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White Christmas: Diamond Anniversary Edition Blu-ray + DVDs + Music CD Review

Irving Berlin's White Christmas (1954) movie poster White Christmas

Theatrical Release: October 14, 1954 / Running Time: 120 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Michael Curtiz / Writers: Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, Melvin Frank (screenplay); Irving Berlin (music & lyrics)

Cast: Bing Crosby (Bob Wallace), Danny Kaye (Phil Davis), Rosemary Clooney (Betty Haynes), Vera Ellen (Judy Haynes), Dean Jagger (Major General Thomas F. Waverly), Mary Wickes (Emma Allen), John Brascia (John), Anne Whitfield (Susan Waverly) / Uncredited: Johnny Grant (Ed Harrison), Herb Vigran (Novello), Barrie Chase (Doris Lenz), Lorraine Crawford (Rita), Robert Crosson (Albert)

Songs: "White Christmas", "The Old Man", "Heat Wave/Let Me Sing and I'm Happy/Blue Skies", "Sisters", "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing", "Sisters (reprise)", "Snow", "I'd Rather See a Minstrel Show/Mister Bones/Mandy", "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep", "Choreography", "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me", "What Can You Do With a General?", "The Old Man (reprise)", "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army", "White Christmas (finale)"

Buy White Christmas from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + CD • New 2-Disc DVD • Instant Video

Many holiday movies are successful upon release, but few have demonstrated the lasting value of White Christmas. This 1954 musical represents the height of entertainment from its time. This lavish Technicolor production introduced Paramount Pictures' new widescreen format VistaVision. It boasted big stars, a highly seasoned Academy Award-winning director, and a host of singable original songs composed by the legendary Irving Berlin.
Its methods and sensibilities clearly reflect the era in which it was made and there is no denying this is an old-fashioned work, the kind that hasn't been produced in several decades. But though it may be stagey, frothy, and perhaps a bit prolonged at exactly two hours, those qualities all distinguish the picture and add to its appeal. In truth, it's tough to imagine this film ever being truly out of style. As long as music, romance, mankind and Christmas continue to exist, there will be an audience for this charming diversion.

The film opens on Christmas Eve 1944, an occasion Army soldiers abroad Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) observe with a little show. The morale boost gives way to an attack and Phil winds up saving Bob's life from a falling brick wall. After the war ends, Wallace and Davis become an extremely popular singing duo, who attract headlines with their performances for large audiences. Shortly before Christmas, they are invited by an old Army buddy to check out a sister act. Blonde siblings Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen) give those in attendance a good time with their high-spirited singing and dancing. The two veterans, bachelors who have started to think of settling down, quickly set their sights on the ladies: Bob takes to Betty and Phil is smitten with Judy.

Four musicians (Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen) take a train ride to Vermont hoping to see snow in "White Christmas."

The Haynes sisters are on the run when a dispute with their landlord over a rug burn comes to involve a sheriff. Wallace and Davis take their place on stage and the four all narrowly escape the law, catching a train. The guys initially plan to return home to New York, but after reconnecting with the gals, they decide to follow them to their gig at the Columbia Inn in little Pine Tree, Vermont. The foursome is surprised not to find the snow they've been expecting but an unusually warm winter. The mild weather has slowed business to a crawl for the Inn's proprietor, whom the boys are shocked to discover is none other than their big-hearted commanding officer, Major General Thomas Waverly (Dean Jagger).

Bob and Phil hatch a plan to lift the general's spirits and invigorate the struggling business he's invested so much in. Using their connections and an appearance on the Ed Harrison television show, the guys ensure there will be a grand show showcasing the talents of them and the Haynes sisters while also reuniting local veterans who served under Waverly in the Army. Meanwhile, to prevent fallout from a misunderstanding, Phil and Judy announce their (phony) marriage engagement, news that only serves to further threaten the big, surprise Christmas Eve show.

