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“I'm dreaming of a White Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.” Bing Crosby first sang those words in 1941 on the radio. A few months later, he recorded it in the studio for the 1942 film, Holiday Inn. For the rest of his life, he would sing the song more times than probably anything else he ever did. Over 70 years later, the song, written by Irving Berlin, is still the best-selling single ever recorded and likely the most recognized Christmas song from the last century.
The song played a central role in two Crosby films, the previously mentioned Holiday Inn, which introduced the song, and the 1954 film White Christmas. Both were made at Paramount and aside from taking place at inns and featuring the song, the two movies couldn't be more different.
Holiday Inn pairs Crosby with Fred Astaire for the first of two times. They play Jim Hardy and Tom Hanover, a pair of performers who are currently having success with Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale). Jim thinks he's going to marry Lila, break up the act and live on a farm, but those plans go awry when he learns that Lila is really in love with Tom. He still insists on becoming a farmer, so he decides to go to Connecticut (that's farming country for 1940's New Yorkers) anyway. After a year of this, he finally figures out that farming's not his racket. Not one to admit defeat, Jim decides to open an inn that's only open on holidays. It's called the “Holiday Inn!”
Thankfully for this venture, he has a partner – Linda Mason (Majorie Reynolds) and things go great. On every holiday, they perform a novelty number, leaving the guests going home happy. But Tom comes up to visit and Jim's afraid that Tom will steal Linda, too and does whatever he can to keep them apart.
The movie was directed by Mark Sandrich, which should be a familiar name for fans of the movies Astaire made with Ginger Rogers, since he directed most of them. With that in mind, it's easy to see why Holiday Inn feels more like a musical from the late 1930s than one from the early 1940s. Still, it's a magical movie, even if the blackface “Abraham” number is a bit unsettling today.