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If I could travel back in time to anywhere, I’d travel back to our family living room in the North of England, Christmas Day, somewhere around 1975. When we were all well. When we were all alive. And we’d be watching “White Christmas” together. Bindy, Mandy, Jamie, Mum and me. And Dad, who loved Bing Crosby with all his heart.
TV wasn’t time-obedient then, so you had to take it when you could — but sparkling early morning, fat post-lunch afternoon or dozy evening, “White Christmas” was always on, in all its blazing delight. Delight is one of the great undervalued joys of cinema — not comedy, not horror, not excitement — just something that produces joy. (Well, I say “not comedy” — I take that back. Danny Kaye is in very funny form.)
The plot is perfect: Will the two onetime soldiers, now Broadway stars, be able to save their old general’s failing hotel and find love at the same time? And every song is radiant. “White Christmas” itself, twice; “Sisters” twice, once by Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney, once by Bing and Danny dressed as the girls (“Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister/And Lord help the sister, who comes between me and my man”); “Snow” (“I want to wash my hands, my face and hair with snow.” Really? Hair?); “What Can You Do With a General When He Stops Being a General?” We sang along. We cried a lot. (From near right, in rear, Clooney, Kaye, Crosby and Vera-Ellen.)
And as I grew older, I realized that the film was directed by possibly the greatest director of all time. Possibly the greatest romantic drama — “Casablanca.” Possibly the greatest swashbuckler — Errol Flynn’s “Adventures of Robin Hood.” Possibly the greatest melodrama — “Mildred Pierce.” Possibly the greatest gangster movie — “Angels With Dirty Faces.” Definitely the greatest Christmas movie of all — “White Christmas.” All directed by Michael Curtiz. I wish my name was spelled differently.
RICHARD CURTIS, writer and director of About Time.
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