s easy to write songs about Christmas and Valentine’s Day, but what about some of the lesser holidays? Mixed success. “Abraham” is a pretty good song about Lincoln’s Birthday, but wearing cringeworthy blackface. On the other hand, the circumstances around “I Can’t Tell a Lie” almost save the awkward lyrics. In the middle, “Plenty to be Thankful For” is a lovely song all by itself, but its ironic use in the story only makes it better.
I owe this film an apology for expecting a musical revue with a thin lining of plot when in fact the plot is handled as if and in fact is worthy of taking precedence over the music. Of course, the nature of the setting forces some songs in where they weren’t necessarily needed (“Easter Parade”), but usually the story does a good job of weaving them into the narrative organically. It was somewhat unfortunate that they added a propaganda segment to the Fourth of July, but since Pearl Harbor occurred during filming, it’s hard to fault them.
Near the end of the movie, Hollywood executives buy the concept of the Holiday Inn to make a movie about, and we get to see the “most extensive reproduction” set they build for it, which is in fact the same set the “real” Holiday Inn is shot on, just with the cameras pulled back enough to show where the set ends. I’m sure a doctoral film student could wrangle a coherent metaphor the director is employing with that, but I just find it an amusing bit of cost-cutting cheek.
Watch this movie: Any time of the year there’s a holiday, or you just want to hear some good music.
Don’t watch this movie: if extremely sensitive to women being treated as prizes for winning.