Everyone has a favourite Christmas movie. For some it's "A Christmas Carol", or "Miracle On 34th Street", perhaps "It's A Wonderful Life", or maybe "How The Grinch Stole Christmas". Even Bing's later "White Christmas" gets aired locally every Christmas Day, while "Holiday Inn" is far more obscure. Yet, this film is my favourite holiday season film. Made long before I was born, I saw it as a child & it had an influence on me. Perhaps the film is dated with its B&W war-time feel but that 1940's elegance is part of the charm. Returning to the "Inn" is like re-visiting old friends at a magical, mythical place. It's a treat to see a younger Bing Crosby (compared with his performance in "White Christmas")& Fred Astaire, as well as the beauty of Marjorie Reynolds. What may not be well known is that the film provided the inspiration for the name of the Holiday Inn chain of motels & hotels. A Memphis businessman named Kemmons Wilson planned a national chain of motels. He hired a draftsman to draw up the plans. It happened that the draftsman watched the movie while he was working, and he sketched the name of it at the top. Wilson saw it, liked it, and stuck with it. Holiday Inn was born & the first opened in August of 1952, some 10 years after the film.
Sure, not all the holidays are treated in the film. And the Independence Day segment contains some war-time "propaganda" with newsreel shots of McArthur, FDR, & military hardware. But this was the era when Hollywood went to war & stars did pitches to audiences to buy war bonds, etc. Yes, the black-face Al Jolson style "Abraham" number causes me to cringe a bit, but the tune is snappy, and the justification is in keeping with the plot as Bing tries to hide Marjorie Reynolds from Astaire. The supporting characters are also fine. There's "Gus" the cab driver for the Inn, whom Bing gives 10 bucks to take a detour to keep Reynold's away from the Inn the night the Hollywood men are there. Bing says for that kind of money Gus should take her by way of "Medicine Hat" (a prairie town in Canada). I also enjoy character actress Louise Beavers portrayal of "Mamie", the Inn's cook. She's not only a mother figure to her two charming kids, but also to her boss. During Thanksgiving, Bing mopes while Astaire & Reynolds are filming in Hollywood together. He puts on a recording of himself singing "I've Got Plenty To Be Thankful For", while he comically criticizes himself - even saying "you're flat". Mamie tells him that all he did was tricks to keep Miss Linda. He was never honest with her & instructs him to go to Hollywood & tell her how he feels. The song "White Christmas" became a huge hit with this movie. It's sung twice. The first time, Bing is teaching it to Reynolds on the piano & they sing a duet with his coaching. The second time, at the end, it's an unplanned duet. Reynolds is singing it on a sound stage "mock-up" of the Inn, once again at a piano. She finds that at the same spot in the song as Bing had done earlier, she picks up his pipe & rings bells on a tree. Then Bing begins to whistle in the wings. Her solo is interrupted as Bing then sings a line or two. The song isn't completed this time! In the later film, Bing sings the immortal song "just like the record". "Easter Parade" was another Irving Berlin hit from this movie. It would inspire another Astaire movie later with that title.
This is not a perfect film but it has been an inspiration to me (& to others). The Inn is timeless. I can always re-visit every year or so & the comedy, songs & dance are eternal. Styles change. If "Jim Hardy's" Holiday Inn had been a real place, it probably wouldn't survive. The resorts of the Catskills, such as those in "Dirty Dancing" fell to changing times. Jim probably would have had to have rock acts in the 1950's (or Rap in the 1990's)! But I can always go home to this Inn & know what kind of enertainment is on tap. And also enjoy Mamie's cooking!