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A brief non-Disney interlude: A do-it-yourself "White Christmas"

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

A brief non-Disney interlude: A do-it-yourself "White Christmas"

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There are all sorts of movies in theaters right now. Big budget blockbusters like "The Two Towers," "Die Another Day" and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." Not to mention a couple of Disney flicks you may have heard something about: "Santa Clause 2" and "Treasure Planet."

So what did I end up watching at my local multiplex last weekend? A movie that was made 'way back in 1954: "White Christmas."

Why was I watching this particular film at this particular theater? A variety of reasons, actually:

Showcase Cinemas was holding this special holiday film festival as a benefit for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Anyone who came to that theater on a Saturday morning during the month of December who donated a can of food got to see a special screening of a classic Hollywood holiday picture on the big screen for free.

I wanted to do my part for the hungry and homeless (as well as get to see a movie for free). So there I was.

"White Christmas" -- as it turns out -- is one of Nancy's very favorite movies. Why for? To be honest, I think that a lot of this picture's appeal (for Nancy, anyway) hinges on this comic number, "Sisters," that Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen perform early in the film. Based on the stories I've heard, when Nancy was a little girl, she and her sister (Kathy) used to get a big kick out of performing this number for her parents.

Anyway ... After years of watching this VistaVision film on the tube, here was Nancy's big chance to see "Sisters" performed on the big screen. So there she was.

But I guess the real reason that I was there at the Showcase Cinemas Lowell was because I had never actually seen "White Christmas" before. By that I mean: I'd -- of course -- caught bits and pieces of this particular picture over the years. But for some odd reason, I had never (until last weekend, anyway) actually been able to sit down and watch this film from beginning to end, all the way through, without interruptions ...

And -- since I have this huge weakness for Christmas movies (I make a point of watching "It's a Wonderful Life" every year. "Miracle on 34th Street" and "A Christmas Story" too) -- I knew that I just couldn't afford to pass up this opportunity to see "White Christmas" all the way through on the big screen. Which is why Nancy and I got up at the crack of dawn just so that we could be there before this 10 a.m. screening started.

So was it worth the wait? Did "White Christmas" (which Nancy has been describing to me as this "perfect holiday picture" for over five years now) live up to all of its hype? Well ... sort of.

To explain: "White Christmas" is this very old fashioned, schmaltzy sort of picture. But schmaltzy in a good sort of way. Sure, the plot is predictable. But no matter how hokey the movie's storyline may seem to today's audiences, you still can't help but get caught up in it. Plus it was great fun to watch seasoned pros like Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye go through their paces, performing this wonderful score by Irving Berlin.

Speaking of seasoned pros: If you're a film buff like me, half the fun of watching "White Christmas" was seeing which veteran character actors would suddenly pop up in the picture. Seasoned scenes stealers like Mary Wickes, Sig Rumann and Grady Sutton all do brief bits in the picture. Even Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer has a quick cameo [Blink and you'll miss him. He's the soldier in the photograph that Danny shows to Bing who's identified as "Benny the Dog Faced Boy."]

Of course, this is not to say that "White Christmas" doesn't have a few flaws. There's at least two too many Vera-Ellen dance routines for my taste. And that "Minstrel Show/Mandy" production number in the middle of the picture? What a train wreck. Even the art direction on that number is so awful that it actually hurts your eyes to look at this thing.

Anyway ... the real reason that I started to write this story about attending this screening wasn't so I could critique the movie. But rather, so I could tell you about what happened once "White Christmas" came to a rather abrupt end.

How's that? Well, you have to understand that this whole film builds to the moment where Bing Crosby and the rest of the cast reprise "White Christmas." And the film's director -- Michael Curtiz, the same guy who directed "Casablanca" -- has done a wonderful job of setting the stage for this finale scene. Tying all the loose ends together. Creating a mood. As the music swells, the camera slowly starts to track back through the inn as Bing sings ...

Where the treetops glisten,
And children listen,
To hear sleigh bells in the snow ...

The audience in that theater has been waiting for two whole hours for this very moment to arrive. When the unthinkable happens. The film breaks ...

And all 200 people in the theater groan in unison. Then they start to boo. Or grumble. The audience sits there in the darkened theater, watching as the slide carousel starts showing all those awful ads for local car dealerships and movie trivia questions.

After waiting just a minute or two, some folks suddenly get up, pull on their coats and leave the theater. The rest of us ... we just sit there. Why? Because we'd all been caught up in the schmaltzy magic of "White Christmas" and weren't quite willing to shake off the "Feel Good" buzz of that motion picture just yet. Surely someone would do something about this. Talk to the manager, who'd then talk to the projectionist, who'd then (hopefully) repair the film, which ...

It was just then that a single clear voice started singing toward the front of the theater:

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know ...

And -- to a man -- the whole theater joined this person in song. We all sang "White Christmas" all the way through. With some of us even picking out the harmonies.

And with the last line of the song ...

May your days be merry and bright,
And may all your Christmases be white ...

Everyone in the still-darkened theater breaks into applause. There were big smiles all the way around the auditorium. The film itself may have broken, but we weren't going to let something as small as that ruin our festive holiday mood.

And then -- almost as if we were being rewarded having sung the film's title song -- the projector suddenly comes back on and we all get to see the last 45 seconds of "White Christmas."

Which was nice. But not nearly as magical as having a room full of strangers suddenly burst into song together. Sitting in a darkened theater, singing a holiday favorite.

So what's the real point of this story? At this website, you've probably already noticed that there's lots and lots of talk about Disney magic. But magic isn't just the sole property of the Walt Disney Company. Magical moments can happen to anyone at any time.

This past week, I've been thinking a lot about those poor folks who -- after the film broke -- just pulled on their coats and left the theater. If they'd just hung in there another 30 seconds, they too could experienced the fun of being a part of a room full of strangers who suddenly couldn't help but sing "White Christmas." These poor people missed out on the chance of being a part of this beautiful little moment because they had to hurry off. They had places to go. People to see.

And these days, I know, we're all pretty much under the gun. We all have to hustle. To keep our jobs. To pick up the groceries. To drop off the dry cleaning.

But -- by always racing off to do what has to be done next -- you're constantly robbing yourself of the golden opportunity to experience some truly magical stuff ... like catching a glimpse of a humming bird in flight. Or a breath-taking sunset. Or having the opportunity to join a bunch of strangers as they spontaneously burst into song.

So -- this holiday season -- give yourself a present by actually trying to live in the present, people. Don't be so quick to hustle out the door. Who knows what you may miss out?

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