A sure cure for what ails you, Mark Sandrich’s Holiday Inn is one of the classics of Hollywood’s golden age of musicals.
The Production: 4/5
A sure cure for what ails you, Mark Sandrich’s Holiday Inn is one of the classics of Hollywood’s golden age of musicals. Filled to the brim with beautiful songs and featuring two of the most talented and likable leading men in the business at the time, Holiday Inn was a huge hit in its day, turned out a song that became the biggest seller of all time, and continues to enjoy enviable popularity seventy-five years after its initial release. This latest Blu-ray release of the film from Universal recycles the excellent high definition transfer from a previous release and all of the previous bonus material with one new addition that for some will make this inexpensively priced release one to double dip on.
Tired of the show business grind, crooner Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) plans to break up his trio act and take his leading lady Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) to live a quiet life on his newly purchased farm in Connecticut. Unknown to him, however, their dancing partner Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) has his own plans for Lila, a club act for the two of them and eventually marriage. So, Jim leaves the business but finds farm labor is much more difficult than his show business background has prepared him for, so he gets another great idea: to turn his farm into an inn open only on the holidays with special shows centered on each special occasion. For a new partner, he casts show biz newcomer Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds, vocals by Martha Mears) and begins to fall in love with her, but after dancing drunkenly with Linda on New Year’s Eve after Lila dumps him, Ted decides Linda will be his new dance partner and begins plotting to steal her away from Ted’s lucrative Holiday Inn.
Based on an idea by songwriter Irving Berlin who provided twelve new holiday-based tunes for the movie along with his beloved chestnut “Easter Parade,” the screenplay by Claude Binyon provides a handy romantic and professional show biz tale on which to drape the sensational Irving Berlin songs, almost all of them showing the master at the top of his composing game with lilting melodies that seem amazingly familiar from almost the moment they’re first heard, a quality that Berlin possessed in his songwriting with very few other artists. Each major holiday gets its own song: “Kissing the Old Year Out” for December 31st, “Abraham” for Lincoln’s birthday (a number which included blackface in the minstrel tradition popular at the time), “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” for Valentine’s Day, “I Can’t Tell a Lie” for Washington’s birthday (the weak link of the score), “Say It with Firecrackers” and “Song of Freedom” for the 4th of July, “I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For” for Thanksgiving, and, of course, “White Christmas” which won the Best Song Oscar for 1942 and went on to sell multiple millions of copies of the song on record and in sheet music. “Happy Holidays” and “Come to Holiday Inn” along with “Lazy” and “Easter Parade” also got featured placements. Because most of the numbers take place in the great room of the Holiday Inn, the production numbers are much smaller than in other Hollywood musicals of the era though, of course, Fred Astaire gets two trick numbers “Say It with Firecrackers” and a drunken dance with Marjorie Reynolds that are a bit more expansive, and Bing, Fred, and Virginia Dale get the movie off to a cracking start with “I’ll Capture Her Heart” setting up the personal and professional rivalry that is sustained throughout the movie. Mark Sandrich, who had directed some of Astaire’s most successful RKO musicals with Ginger Rogers, certainly guides the numbers here beautifully with the choppy holiday motif smoothed out wonderfully with his graceful transitions between the various celebrations.
This was the first teaming of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire on film, and they proved to be a very enjoyable set of rivals (reunited four years later for another Irving Berlin musical Blue Skies, they basically played the same kinds of guys that they do here). Bing’s voice is at its zenith, and all of the numbers including the iconic “White Christmas” project that mellow richness and impeccable phrasing that was his hallmark. Fred Astaire’s dancing is up to his golden standards, too, with his able partnering of both Virginia Dale and Marjorie Reynolds as well as impressive solo dancing. Gorgeous Marjorie Reynolds may have been dubbed (skillfully; voice double Martha Mears was a superb match for her vocal timbre), but she proves herself to be a most agreeable leading lady, and her dancing with Astaire in “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” is among his greatest ballroom duets. Virginia Dale gets a bit short-changed in both acting and musical performing playing a rather selfish character who capriciously jumps from fella to fella with no seeming guilt, but she’s just fine in that opening number and a later nightclub dance with Astaire. Walter Abel gets several choice moments as Ted’s agitated, easily excitable agent Danny Reed, and Louise Beavers is always a joy to see in movies as inn cook Mamie.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Being the same transfer as the 2014 Blu-ray release, those familiar with it know it’s impeccably clean and sharp with an impressive grayscale that features excellent black levels and clear, pure whites. Contrast has been consistently applied for a first-rate visual experience. The movie has been divided into 18 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers mostly clear sound with dialogue and lyrics nicely recorded and blended professionally with the Oscar-nominated orchestrations and ambient effects suitable for a film of this period. There is some soft hiss which can be heard in quieter scenes particularly early in the movie, but with so much music, it’s not noticeable for most of the picture.
Special Features: 5/5
Holiday Inn in Color (HD): the opening screen allows the viewer to choose either the original black and white or the colorized version of the movie. More natural here than earlier colorization attempts, a more pastel palette has been used through most of the film with bold color ignored for softer hues.
Audio Commentary: film historian Ken Barnes provides key information on the making of the film and also plays recorded comments from Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, and others connected to the movie in this track which fans of the movie, if they haven’t heard it on previous DVD and Blu-ray releases, will be sure to want to listen to.
A Couple of Song and Dance Men (44:35, SD): historian Ken Barnes and Astaire’s daughter Ava Astaire McKenzie offer complementary biographical information on the careers of the two stars showing how their careers paralleled and occasionally crossed during their long decades in show business. Among trailer clips offered in the discussion are moments from King of Jazz, Dream House, The Big Broadcast, Dancing Lady, Top Hat, We’re Not Dressing, Road to Morocco, Blue Skies, Easter Parade, and High Society.
All-Singing, All-Dancing (7:15, SD): a brief discussion of how film musicals progressed from live stage performances to the use of prerecording vocals but live recording taps.
Coloring a Classic (8:51, SD): colorizer Barry Sandrew and his staff of professionals explain the process of colorizing Holiday Inn.
Theatrical Trailer (2:16, SD)
Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn: The Broadway Musical (2:02:13, HD; DTS-HD MA 5.1): the 2015 Broadway adaptation of the film produced for BroadwayHD.com starring Bryce Pinkham, Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gayer, and Megan Sikora in the four leading roles. The film score has been supplemented by additional Irving Berlin standards from other sources including “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “The Little Things in Life,” “Blue Skies,” “Time Marches On,” “Heat Wave,” “It’s a Lovely Day Today,” “Shakin’ the Blues Away,” “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk,” and “Cheek to Cheek.” A very conventional and entertaining old-style Broadway musical. This is contained on a separate Blu-ray disc in the package.
Digital Copy: code sheet enclosed in the case.
Holiday Inn is as good as it ever was with first-rate music and impressive performances from Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. A genuine classic from Hollywood’s golden age has been brought to high definition with superb picture quality and good lossless sound. The major addition to this release, of course, is the recent Broadway musical version of the show offered on a separate Blu-ray disc in the set. Highly recommended!