White Christmas is colorful, ornate, and utterly enjoyable, the kind of movie you can watch every few years without tiring of it. It embodies the entertainment values of the 1950s as much as any film. Though it might not have been taken seriously as cinema back then, enough time has elapsed to view it as more than just populist recreation. The production values still impress, there's a good deal of nimble cinematography, and the four leads are as charismatic as any movie stars of the time. It really doesn't feel all that different from the types of big-thinking filmmaking of producer-director Cecil B. DeMille, whose epic spectacles like The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Show on Earth drew large crowds and major accolades. White Christmas does not have the bloated runtimes and visual effects of those blockbusters, but it possesses a similar willingness to please crowds, aiming more for smiles and laughs than widened eyes and dropped jaws.

Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney), Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby), and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) put on a Technicolor show for the few people staying at the Columbia Inn.

White Christmas was no awards contender; it earned a single nomination for the Original Song Oscar, which it lost to the title tune from Three Coins in the Fountain. But it probably stood to warrant some recognition. If the Golden Globes picked nominees back then instead of just winners, it's tough to imagine the film getting shut out from the three Musical or Comedy categories. After all, the film does come from some pedigree. A decade earlier, Crosby won the Academy Award for Best Actor in Best Picture winner Going My Way.
He received another Actor nomination the next year for its sequel The Bells of St. Mary's. Director Michael Curtiz had also featured at Oscars past, winning Best Director for 1943's Best Picture winner Casablanca following three or four prior nods (depending on how you count a write-in vote). At the very least, you might expect White Christmas to feature in technical categories, like sound, cinematography, and art direction. But alas, the films that were recognized in such fields have largely been forgotten, while this one finds new fans every holiday season.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of White Christmas' original theatrical release. Paramount Home Entertainment wasn't about to let that milestone slip past this perennial bestseller, one of the few catalog titles whose rights they have not shared with Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Paramount treated this esteemed classic to its first combo pack, a four-disc Diamond Anniversary Edition consisting of one Blu-ray, two DVDs, and an audio CD.
 

White Christmas: Diamond Anniversary Edition Blu-ray + DVDs + Music CD from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 2.0 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Mono 2.0 (Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Mono 2.0 (English); Both: Dolby Digital 2.0 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; BD film-only: English for Hearing Impaired
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 14, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $26.98
Four single-sided discs (1 BD-50, 2 DVD-9s, and 1 Audio CD)
Blue Keepcase with Paper Envelope in Embossed, Glittery Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as 2-Disc Diamond Anniversary Edition DVD ($19.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video
Still available as 2-Disc Holiday Edition DVD ($29.99 SRP; November 2, 2010) and Classic Christmas Collection DVD ($29.99 SRP; October 31, 2006) with It's a Wonderful Life
Previously released as Anniversary Edition Blu-ray (November 2, 2010), 2-Disc Anniversary Edition DVD (November 3, 2009), Repackaged 1-Disc DVD (October 16, 2007), and Original 1-Disc DVD (November 21, 2000)

 
VIDEO and AUDIO

I can't compare this Blu-ray presentation to the one Paramount first gave White Christmas in 2010. On its own merits, though, this transfer is positively delightful. The 1.78:1 visuals (an acceptable compromise between the 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 aspect ratios in which the film was originally exhibited) are nothing short of splendid. The vibrant compositions are marred by nothing worse than miniscule, infrequent white specks and a couple of possibly inevitable jerky shots. Those minor issues do almost nothing to diminish the tremendous impact of this meticulous restoration, which wows with a staggering detail and clarity. (Those still watching DVD should appreciate that the film still boasts an exemplary transfer in standard definition as well.)

