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Holiday Inn
cast: Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, and Walter Abel

producer and director: Mark Sandrich

100 minutes (U) 1942
Universal DVD Region 2 + 4 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn is considered a classic musical and inextricably tied up with the all-time hit number White Christmas but, in many ways, it's inferior to the 1954 picture bearing that title.

Song and dance sensations Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) and Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) fall out over partner Lila (Virginia Dale); Bing wants to marry her and retire, but Astaire wants her as well, and to continue their act. Ditched by Lila, Bing retires to his farm, but with no talent for it, ends up opening a hotel open only on American public holidays, a recipe for business disaster you might think, except this becomes the epitome of exclusivity as Holiday Inn. Aspiring chanteuse Marjorie Reynolds (Linda Mason) attaches herself to Bing as he reinvents the hotel as a showbiz venue. Onto the scene comes, Astaire, having been ditched by gold-digger Lila, and himself looking for a new partner. Bing has fallen for Marjorie but, in that coy way he has, finds himself unable to tell her, and unwilling to stand in the way of her burgeoning career with Astaire. Needless to say everything turns out alright in the end.

Essentially the plot is a flimsy device to hang some classic songs and inventive dance numbers onto. The plot was revisited in White Christmas and to better narrative effect, with Danny Kaye partnering Crosby after both Astaire and Donald O'Connor had passed on the project. Elements of the plot, such as the professional love triangle, were re-hashed in Blue Skies (1946) a film better remembered for the song A Couple Of Song And Dance Men, and Astaire's Puttin' On The Ritz, although they traipsed White Christmas out for that as well.

Time and social change has not been kind to some facets of the picture. Louise Beavers, who had starred opposite Claudette Colbert in the challenging Imitation Of Life (1934), here plays the stereotypical black maid with the adorable wide-eyed children, and there is an excruciating black-face routine for the 'Abraham' number, performed for Lincoln's birthday to celebrate social reform but misfiring badly to modern eyes. These were different times and the offences, however common, have to be presumed sponsored by thoughtless ignorance rather than a malicious political agenda; there are worse incidences nowadays with less excuse.

A bizarre interlude features a bit of patriotic flag-waving, totally baffling but for the revelation in the extras package that the attack on Pearl Harbour came during the making of the picture. Watch this DVD for the Irving Berlin score, the songs Happy Holiday, White Christmas and Easter Parade, Astaire dancing while drunk, and his Firecracker Dance, and the truly excellent extras package.

The excellent extras package bumps up the rating for this DVD. Included is the usual audio commentary presented by film historian and music producer Ken Barnes, with archive comments from Astaire, Crosby and John Scott Trotter. There are two featurettes, A Couple Of Song And Dance Men looks at the careers of the two stars and takes the form of a conversation between Ken Barnes and Ava Astaire Mackenzie, Fred's daughter; this is a bit stilted at first with Ms Astaire Mackenzie talking about her father and Barnes providing the Crosby biography, but it relaxes a bit as it goes along and there are loads of classic clips, routines and newsreel footage. The second featurette, All Singing, All Dancing: Before And After, looks at movie musicals and sound recording techniques. There are also cast and crew profiles, the theatrical trailer and some production notes.

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