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Two talented song-and-dance men team up after the war to become one of the hottest acts in show business. One winter, they join forces with a sister act and trek to Vermont for a white Christmas.
Shot in VistaVision.
For more about White Christmas and the White Christmas Blu-ray release, see White Christmas Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 29, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Dean Jagger, Vera-Ellen, Mary Wickes
Director: Michael Curtiz
» See full cast & crew
White Christmas Blu-ray Review
I'm dreaming of this great Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 29, 2010
We're doing it for a pal in the army.
There may not be a more beloved specialty genre than the Christmas picture. Whether outright classics that deal with the importance of family and the spirit of the season (A Christmas Story), laugh-a-minute Comedies (Christmas Vacation), modern computer-generated special effects extravaganzas (The Polar Express), sappy Hallmark Channel tearjerkers (Angel in the Family), or touching throwback Dramas (It's a Wonderful Life), there's a Holiday picture for every mood and occasion. The leader of the pack in the Christmas Musical department is one of the quintessential Christmas films, Irving Berlin's White Christmas, a touching story of love, understanding, camaraderie, friendship, and the spirit of the season. The picture is rightfully remembered for its exemplary songs -- including the Oscar-nominated "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" and the enduring classic "White Christmas" -- but is additionally a fantastic movie that's sugary sweet but from the heart and perfect for the entire family. Directed by Casablanca's Michael Curtiz and starring several of the 1950s top acts, White Christmas represents all that's good and pure about the Christmas movie spectacle, even if the film finds a deeper meaning by using Christmas as but a figurative backdrop rather than an element central to the greater themes the film explores.
The place is War-torn Europe, and the time is December 1944. The men of the American 151st are celebrating the holiday on a makeshift stage through song and dance, with the destructive force of war an ever-present reminder of their fates playing out in the form of flashes and booms in the distance. The men have just learned that their beloved commanding officer, Major General Waverly (Dean Jagger) is to be replaced; led by Broadway star-turned soldier Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), the men sing a song in Waverly's honor, giving him a memorable send-off before the war catches up to them and Davis is wounded by falling debris. Fast-forward to the end of the War; Wallace has reluctantly teamed up with Davis back in the States where together they have become an entertainment sensation. After wrapping up a show in Florida, they agree to scout a sister duet as a favor to an old army buddy. They're immediately taken by the duo; sisters Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) Haynes catch the men's eyes in more ways than one. Judy and Phil immediately hit it off, and it's clear that there's a chance at a future romance between Bob and Betty. Phil manipulates the duo's way into returning to Vermont with the sisters; Bob's not too happy, but when he learns that Betty and Judy are to perform at a recently-renovated inn run by none other than General Waverly, he changes his tune. There's only one problem: the General's business is in the dumps as a result of one of the warmest and greenest Vermont winters on record. As romance blooms and the temperatures refuse to drop, Bob devises a plan to save his friend's livelihood and do some good with the popularity he's earned both during the war and after it.
One of the major reasons why White Christmas works so well is because it's not explicitly a Christmas movie. Audiences aren't reminded with every other line of dialogue or the majority of the visuals that Christmas is the centerpiece setting of the film. Instead, White Christmas is more about the enduring spirit of the season rather than the day and time itself. The picture's bookends are Holiday themed, and through those segments comes the film's structural purpose, but White Christmas is far more than its title suggests. The film is about something greater than self, and the characters come to realize as the picture moves along that the best things in life aren't built around the individual but instead a greater whole, whether that's through the benefits of partnership, the bonds of romance, or the unbreakable human spirit that's as much about personal sacrifice as it is personal success. Bob Wallace transforms from stubbornly rejecting Phil Davis' idea of forming a duet -- after all, he's a solo act -- to finding greater success as part of a team, to slowly unlocking his heart when he meets the right girl, and finally coming to see the necessity in reuniting his entire division in an effort to save his friend. White Christmas' themes transcend the songs and dances and even the Holiday itself, finding the value in family, meaning not necessarily blood relations but a family of friends, those one can trust, those one can turn to in times of need, those who recognize that self can't always come first. The characters' insistence on propping up their beloved C.O. in his greatest time of need -- and thousands of miles away from the battlefields of World War II, no less -- is as heartwarming as anything ever captured on film, and that the story occurs at Christmas time is more of a thematic support structure to reinforce the themes than it is a central necessity to the picture's overreaching plot.