You've got a couple of options if you want to watch the movie in its native English. Paramount lets you choose between a 5.1 remix and 2.0 monaural track truer to original release. Both are encoded in the lossless format of DTS-HD master audio. As with the picture, the sound does a good job of hiding the film's considerable age. Still, the elements do not allow for a particularly immersive experience. The predictable exception is in the songs, which do have a different quality to them than the dialogue even in the mono mix. The songs were clearly not recorded live, but that helps give them some breadth and vitality otherwise eluding 1950s movie sound technology. Paramount appropriately includes mono dubs and subtitles in three foreign languages.

In 2012, Michael Bublé crashes Bing Crosby's 1971 NBC television special for a technology-enabled "White Christmas" duet. Nat King Cole and Danny Kaye have fun with ethnic voices in their 1963 take on "Jingle Bells."

BONUS FEATURES

No mere repackaging, this Diamond Anniversary Edition adds some major new bonus features to the already impressive lot
assembled for the film's 2009 two-disc Anniversary Edition DVD and reprised for its 2010 Blu-ray Disc debut.

The long list of extras begins with an audio commentary recorded by Rosemary Clooney for the film's original 2000 DVD. Clooney doesn't try to fill the air, instead only commenting briefly on the occasional line or simply laughing. What she says (and in a few instances, sings) is of some interest (like the fact that Bing Crosby never sang "I love you"), but she just doesn't say much. While it's rare to encounter a DVD audio commentary from a star of Clooney's caliber and era, this track recorded two years before her death will disappoint anyone with high expectations.

Next up comes a new feature you're surprised the studio hadn't thought of until now. It is a Sing-Along section, allowing you to watch any one of the film's musical numbers with song lyrics over them. These aren't plain subtitles but graphic ones with tasteful designs. Each song gets one of three designs that best suits them, ranging from a military motif to a red and white holiday style to a light-bordered marquee. There is also the option to watch the entire film with these lyrics popping up over the songs, a welcome way to spice up a repeat viewing. (The Sing-Along mode isn't extended to those needing the foreign language options, nor, curiously, is it easily selected from the Set Up options.)

More never-before-released content follows in an awesome section called Classic Holiday Moments (in SD unless otherwise noted). Here are five television appearances from over the years featuring the stars of White Christmas. From the 2012 NBC special Michael Bublé: Home for the Holidays (4:11, HD), we get the Canadian crooner impressively edited into Bing Crosby's 1971 special for a "White Christmas" duet. A black and white clip from 1963 (3:39) finds Danny Kaye and Nat King Cole putting their own spin on "Jingle Bells" with some mild ethnic stereotypes (a gap in the performance suggests something more offensive may have been cut). A 1965 color clip (7:23) lets Kaye give a super dramatic reading from cue cards of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol describing the Cratchits' Christmas meal. An aged Crosby performs "White Christmas" from his 1976 special (2:18), which makes one sad his "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" duet with David Bowie from the following year isn't licensed. Finally, there is Crosby singing "Silent Night" (2:37) with a boys' choir.

Although two of them feature the title song, none of these appearances relates directly to the film. That only makes their inclusion all the more surprising and enjoyable. It's as if Paramount put a White Christmas fan in charge of this release and they tracked down these suitable seasonal treats to make for perfect company. It's the kind of effort and imagination rarely displayed outside The Criterion Collection.

Bing Crosby sings with some hopefully well-behaved choir boys in this 1948 clip. Danny Kaye poses with a sick foreign child in the 1955 UNICEF short film "Assignment Children."

The creative supplements continue with Assignment Children (17:11, HD), a 1955 short film for UNICEF starring Danny Kaye. This diverting throwback follows the dancing comedian around the world to such places as India, Burma, and Thailand. In each place, Kaye entertains children, whose vaccinations UNICEF helps fund. This could just be a boring PR piece, but thankfully it's not, with value more than historic being evident. The short can also be watched with an 84-second introduction by Michael Bublé, who extolls Kaye and UNICEF.

The following seven featurettes have all accompanied the movie since 2009 and one even longer than that. Showing foresight, the six of them produced by King Media are all presented in 16:9 HD.

