Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Inn (1942)

I want to go to Holiday Inn. But only if they promise that they've given up on the blackface acts. Be prepared for a really racist celebration of Lincoln's birthday, featuring the line, "Who was it set the darkie free?" Seriously.

So, I don't want to be at Holiday Inn for Lincoln's birthday. But I do want to ride in a horse drawn carriage instead of a taxi to be there to see Marjorie Reynolds and Fred Astaire dance with each other. Or just to see Fred Astaire do his Fourth of July cherry bomb dance on his own.

When we meet them, Ted (Fred Astaire) and Jim (Bing Crosby) are friends and fellow dancers.  After learning that Bing has wooed away his fiancee, another dancer, Bing goes off to his giant house in the country where he begins to renovate and create Holiday Inn.   He plans to spend most of each year on vacation, opening the inn just for fantastic performances on holidays.  Bing meets Linda (Marjorie Reynolds) at a performance in the city, and she comes out to the inn to audition for him.  They rehearse for performances, fall in love, and sing "White Christmas" together.
Sadly for Jim, Ted shows up drunk, having lost his dancer girlfriend.  Jim is convinced that if Ted meets Linda, he will try to steal her away both for a dancing partner and a girlfriend.  Ted is just this kind of friend.  Ted does meet Linda...he dances with her drunk... but once sober he cannot remember what she looked like.  He spends the next year showing up for holidays to search for his mystery woman, and Jim does everything in his power to keep them from meeting again.
Much dancing and hilarity ensue.  (I'm probably taking a ballroom class this spring.  Can I please come out of the class dancing like this?)

So, I'm sure I'll see this again some other Christmas season.  There are so many parts I like.  If Lincoln's birthday had not existed, I would be giving the movie four stars.  How much can I forgive old movies?  Jury is out.

1 comment:

Ms. Q said...

Hmm - yes. The Lincoln's birthday minstrel show is a dilemma - I mean I saw that you blogged this and I thought: I wonder what she'll make of the Lincoln thing?

I have noticed that many old movies - especially the musicals, have at least one AWFUL OFFENSIVE scene.

It's not unlike the wacko modern dance number - it's out of keeping with the rest of the film, it makes me uncomfortable, and I just try to get through it.

It's a history lesson, in a way - look at the difference between Holiday Inn (1942) and White Christmas just 12 years later which features a musical number - "Mandy" - in which they mourn nostalgically the passing of minstrel days but don't say anything about "darkies".
So, by 1954, you can obliquely reference minstrelsy, but you can't do an unself-conscious minstrel show. Because we made some progress, thank God.

Movies and racism have always been all mixed up together - the first narrative feature film was Birth of a Nation - probably the most racist movie ever made outside of Nazi Germany. And the first film with sound? The Jazz Singer - about a man who sings in blackface.

By comparison, a taint as small as the taint on Holiday Inn is minor, something that makes me reflect on how glad I am not to actually live in the 40s, much as I love the movies they made back then.