From a a purely technical perspective, White Christmas is nearly a match for its touching and ever-timely thematic elements. The talent is undeniable, and the choreography and vocal performances are pitch-perfect. Not every song is a hit, and there are a few tunes that seem more like afterthoughts that meandered on in from left field and somehow wound up in the finished product, but it's easy to overlook a few small missteps in appreciation of the greater whole. The sets are well-designed, from the bombed-out World War II European backdrop that opens the film to the idyllic grace and structural grandeur of the Columbia Inn. The dramatic performances are sincere and touching, with Bing Crosby playing his part with a charm and sincerity that's infectious for the entire two-hour runtime. Nevertheless, Dean Jagger's portrayal of Major General Waverly is the film's best; he may not have received top billing, but rarely has an actor emoted such a splendid feeling of raw, honest-to-goodness heartfelt emotion as he does when Wallace's plan to save his inn comes to fruition at film's end; Jagger's reaction is equal parts awed and overwhelmed, and if the touching realization of the story coming full circle isn't enough to break viewers down into a ball of mush, then Jagger's incredible reaction will. As a whole, the characters are infinitely likable and the performances equally jovial and satisfying; they just don't make them like Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, and Dean Jagger anymore, and the days of the overly sweet and undeniably wholesome moviemaking like this seems like a thing of the past. In a way that's lamentable, and in a way the absence of too many movies of this caliber in today's cinema only allows the legend of movies like White Christmas to grow with every passing Holiday season and each joyous viewing. In that vein, the film never relinquishes its feel-good tenor, and even various bumps in the road for the main characters are but mere formalities on the way towards the inevitable happily-ever-after ending. That's more or less the formula for every good Musical: a sprinkling of light drama to offset the cheery tunes and bright set pieces. That's the final wonderful touch in a movie like White Christmas; it's about equal parts journey and destination, and while the way either will play out is never in question, the integrity, sincerity, and honesty of the experience is what makes the movie, and others like it, such cherished and timeless classics.
White Christmas Blu-ray, Video Quality
White Christmas -- the first picture ever released in Paramount's VistaVision process back in 1954-- looks fantastic on Blu-ray. Paramount's 1080p transfer dazzles with most every frame, offering impeccable detailing and bold, vibrant colors that leap off the screen with regularity. The film opens in war-torn Europe where viewers will note the pinpoint detailing scattered all over the screen, whether in the rubble strewn about the frame; the texturing of military uniforms including canvas belts, thick caps, ammo pouches, and the like; and even dents and general wear on the smooth helmets and the wooden stocks of various rifles. The image here and through the rest of the film is immaculately sharp and sports tremendous depth. Detail remains even in distant objects and even through the darker World War II color scheme that's made up primarily of green uniforms and cold, gray backgrounds. As the film moves along, the exemplary detail remains, as evidenced by the feathery blue props seen during the two performances of "Sisters," the various objects scattered around the Columbia Inn, or even a close-up shot of a napkin serving as makeshift snow-covered Vermont terrain where viewers will see the finest of stitches and seams during a performance of "Snow." Colors prove remarkably strong throughout, and particularly once the action moves back to the United States. Reds and blues, among others, pop straight off the screen, but the entire palette is handled remarkably well by the amazing technicolor presentation. For as good as the movie's fine detailing looks, those colors just might be the main attraction. They're that strong, that handsome, that noteworthy. There are a few soft shots here and there and the image features a fairly consistent barrage of light white speckling, but neither prove much of a distraction. Supported by a fine layer of grain, White Christmas has never looked anywhere close to this good for home viewing; what a remarkable job by Paramount!
White Christmas Blu-ray, Audio Quality
One might reasonably expect a Musical like White Christmas to feature a big, spacious, maybe even exemplary soundtrack. However, this is an aging film of meager origins, limited resources, and originally released with monaural sound, so needless to say that it never reaches the same level of excellence as do modern-day musicals with large, room-filling sound. Paramount has included the original mono soundtrack for this releases alongside a remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless track that adds some space and a fair bit of additional clarity to the experience without sacrificing the integrity of the original presentation. The 5.1 mix draws out a little more in the way of absolute clarity, though White Christmas still features something of a chunky, indistinct tenor. The limited wartime sound effects heard during the film's open -- distant explosions, crumbling buildings, and a plane flying overhead -- come up lacking in clarity, instead playing with a crunchy, indistinct flavor. Likewise, music and lyrics come up well short of equalling the crispness and natural precision of the best lossless soundtracks. Surround channels are barely, if it all, active, and the track plays at a slightly lower than expected volume at reference level. None of these observations make this a "bad" soundtrack. Quite the contrary, given the age and the source of the original elements, what Paramount has achieved with this 5.1 mix is probably the pinnacle of the White Christmas audio experience. The studio has given the track a little room to breathe in 5.1 -- music and a few effects spred off the the sides for a slightly more encompassing and natural feel -- while retaining the old-world charm of the admittedly cramped and muffled original elements. Even considering the limitations of the source, both the 5.1 and mono tracks are a pleasure behold in their own ways.