"Backstage Stories from White Christmas" (11:57) supplies a good general overview of the film, tackling the project's origins, techniques, charms, and reception. Among those interviewed are critics, historians, and George Chakiris, one of the film's dancers.

"Bing Crosby: Christmas Crooner" (14:17) paints a flattering portrait of the star, covering his musical influence, his affiliation with Gonzaga University, his role as military morale booster, and his standing as a holiday icon. Not much thought is given to his other movies and the piece steers entirely clear of the controversial allegations. But, we do gain insight into the legend and, in comments from Crosby's widow Kathryn and son Harry, the man himself.

Dena Kaye speaks about her father in "Danny Kaye: Joy to the World." Steve Henry shows off the "Sisters" dresses at The Rosemary Clooney House in Augusta, Kentucky.

"Danny Kaye: Joy to the World" (13:12) turns the spotlight on the performer and his dance and physical comedy talents.
As much time is spent on Kaye's efforts to promote the causes of UNICEF. We also hear from his daughter Dena Kaye and Hofstra University arts director Robert Spiotto takes us to Kaye's Brooklyn birthplace and other sites of relevance.

"Irving Berlin's White Christmas" (7:22) centers on the much-covered, best-selling titular song. Musicologists weigh in on the tune's appeal and Berlin's methods (he always wrote in the key of F-sharp), while Berlin's daughter Mary Ellin Barrett and others briefly discuss the rarely-heard opening verse that changes the song's setting and meaning.

"Rosemary's Old Kentucky Home" (13:28) has relatives of Rosemary Clooney (including George Clooney's father Nick) discussing the Augusta house and neighborhood the singer loved. We then get a tour of the Rosemary Clooney museum that the house's owners (a former Miss America and her husband) have turned it into, with specific attention paid to the contents of the White Christmas room, which are also commented upon from a Paramount archivist's perspective.

Rosemary Clooney takes a look back at "White Christmas" in this 2000 interview. This photo gallery still offers a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the guys' "Sisters" reprise.

"White Christmas: From Page to Stage" (4:23) gives us some looks at the recent stage musical, which left Broadway in early 2010 following multiple national tours but was revived for London's West End this holiday season. The show's creators discuss how and why they went about adapting this film for modern theatergoers.

Carried over from 2000 is "White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney" (16:45), the only 1.33:1 SD featurette of the bunch. Clooney takes time to share her experiences with each of her major collaborators on the film: Vera-Ellen, Kaye, Crosby, Dean Jagger, Mary Wickes, Berlin, director Michael Curtiz, and costumer Edith Head. Her comments are more candid and detailed than you might expect and they're complimented by linking official narration that gives this nice piece the feel of an all-purpose turn-of-the-century retrospective.

Four HD photo galleries, which were not included on past DVDs, serve up the following black & white images: Rehearsals (11 stills), Behind the Scenes (15 stills), Filming (19 stills), and Publicity Shots (9 stills).

"White Christmas" makes every day a holiday, or so claims its theatrical rerelease trailer. The DVD uses its additional menus to display additional imagery from the film.

Last but not least we get two White Christmas HD theatrical trailers: one from its original release (2:26) talking up VistaVision and the other from a rerelease (2:11).

Gladly and in contrast to Paramount's treatment of new films, almost everything from the Blu-ray makes it to one of the two DVDs included here.
That's a nice touch few studios these days bother to provide, as bonus feature discs have all but become obsolete on DVD, even though that format continues to outsell by a significant margin (despite the obvious advantage that combo packs counting as Blu-ray sales give that format). Paramount does offer those two DVDs on their own as well, though the Blu-ray and CD make the combo pack a more attractive purchase at just a few dollars more. The one casualty -- and it's a confusing one -- is the sing-along mode, which should have been easy to adapt for DVD's less sophisticated subtitles.

