This movie has been reviewed in our new format and rating system. To see the new review, click here.
OLD REVIEW FORMAT
There’s something contagious about the nostalgia of that sentimental song, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.” Some of us haven’t seen that many white Christmases, some of us have never seen one at all, and some of us may actually be weary of them in reality, but we still sing the song, and we still feel nostalgic doing it. I think we’re also tempted to slip into reverie when we imagine Christmas in the 1950’s, whether we’ve seen it ourselves or missed it by ten, twenty or thirty years, or more—just as people may very well smile wistfully at our era when this review is old enough for them to have missed the ‘50’s by fifty, sixty or seventy years. But that’s what makes wistfulness feel like it makes sense—because those people aren’t here to see for themselves. And we aren’t in the 1950’s. And our quaint but mistaken assumptions that Irving Berlin’s was an era of innocence can have a serious effect on the way we think about what really went on in some of these nostalgic films like White Christmas.
There are two songs from the movie that seem to have gotten all the attention, over the years; but it mustn’t be thought that “White Christmas” and “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” were the only songs. The lyrics may be less memorable, but the message of “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” is just as important—more important, perhaps.
“The best things happen while you’re dancing.It’s not just important because the second half of the verse boasts about the sensual intimacy of dancing, even with strangers (and with the movie’s full-embrace style of dancing, who would argue with it?), but because the first half of the verse says so much about the way we look at White Christmas. It could be said this way: Things that you would not allow at home slip in a lot more easily on television.
Things that you would not do at home come nat’rally on the floor.
For dancing soon becomes romancing
When you hold a girl in your arms that you’ve never held before.”
I really couldn’t tell you how many dancing girls in this movie revealed more skin than they covered; not because my memory is too rose-colored to give me an accurate guess, but because I couldn’t put down tally marks fast enough to keep up with them. One dance number, particularly, features dozens of women in red sequined costumes that are comparable to today’s Las Vegas showgirl attire, in all of its… well, I think you know how much its “all” is.
Flirtation ranges from dancers showing off their bare legs and shoulders in an attempt to gain a more personal relationship with their producers, to one of our main characters fishing around for a temporary engagement to her beau by batting her lashes, leaning closer, and pursuing him as he tries to move away, with her hand on his thigh, suggesting that they “ought to at least kiss or something.”
The hero of the story makes his lady love laugh by telling her about his dreams of other women of the “But oh, sexy!” kind, and when the middle-aged housekeeper kisses him in rather passionate gratitude, the only thing keeping him from going back for more is his partner’s hand on his collar.
Another song from the movie, sung from the ladies’ perspective, says
“Gee, I wish I was back in the ArmyThings you would not allow at home slip in a lot more easily on television. If you would invite Las Vegas showgirls to come into your home in standard costume; if you would laugh at the seductive or lustful behavior of the main characters if you saw it in real life—in short, if you wouldn’t have a problem with these things if there wasn’t a screen between you and them, you won’t have a problem with them in the movie. If, however, you think you would be uncomfortable—or maybe even try to avoid—being around this kind of thing in real life, I don’t think there’s a reason in the world why you shouldn’t just go ahead and avoid it in White Christmas as well, is there?
The Army was the place to find romance
Soldiers and WACS
The WACS who dressed in slacks
Dancing cheek to cheek and pants to pants
“There’s a lot to be said for the Army
A gal was never lost for company
A million handsome guys
With longing in their eyes
All you had to do was pick the age, the weight, the size.
Oh, gee, I wish I was back in the Army”
The story of White Christmas, too, has several elements that, for some reason, inspire laughter everywhere but in real life. A retiring army general’s commanding a sergeant to drive the new general through the “shortcut” (which would add an extra hour and a half to his journey); one of our main characters’ constantly manipulating the other by playing up old injuries; the girls’ trying to get out of town fast because they owe their landlord some money; the guys’ covering for them in a cross-dressing song-and-dance number; the whole gang’s running from a lazy, incompetent, but legally in-the-right, sheriff; the laziness, the dishonesty, the spite and the scheming in this movie—all of which would, or should, be frowned upon (or punished by a court of law) in real life, are supposed to be comical. And in the fairy land of White Christmas and so many other nostalgic films, they appear to be.
There’s something else about that song, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” The first line of the song just wouldn’t mean as much to us if there wasn’t a big difference between a dream and a reality. I can’t help but think that the movie White Christmas wouldn’t mean as much to us, either, if we didn’t watch it with the assumption that there is a big difference between reality and the sights and sounds that come over the television screen. But, there isn’t a difference—not really—not where it matters with this movie. There are certain things we just could not allow to go on in our families’ presence in any other circumstances, and some of those things—mainly sexual things—are just as inappropriate on screen as off. Perhaps they are even more inappropriate, because they are tolerated—laughed at—defended.
The sting of this review is that I saw White Christmas a number of years ago, and didn’t even notice the immorality then. There are actually many of my reviews that sting for that same reason. Confessions like this sting, too. But, thanks be to God, convictions, standards and worldviews change. And sometimes they get strong enough to make us admit that a film we once thought harmless is truly Not Worth Watching, for the vast majority of people, and Worth Avoiding for the rest of them.