On Oct. 14, 1954, Paramount held the world premiere of White Christmas at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The Michael Curtiz-directed musical went on to earn an Oscar nomination for Irving Berlin song “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” at the 27th Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
In its first VistaVision presentation, Paramount offers the exhibitor a stockingful of exploitable assets. First there is the immense pulling power of the two great stars, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, who appear together for the first time. With these is the name of Mike Curtiz, one of the world’s top directors, who has been associated with a long succession of the industry’s greatest hits and most intelligently made pictures. The piquant personality and twinkling legs of the lithe and youthful little dancer, Vera-Ellen, are another asset. Then there is the vast and exploitable appeal of Rosemary Clooney to the disc jockey public and the platter fans.
Added to this is the magic of Irving Berlin’s lyrics and music that never have failed to win a warm and secure place in the affections of the American public. By the time the picture is released, the whole country should be whistling a batch of new tunes, which include: “Count Your Blessings,” “Snow,” “The Old Man,” “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army,” “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” Of even more appeal is the revival of two well-loved old Berlin numbers, “Blue Skies” and “White Christmas.”
It will be a poor showman who can’t get an audience into the theatre when he can base his sales talks upon such expertly assembled and tangible box office ingredients. But the exceptional theatre operator won’t be content with this. He will spare no effort to let all veterans of World War II know that this is their picture. For this is the audience that should feel a great emotional charge from the film and the one that, if properly appealed to, should go out spreading the enthusiastic word of mouth that will produce the long runs that are necessary if this lavish and expensive Technicolor effort is to show the profit it hopes for.
Curtiz, directing one of the finest opening sequences he ever has placed on the screen, shows a tired and chewed-up division on the Western Front trying to put on a farewell Christmas entertainment for a well-loved, battle-weary, fighting general, who is about to be relieved of his command. Dean Jagger gives a superb performance as this gallant and competent officer. When the story moves down to the present day, we find him a forgotten hero, quietly going broke as he makes desperate efforts to manage a failing little New England inn. To his aid comes a former captain (Crosby) and a former buck private (Kaye), both of whom are now big wheels on Broadway. The finish is as corny and sentimental as only service men can be when a general is trying to conceal his softness beneath a protective wall of trumped up gruffness. Yet, such is the genius of Curtiz, the corniness seems an authentic part of the characterizations. It highlights, rather than interferes with, the emotional impact of the climax.
This is a story of loyalties and affections that bind together men who have faced peril and hardship together. It is well that it is done so well, for without it the story would be nothing more than the standard Paramount plot that has been serving the studio for an awful lot of years. The boy (Crosby) meets the girl (Miss Clooney). The friend (Kaye) and the other girl (Vera-Ellen) try to aid the romance. Bing and Rosemary have a carefully contrived and rather unimportant misunderstanding. She thinks he’s a heel, but all is well in the end. Miss Clooney is an attractive girl, but she’s also the weak spot in the picture, for she lacks the photographic glamour and change of pace necessary to sustain a love story. This element of the film might have been better if Vera-Ellen had been entrusted with the principal romantic interest. It might also have been better if Kaye and Crosby had exchanged parts, with Bing playing the conniving “Mr. Fixit” (as he’s done so magnificently in Hope-Crosby pictures). Kaye’s romantic dancing with Vera-Ellen then would have strengthened the love story.
However, the public will be buying the Crosby-Kaye team in the expectation of seeing comedy. Danny’s genius for wild and zany specialties played against Crosby’s monumental and hilarious nonchalance could have produced some history making screen fun. The opportunity was so obvious and so inviting that one wonders why it was overlooked. Producer Robert Emmett Dolan lets the two ablest farceurs in the business show what they can do in a female impersonation called “Sisters.” Another time, it seems that Danny is going to get a chance to really let go in a ballet burlesque called “Choreography,” but it switches to one more top routine for Vera-Ellen. So the general’s appealing situation must compensate for disappointments in both romance and comedy. Mary Wickes, as his housekeeper, and Anne Whitfield, as his granddaughter, are excellent at building this up. — Jack Moffitt, originally published on August 27, 1954