The set's fourth and final disc is an audio CD titled Bing, Danny, Rosemary & Friends: The Sounds of Christmas. This twelve-track album provides 34 minutes and 42 seconds of entertainment. It's obviously not nearly as cool as if the film's actual soundtrack were included, but it's not like this compilation doesn't show thought, consisting entirely of (not obviously public domain) holiday songs performed by leading White Christmas cast members.

Here is the full track listing:
1. Rosemary Clooney - "Winter Wonderland"
2. Bing Crosby - "Deck the Halls/Away in a Manger/O, Little Town of Bethlehem/The First Noel"
3. Danny Kaye - "Waltz Around the Christmas Tree"
4. Bing Crosby & Ella Fitzgerald - "A Marshmallow World"
5. Rosemary Clooney - "The Christmas Song"
6. Bing Crosby - "Just What I Wanted for Christmas"
7. Rosemary Clooney - "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town"
8. Danny Kaye & Peggy Lee - "Jingle Bells"
9. Bing Crosby & Judy Garland - "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
10. Rosemary Clooney - "Home for the Holidays"
11. Danny Kaye - "Some Children See Him"
12. Bing Crosby - "The Night Before Christmas"

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray and both DVDs opt for simple, static menus, their main screens adapting the somewhat ridiculous-looking retro cover art which itself comes from a theatrical rerelease poster design (whose text Christmas tree has evolved into a more of an odd red pyramid). The BD supports bookmarking on the film, but doesn't resume playback otherwise.

The three video discs (given the studio's usual bland labels, blue for Blu-ray and gray for DVD) share a standard, insert-less blue keepcase. The audio CD is held in a small but fully-decorated paper envelope affixed to the keepcase with an adhesive glob. Everything slides into a festive slipcover, which features an embossed title and applies glittery snow to the tree design and scattered stars. A sticker placed over the billing block on back, teased on the front cover, announces that The Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation and Paramount Pictures have made a combined donation of $100,000 to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF in honor of the 60th anniversaries of both White Christmas' release and Danny Kaye's appointment as UNICEF's first Goodwill Ambassador.

Gee, these two veterans (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) wish they were back in the Army.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

White Christmas grows on me with every viewing. Unabashedly a 1950s musical, this lends more to simple enjoyment than scholastic admiration, but that's just fine. That makes it more comparable to hit modern comedies like Home Alone and Elf than instantly respected classic dramas like It's a Wonderful Life and the original Miracle on 34th Street. If anything, that only adds to this charming piece of entertainment's considerable replay value.

Many were probably more than happy with whatever multi-disc edition of White Christmas they owned, but Paramount has truly made this Diamond Anniversary Edition a clear-cut upgrade over all previous releases. The practically perfect feature presentation is complemented by hours of substantial extras including some valuable new inclusions like those TV appearances, the sing-along mode, and the Danny Kaye UNICEF short film. Though no treasure, the bonus CD is the cherry on top of this already delectable set, which should satisfy all who still appreciate physical media. Even those of you with small, selective holiday collections should give serious thought to this highly commendable release.

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Blu-ray + DVD + CD / New 2-Disc DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Christmas Films on Blu-ray: It's a Wonderful Life • Babes in Toyland • The Muppet Christmas Carol • The Santa Clause • Scrooged
Christmas Films on DVD: Elf • Happy Holidays Collection • Santa Claus: The Movie • The Monuments Men
1950s on Blu-ray: All That Heaven Allows • Cinerama Holiday • House of Wax • Peter Pan • From Here to Eternity • On the Waterfront
Musicals: A Star Is Born • Oliver! • Mary Poppins • Gypsy • Funny Girl • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory • Jersey Boys
2014 Holiday Discs: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer • Garfield Holiday Collection • A Merry Friggin' Christmas • Northpole
Bing Crosby: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad | Danny Kaye: The Muppet Show: Season 3

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Reviewed December 24, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1954 Paramount Pictures and 2014 Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.