Both films are about a successful performer in show business who sees that community in a country setting is the better way of life.
In Holiday Inn, the hero is retiring from performing. In White Christmas he’s an extremely successful professional performer and producer who helps out a man in need.
Both films have the moral woman who insists on ethical behavior above professional success. Each woman ends up getting success in career and love, because she is ethical.
The primary story world in these films, the Inn and the Lodge (actually the same set), express a colonial New England image of America. And each place looks especially good in snow at Christmas.
Both films add a strong nationalistic flavor to the Christmas love story. Holiday Inn brings in Americana and patriotism by sequencing the story with national holidays, done over a full year, including a big July 4th song and dance.
In White Christmas, the patriotic part comes from a plot based on WWII GIs helping out their former commanding general.
Now let’s look at how each film works individually:
The hero, played by Bing Crosby, originally wants to leave the insanity of show business and city life and go to the opposite extreme and be a farmer. But that’s an abysmal failure as he realizes that being a farmer is not country leisure but brutally hard work.
Then he hits on an idea that will let him live his dream of country relaxation by combining the old and the new. He will go back to being a performer, but not with the non-stop grind of his former life. He’ll perform only at the Inn and only on holidays.
It’s win-win as they say; have your cake and eat it too. And only Bing Crosby, Mr. Relaxation with one of the best voices of the 20th century, could pull it off.
Bing’s former partner, played by Fred Astaire, is a dancer intent on professional success. He’s the main opponent and he drives the story.
Fred begins the pattern of the plot in the opening when he steals Bing’s professional partner and love interest, Lila. The main plot then kicks in when Fred must find the partner he danced with on opening night at Bing’s Inn, because he was too drunk at the time to remember who she is. Of course she’s Bing’s new partner in his holiday shows, Linda, and she’s the woman with whom he’s fallen in love.
In response to Fred’s chase, Bing resorts to a scam to hide Linda from Fred and Fred’s agent.
These plot techniques also have an emotional effect in the love story. “Tricks and scams” for winning a woman’s affections are set in opposition to honest, heartfelt expressions of real love.
The sleazy professional vs. ethical love opposition is also structured into the character opposition of the two women. Lila, the performer who originally dumped Bing, is “Miss Hit and Run” vs. while Bing’s new woman, Linda, is a good and moral person also loyal in love.
12 nights a year Linda “becomes Cinderella of Holiday Inn.” And that is just what this movie is: a modern Christmas fairy tale set in a quaint, wintry New England town.
I love the farce bits where Bing and Linda just escape the bad guys by taking the other stairs.
In a musical, the songs and the song sequence should tell the entire story. This happens in both of these Christmas movies.
For example, in Holiday Inn, the musical number where Fred dances with Bing’s girl on the Valentine’s Day set while clueless Bing is wooing her with his singing is the whole movie in one scene.
Holiday Inn features both “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade”. Each is the height of crooner music and an expression of Irving Berlin’s songwriting genius.
Near the end of the story, Linda, the moral woman, leaves Bing because he resorts to underhanded behavior that deprives her of a chance at professional success. He rationalizes that he did it out of love for her. She rightly points out that he lied to her and deliberately tried to take her decision from her. Loving someone is not an excuse for imprisoning them.
Bing uses a scam at the end to beat Fred and get Linda back, in the same way Fred scammed to get Linda when she was almost engaged to Bing.
The final scene on the movie set of the Inn, in what was already a New England Americana postcard, highlights how artificial this story, and this story form, is. Where earlier in the film we were warmly ensconced in what seemed like a real Connecticut Inn, we now see that we’ve been had by good storytelling and Hollywood “magic.” The director heightens the cynicism and the “bah humbug, it’s all about the money” reality when he tells Linda to just sell the old Hollywood hokum.
Then Linda does the scene, and we can see that being back in the Inn, even though it’s a set, has brought back real feelings of love and loss for her true love, Bing. And we’re thrust right back into the emotion, even though we know she’s playing a part and it’s being filmed. It doesn’t hurt that she’s singing one of the great secular Christmas songs. So we buy right back into the Americana Christmas love story, and who cares if we’re being scammed.
White Christmas pushes the moral element in the Christmas love story even further than Holiday Inn. Again, the plot is based on an opposition of values: using others to get ahead in show business vs. family and strict moral integrity.
Bing is a successful singer and producer who is working too hard to get married and have kids. His partner (Danny Kaye), primarily a dancer, once scammed Bing to get his own shot at show business success. But now he wants Bing, if not to retire, at least to slow down enough to have a family.
The two guys are paired up with performing sisters, one a singer and the other primarily a dancer. Repeating the earlier pattern, the dancing sister scams Bing to give their careers a boost, and the singing sister disapproves of this unethical behavior and apologizes.
The love story turns on the fact that the moral sister suspects Bing of being sleazy to get ahead professionally, but he’s actually being highly moral and generous.
Once she learns what a decent and generous man he is, it’s full speed ahead to the altar and the movie ends with a double “marriage,” with kids, in front of a giant Christmas tree and falling snow.