Christmasflix of Classic Hollywood: Holiday Inn

by Anne Helen Petersen

Listen. There are three reasons to watch a Christmas film:

1. You cannot wait for Christmas IT IS THE BEST THING IN THE UNIVERSE, and after your tree is trimmed and covered in tinsel that will soon kill your household animal, you have nothing to do except make stiff mulled drinks and demolish the “Uplifting Holiday Movies With Strong Intelligent Female Protagonist Who Sometimes Also Makes Poor Choices” subcategory on Netflix.

2. You’re hanging out with assorted family members, all varyingly bored and restless, and the only thing to do after 8 p.m. is drink, play Hearts, and/or watch a movie. You somehow need to find something that satisfies both Gramma and 11-Year-Old Sullen Niece. The lowest-common-movie-denominator usually ends up somewhere between The Blind Side and a Pixar movie.

3. You’re not hanging out with your family and feel pretty sad about it. Your immediate inclination is to find The Family Stone and bawl like a small child re: Diane Keaton’s declining health/Luke Wilson’s expanding girth.

Hairpinners, I have the perfect culmination to all three of those scenarios, and it not only involves a shit-ton of novelty songs, but also Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. So here’s the truest thing I’ll ever tell you: Holiday Inn is the Classic Hollywood Christmas Movie to rule them all, and the $2.99 you’ll spend renting it on iTunes is a third of what you’d spend on a glass of wine at respectable establishment. (That is how I judge expenses: that sparkly Christmas dress costs five G.O.W [glasses of wine]; a ticket to see The Fassbender in the theater costs two.)

Just look at those side parts.

Cut to the early ’40s. Life is in black-and-white and everything is very dapper. Bing Crosby (basically the leading singing-movie-star of Classic Hollywood) and Fred Astaire (who needs no further introduction) are in an act together. With a girl. Both like this girl; both think they’re going to end up with her. To wit: one hopes to “capture her heart singing,” the other hopes “to capture her heart dancing.”

But Crosby is the less famous of the two, and The Girl breaks off her engagement to be with the more-famous Astaire.

Sad-sack Crosby moves to Connecticut (obviously) to lick his wounds. But he’s not in crappy Connecticut, he’s in bucolic Connecticut, the kind of Connecticut where you imagined Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward spent their days. Crosby decides that he’ll give up his traditional showbiz lifestyle and turn his giant Connecticut home — which he apparently pays for using only cunning and wit — into a inn. But this inn will be special: it’ll only be open on holidays! Every holiday! And there will be a super elaborate and preposterously costumed song-and-dance extravaganza for every one.

Suffice to say Crosby’s idea goes gangbusters. What begins as a ramshackle operation for New Year’s Eve quickly transforms into an army of a thousand song-and-dancers. Crosby takes note, comes to visit, sets his eye on the New Girl that Crosby has recruited, and a host of flirtatious shenanigans ensue. It’s the perfect mix of innocuous flirtation, fake drunkenness, and all-around tomfoolery with an Irving Berlin soundtrack. The song “White Christmas”? That was made for this film! It wasn’t always just something that played in Kmart; at one time, it was just as fresh as The Biebs singing “Mistletoe” in the middle of a fake snow street.

Note: this colorization after-the-fact is for suckers.

I’m going to stop here with the plot summary, but I do promise that Holiday Inn is a confection, and it will please The Christmas Lover, The Whole Famdamily, and The Lonely Christmaser all at once. And once you’ve watched it, you can return and revel in the following Listacle of Awesomeness, offered (mostly) without comment:

1. Sleigh taxis are a thing.

2. “The two of us, making people happy with our feet.”

3. Sparkles that aren’t garish because they’re filmed in black and white and thus just sparkly.

4. Bing Crosby’s hipster hunter hat.

5. Bing Crosby’s name is Bing.

6. Fred Astaire doing the most precise drunk dance of all time.

7. Harmonies, harmonies, as far as the eye can see.

8. A film premised on working 15 days a year.

9. Carving turkeys in glitter sleeves.

10. Bathrobes. So many bathrobes.

11. Actual lyric: “It’s not my watch you’re holding, it’s my heart.”

12. The important yet unfortunate history lesson of the elaborate blackface performance on Lincoln’s Birthday. Blackface. In a hugely successful movie, released and celebrated just under 60 years ago. To cut this (incredibly offensive) sequence is to forget very recent history, which is even more dangerous. (Consider: here’s a musical number celebrating Abraham Lincoln emancipating the slaves … that cannot even allow black people to play themselves. Please realize how fucked this truly is.)

13. Are those dress sleeves or mosquito nets?

14. Nothing hurts and everything is Bing Crosby and what’s-her-face dancing with Valentine’s prom decorations and snow background.

15. Sad Sack Bing Crosby in frazzled George Washington Wig, I DIE.

16. There is a song written about Washington’s Birthday. That is some Sufjan Stevens shit.

17. Another actual lyric: “I could write a sonnet/About your Easter bonnet.”

18. Fourth of July Industrial-Military Complex Montage!


Anne Helen Petersen is a Doctor of Celebrity Gossip. No, really. You can find evidence (and other writings) here.