The idea behind Paramount’s “Holiday Inn” couldn’t be simpler nor more “old Hollywood” — the musical tale of a simple crooner (Bing Crosby) who spars with his flashy dancing rival (Fred Astaire) at a holiday-themed nightclub in the sticks. This to, what else, woo a bright, twinkle-toed dame in Marjorie Reynolds.
Based on a concept by Irving Berlin, who wrote its songbook plus a ditty called “White Christmas,” “Holiday Inn” sports upbeat numbers with plenty of swing — provided by Bing’s brother, Bob Crosby, and his band The Bobcats–and, of course, lavish dancing by Astaire and Miss Reynolds who often upstage their co-stars. In fact, I’d argue that “Holiday Inn” is more Fred’s show than Bing’s — spinning graceful floor routines and a classic firecracker tap for the Fourth of July that doubles as obvious patriotic wartime fare. Yet on still another level, Astaire’s high style reminds us of other movie dancing greats — including Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor — whose dazzling skills arguably make today’s Hollywood a weaker place for having lost them.
However, “Holiday Inn” isn’t without other kinds of datedness. Including a dip into comic racism with a musical salute to Lincoln’s Birthday featuring Bing dressed in comic blackface, and actress Louise Beavers as his round, Aunt Jemina-like housekeeper who proudly sings to her kids: “when black folks lived in slavery/ who was it set the Darkie free?”
Yes, it was a different era. But still, it makes you wonder when our elders gripe about “the good ol’ days”. Other on-screen gaffes, including Bing doing a terrible job hiding his inability to play piano, are funnier and more easily excused.
Call it old-fashioned or old Hollywood fluff, “Holiday Inn” is a sweet, pleasant slice of another time in pop entertainment.