This morning I went to Bowtie Movieland to see Holiday Inn (1942) for their Movies & Mimosas classic film. How can you beat being able to swoon over Bing Crosby and $2 mimosas!?!
Holiday Inn is one of my favorite movies because it includes Christmas and Bing Crosby! I’m not too picky about holiday movies. I fill my DVR with nearly every Christmas movie that I can find because I love-love-love Christmas movies… from the classics to the modern Hallmark channel movies (and the more ridiculous, the better!)
Holiday Inn isn’t often considered a “classic” Christmas movie partly because it really isn’t a “Christmas” movie although it does feature Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” twice; but, more importantly than that, it isn’t often a classic because of the now controversial “Abraham” scene.
A quick synopsis of the movie is that Bing Crosby’s character and a girl are in love and off to get married and live on a farm leaving showbiz behind. Fred Astaire’s character pretty much steals the girl and Crosby is left to head to the farm alone. Farm life isn’t what he thought it would be so Crosby has the idea to open up an inn but only on the holidays…hence Holiday Inn! And if you’ve ever stayed at one of the Holiday Inn motels, they got their name from this film… but they don’t look anything like the quaint farm house that doesn’t seem like it would have any bedrooms for anyone to actually stay. That isn’t the point; Crosby puts on big performances during the holidays. When the girl who left Crosby for Astaire also leaves Astaire for a rich millionaire, a drunken Astaire arrives at the inn hoping Crosby will be able to lift his spirits. You know where this is going… Crosby has a new girl and well, Astaire pretty much steals her too. But before that happens, Crosby tries to hide his new girl… by using blackface.
This was 1942 and mid-WWII. This was pre-Civil Rights movement in the US and white Americans were racist then as some are racist now. Using blackface was actually a plot point to hide characters but the racist undertones (and overtones?) are pretty clear. It wasn’t until the 1980s that broadcasts of the film omitted the entire scene which if you can imagine caused a great deal of confusion for movie watchers since a major plot point was omitted. AMC even cut the “Abraham” musical number because it became so controversial. So if you’ve never seen the film via DVD, in the theater, or on Turner Classic Movies which doesn’t cut or edit any films, you might be a bit startled as the two ladies who sat behind me in the movies today were when the entire sequence includes nearly every white character in black face and the black characters who are off in the kitchen singing but not performing with the white characters because it was the time of segregation. Is it uncomfortable for movie-goers in 2015? I think so. Aside from blackface being used, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred halfway through filming. Because of this, the Independence Day musical was expanded beyond Fred Astaire's firecracker dance to include the patriotic number that highlights the U.S. military. Many have seen this as a WWII propaganda film, which includes only white men even though black men fought in the war.
I don’t think the film is for everyone and I’m certainly not pushing anyone to watch it. It’s another part of our nation that is complicated and complex. Unlike the women who sat behind me, I wasn’t appalled that the theater decided to include this portion of the film. Even if they had cut the scenes, the film is still pretty much laced with the sentiments of that time.
I did a little research and discovered that Louise Beavers, the actress who played Crosby’s maid, performed in dozens of films from the 1920s to1960. If you look at her wikipedia page you will see from the mere list alone that she was a *working* actress although she was most commonly cast in the role of a maid, servant, or slave.
As Beavers became more well-known as an actress, she spoke out against Hollywood's portrayal and treatment of Black Americans. She became active and outspoken in her support of the Civil Rights movement. It seems that sometimes one must be in the system to fight the injustice.
Beavers was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame two years after it was founded.
Cut or uncut, viewing older films and even reading books or listening to music from various times makes for a complicated history lesson. I try to respect that when engaging with such things.
And while I'm certainly not trying to make light of the film's controversy or America's past (and sometimes present) struggles with racial difference, for me this film was the first holiday film released by the theater where I kick off my Christmasing movie-going.
Next up, White Christmas with Bing Crosby and later It's a Wonderful Life. And well, Krampus comes out next week so there's that too.
Speaking of, I pretty much have my outfit put together for Krampusnacht and here is my holiday sweater (it's really a t-shirt.. Thanks Disney!) for the office party.
Merry Everything Y'all!