Holiday Inn (review)

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Two Guys and a Girl

God, I love those snarky 40s comedies in which there’s just a bit of meanness under the humor. Holiday Inn, is, of course, filled with the kind of pretty Christmas songs and picture-postcard scenes of snow and horse-drawn sleighs that make for beloved holiday movies. But there’s also some darkness lurking here.

Singer and dancer Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby: White Christmas, Going My Way) is heartbroken. On the very day — Christmas Eve — that he was to be married to his dance partner, Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), she instead runs off with their other partner, Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire). So Jim retires to the Connecticut farm he and Lila were to have lived on to “kill time being lazy.” A year of that only drives him to distraction (he misses show biz), so Jim hatches a brilliant idea: he’ll turn the farm into an inn offering dinner and a show, open only on holidays.

Ted — recently dumped by the inconstant Lila — shows up three sheets to the wind at Holiday Inn’s debut production on New Year’s Eve and stumbles into a drunken dance with Jim’s star find, Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds). The dance is a sensation with Holiday Inn’s guests, and Ted, in need of a new partner since Lila’s departure, is determined that partner should be Linda. There’s a catch, though: Ted was so drunk he doesn’t even remember dancing, never mind with whom. And Jim, who has already lost one girl to Ted, certainly isn’t going to tell him it was Linda. So Ted has no choice but to return to the inn each holiday, searching for his mystery partner like Prince Charming seeking Cinderella. “If I ever danced with her again,” Ted says, “I’d recognize her.”

Thin on plot, as musicals tend to be, Holiday Inn keeps the viewer enthralled with lots of terrific, holiday-themed Irving Berlin songs, “White Christmas” being the most famous. And it is always a joy to watch Astaire dance, walking on air like he’s simply not subject to the laws of gravity the way the rest of us are. The drunken dance is astounding, but the best remembered — and rightly so — is Astaire’s solo dance for the Fourth of July, in which his only partner is the fireworks he throws to the floor at his feet in time to the music. In a word, it’s explosive.

And the dark humor I mentioned? Well, there’s the spectacle of Jim and Ted both losing their hearts to Lila. The original show the three of them performed in together had the two guys competing for Lila’s affections: Jim sings that he’s sure his voice will win her over, while Ted is certain his dancing is what will do the trick… and in the end, offstage, it’s a rich Texan’s money that ultimately snags her.

Holiday Inn gets a lot of comedic mileage from characters lying to one another, too. From Jim and Linda’s first meeting, in which each convinces the other they are show-biz big shots, to Jim’s efforts to keep Linda and Ted apart, it’s the most intimate of relationships that are subject to the biggest deceptions.

Holiday Inn isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. Instead, it earns knowing smirks of recognition from behavior we can all identify with as hurtful, sure, but the kinds of things we’ve all done.

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