DVD Review: White Christmas Is Perfect for the Holidays

Perhaps one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time, White Christmas doesn't feature many children or a fat Santa Claus handing out gifts. Instead, White Christmas is the story of two old army buddies turned entertainers (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) who encounter a sister act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen) en route to Vermont for the holiday entertainment season. With a little conniving, all four end up at the same resort, which is run by the commanding officer of army days of old. The inn has seen better days, but things are about to look up when the boys bring their huge show in from New York. Christmas in Vermont, with all that snow -- what could be better!

This 1954 movie is one of the strongest holiday memories of my childhood and I've seen it countless times. From the hilarious musical performances, including the genius of Crosby and Kaye performing the memorable song "Sisters," to the beauty of snowfall on Christmas, for a movie that is centered around the song "White Christmas" this is one of the best and brightest Christmas movies ever made. The romantic angles are so silly, with everyone trying to get everyone else engaged or married, and as Clooney and Crosby struggle against their mutual attraction, Kaye and Ellen fall into an easy romance. The dancing alone in this film is spectacular, never mind the outstanding vocal talents of Bing Crosby. Everyone is so lovely and well suited to their parts, and the musical numbers are ideally placed and the sense of nostalgia so strong that it's hard not to fall in love with the film. Danny Kaye especially is so funny and warm, with Crosby as the solid center of the entire production. Clocking in at only two hours long, the film sails by. As far as Christmas movies or even musicals go, you can't do better.

This special "anniversary" DVD edition -- what anniversary it is celebrating is entirely unclear -- is a two-disc extravaganza filled with commentary, video interviews, and remembrances right in time for Christmas.

Rosemary Clooney recorded an audio commentary for the film, and I suddenly realized why having two or more people on a commentary can often provide better content, because it's much harder to just sit and monologue about a film on your own, but with another person there you can play off each other and the memories seem to come easily. Perhaps Ms. Clooney hadn't seen the film in a while, but she was quite taken with it and often forgot to comment on what was going on, instead laughing and acting a little bit like someone whispering behind you in the theater. After a while she gets going, and offers some interesting insight into different locations or people.

The picture quality of the film itself is not great: scratches, discoloration, and grain problems persist; although it appears to have been cleaned up somewhat, it is evident that no great work of restoration has gone into this release.

The special features will be interesting to anyone who grew up with the film, or fans of the various actors. Notably missing is any kind of special or discussion of Vera Ellen, although the other three main stars are represented by their own 12- to 15-minute individual biographies. Well, biographies after a fashion -- the short pieces on each include interviews with friends, family, and experts (on film, music, or history). Here we have "Backstage Stories from White Christmas" and "Rosemary's Old Kentucky Home" (this one focuses on her home in Kentucky, which has been turned into a Rosemary Clooney museum by the Miss America pageant winner Heather French Henry). Also included are "Bing Crosby: Christmas Crooner"; "Danny Kaye: Joy to the World"; "Irving Berlin's White Christmas"; and "White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney." The Rosemary Clooney one is actually pretty interesting (she notes with something amounting to glee that even though Vera Ellen could dance, she could not sing), as is the Irving Berlin piece, and all of them are interesting to watch though not tremendously well put together. There are three other items on the disc, two trailers and a ghastly infomercial of a piece that pushes the revitalized stage production pretty heavily even though, if you've already got the movie, I can't imagine wanting to see a cut-rate version of perfection, performed on stage no less. All the video bits are upbeat, naturally, with very little mention of anything except the warm glow of Christmas and the outstanding talents of the stars and filmmakers.

The packaging is fairly good, with a larger case with fake snow that flits across the front of it (a note on the bottom reveals that this snow is not for consumption, so don't get any funny ideas). A packet of eight postcards of various scenes from the film is also included, which is nice but really, what is one supposed to do with these? When pulled out, the DVD case is simply a regular DVD case with two discs.

If you've never purchased the film, then by all means this new edition is a great investment in your future holidays. Funny, warm, and easy to watch, White Christmas is essential Christmas viewing.

White Christmas is available now on DVD from Paramount Pictures.