As you may recall, I had a bit of trouble finding the Christmas spirit within this year. It came in little bursts over the last couple of weeks, but yesterday, Christmas Eve morning as I was wrapping the last of the gifts, I needed to really feel it, so I turned to the master: Bing Crosby. For me, watching a Bing Crosby movie is like mainlining a candy cane. There is no quicker delivery system for the Christmas spirit.
There are the more understated Bing Crosby movies, those in which he just happens to sing a song every now and then (Going My Way is my favorite. If you are not undone by wee ancient Barry Fitzgerald longing to see his mother in Ireland, then you have a heart of stone and I'm afraid there is no hope for you.) and then there are the big, technicolor full-fledged musicals. And that was what the situation demanded.
In my house, if Frank Sinatra was dinner music, then musicals were general entertainment. When she was a child, my mother used to practice smiling under water just in case she ever became the next Esther Williams. Musicals were her era. We saw a LOT of them. And I hereby proclaim to the ironic new century: I love them. Among the most dazzling moments of my childhood was being taken twice into the big city to the Castro Theatre (which I still find quite magnificent, but 9-year-old me found almost unbelievable) to see musical double features. One was West Side Story and Gypsy and the other was An American in Paris and Gigi. Sure, one of those is about a stripper and another is about a courtesan, but the nature of the 1950s technicolor, sound-stage extravaganza is that a 9-year-old can sit through the whole thing and emerge completely unsullied. For every famous one(Oh, Funny Face, how I love you. Reluctant model Audrey Hepburn sweeping down the Louvre stairway as fashion photographer Fred Astaire calls "Stop! Stop!" "I don't want to stop," she says, "Take the picture, take the picture!")
there are about ten million lesser-known musicals that involve some man in love with some showgirl where Complications Ensue before the ultimate proposal of marriage. They meet in Chicago, say, and it's swell until she thinks he's making a play for her roommate because she walks in when his cuff link was caught in the roommate's hair or something and it looked Very Compromising. Then her act might get booked in Miami and he's gotta find a way to get down there so as not to Lose Her Forever and once he does, they will probably have to sort out a quarrel while tap dancing. And here's the thing. I love those too.
Now, in White Christmas, when the song and dance fellas decide to head to Vermont along with the song and dance dames, and one of them says (and not for the first time, I might add) "It should be beautiful this time of year" and another says (also not for the first time. FORESHADOWING! ALERT!), "All that snow," prompting them to lean toward each other over the table and sing the word "snow" one at a time and then in four-part harmony, it is quite obviously absurd. And when one of the lyrics in the snow song proves to be "I want to wash my hands, my face and hair with snow" it is not to say that I didn't chortle. It might actually be the worst song I've ever heard. But.
When Bing sings a reassuring song suggesting that if you can't sleep, you ought to count your blessings instead of sheep, my eyes go all blurry. And then, when they get the whole Army company back together to show their WWII general that he still has value in the post-war world, the tears are flowing. Is it ludicrous that what is meant to be a barn of a Vermont inn is suddenly large enough to accommodate a hundred soldiers and their wives, along with the entire cast and chorus of a Christmas spectacular, brought up from NY for the Christmas Eve show? Of course it is. The point is, I don't care. When they sing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" and fling open up the huge back door to show that it is finally snowing (it hadn't been snowing. It was a big problem.) and the inn would be saved and everyone's dressed in red and the General will be okay and the estranged couple is embracing behind the Christmas tree and... and...
Well, gosh darn it, Merry Christmas, everyone.