White Christmas Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
White Christmas gift wraps several extras. The largest package contains a feature-length audio commentary track with Actress Rosemary Clooney. When Ms. Clooney speaks, she has plenty of interesting insights to share, whether discussing the style of Irving Berlin, speaking on the quality of the actors' performances, sharing her memories from the set, and more. She's clearly enjoying the experience of re-watching the film, laughing at many of its lighter moments and chuckling as she remembers some of the sillier behind-the-scenes stories she recalls. Unfortunately, the commentary has a rather choppy feel to it; Clooney allows long stretches of silence to permeate the track, but she makes up for it with a quality commentary when she has something to share. Backstage Stories from 'White Christmas' (1080p, 11:56) features several individuals -- Critic F.X. Feeney, USC Professor Drew Casper, Historian Larry Billman, Author Gary Giddins, and Dancer George Chakiris -- discussing the history and success of both the picture (including its VistaVision presentation) and its cast. This is a high quality supplement; it's not too often that so much great information can be crammed into a 12-minute extra.
Rosemary's Old Kentucky Home (1080p, 13:26) takes viewers to Augusta, Kentucky for a look at the Actress' favorite place and the museum that's sprung up there since her death. Bing Crosby: Christmas Crooner (1080p, 14:16) looks at the Singer/Actor's legacy and impact on the music and cinema of the Christmas season. The piece covers the Actor's love for Gonzaga University, his work with the troops, his honesty and tender heart, his work in White Christmas, and his influence on some of the greatest musical talents of the second half of the 20th century. Next is Danny Kaye: Joy to the World (1080p, 13:10), another piece that looks at the history and legacy of the White Christmas star. Irving Berlin's 'White Christmas' (1080p, 7:22) examines the history and staying power of the best-selling single of all time, along with a glimpse into the life of Irving Berlin. 'White Christmas:' From Page to Stage (1080p, 4:21) looks at the film's transition to Broadway. 'White Christmas:' A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney (480p, 16:46) is a retrospective piece that features the famed actress looking back at her experiences in working at Paramount, with Bing Crosby, and on White Christmas. Finally, this disc features the White Christmas original (1080p, 2:24) and re-release (1080p, 2:09) trailers.
White Christmas Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
White Christmas might be the best Christmas movie that's not necessarily about Christmas. The Holiday is little more than a backdrop for the film's bookend sequences, but the spirit of Christmas is evident throughout. Although the film is structurally transparent, it's more about the feeling and the message than it is any sort of real drama. All of the picture's drama is superficial and a means towards an end, but the reward for watching the movie lies in the experience and the appreciation not only of the great performances and memorable songs, but of the greater thematic purpose that suggests a spirit of togetherness and the importance of undying friendship and integrity through both the good times and the bad. White Christmas is an endearing classic suitable for any time of year, but the film has definitely earned the right to be considered among the elite of Christmas staples. Paramount has several wonderful Christmas movies in its diverse catalogue; the studio released It's a Wonderful Life last November to great success, and White Christmas is another timeless treasure that has this year made its way to high definition with fantastic results. This all-time classic has received the royal Blu-ray treatment; Paramount has delivered a fabulous 1080p picture, a fine lossless soundtrack alongside the original monaural presentation, and a nice assortment of extras. For both the Christmas season and anytime of the year, White Christmas comes very highly recommended.
White Christmas: Other Editions
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White Christmas Blu-ray, News and Updates
• White Christmas Blu-ray Announced - August 23, 2010
Paramount Home Entertainment has announced White Christmas for Blu-ray release on November 2. This 1954 musical, featuring songs by composer Irving Berlin and starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, was the first movie shot in the VistaVision film format. It will ...
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