I actually really enjoyed the premise and delivery of “Holiday Inn”. Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby), a singer, is engaged to performer Lila and set to quit stage performance when dancer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) convinces Lila to stay with him to dance and romance. Jim takes this rather well and leaves solo to become a farmer, hoping to get “holidays off” for once. But after a miserable, full 365-days of farming, Jim gets the idea to convert the farm into an inn (with dining and entertainment) and work *exclusively* on holidays—as 15 days of heavy business could provide for the whole year. He hires Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) to perform with him and they start to fall in love when—uh oh—a freshly dumped Ted sees the potential to steal Linda for his dance and, you guessed it, romance.
I thought this movie rather brilliantly used character, music, and the holidays to tell a unique version of the classic love-triangle story. The film progressed from holiday-to-holiday like chapters in a book, using themes from that holiday to accentuate the character drama (Valentine’s Day = romance; Independence Day = fireworks/aggression; Thanksgiving = feigned thankfulness, etc.). I really liked Bing Crosby’s character and I appreciated that there was time when hard work once meant ‘providing for yourself with as little effort as possible’, rather than with endless toil. The script is still funny and the dances, usually what I care least about, had clever quirks to keep me interested (a slow dance is unexpectedly sped up; fireworks are used at a dancer’s feet).
In case I’ve sold you on this movie, I do find it necessary to point out that this film IS a product of its time. There are moments that this is neat, such as during the propaganda-laden Independence Day sequence. The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred during this film’s production and so producers spliced-in a chest-beating film roll depicting America’s military strength. Conversely, there’s a rather cringe-inducing blackface sequence during Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Like, really bad. Like, the film emphasizes the blackface, several times, and it takes place in front of Ted’s African American maid and her kids. It reminds you how tame “Baby It’s Cold Outside” actually is.
Still, the history-fan in me believes that, with a disapproving preface and disclaimer, it’s important to watch the unedited version of this film and understand the history of casual racism in America. There’s a lot of things we got wrong back then—including the chrysotile asbestos used by the production used to mimic snow. This is all apart of the film’s legacy, a legacy that includes everything from the introduction of the song “White Christmas” to the source of the name for the Holiday Inn hotel chain. In all of these ways, this film is deeply interwoven in our culture, warts and all, and worthy of its place on my list.