Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christmas 2015: December 13

Holiday Inn (1942)

One of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time is “White Christmas.” It’s a good song, casting many of the traditional Christmas images through a cloud of nostalgia and melancholy. The song originates in a movie but not the one that bares its name. Instead, it came from an earlier film, 1942’s “Holiday Inn.” Though the film was once popular enough to lend its name to a real life chain of hotels, now the hotels are probably more famous. I don’t have much familiarity with the work of Bing Crosby, outside a few of the “Road to” flicks. My mom, however, loves Fred Astaire so I’ve seen quite a few of his films before. I’ve probably seen “Holiday Inn” before but do not recall it. Considering Christmas time is coming up, it seems appropriate to give the film a watch.

Jim Hardy and Ted Hanover are popular nightclub performers, a singer and dancer respectively. Jim hopes to marry the woman he loves and retire to a farm. That is, until Ted steals her away. Jim doesn’t find farm life agreeing with him very much either. He touches upon the idea of turning the farm into a hotel, open only on holidays and always featuring a big show. After the woman breaks Ted’s heart, he winds up dancing at the Holiday Inn as well. There, another woman named Linda comes into both men’s lives, winning both of their hearts. Soon, strife arises in the Holiday Inn, as Hollywood comes calling to Ted and Linda.

“Holiday Inn” features song from Irving Berlin, who was a superstar songwriter in his time and remains a beloved part of the American songbook. Though not based on a stage musical, “Holiday Inn” is still structured like one. The plot is truthfully just an excuse for a bunch of holiday-themed musical numbers. Admittedly, some of those are pretty great. “I’ll Capture Your Heart Singing” nicely shows the differences between what Crosby and Astaire can do. “Lazy” plays over a montage of Crosby stumbling around his farm, which is funny. “White Christmas” is, of course, the classic. It’s performed quietly on the piano, Bing singing to Marjorie Reynolds.  “Song of Freedom” is enthusiastically performed. It builds towards the showstopper of the film, where Astaire does a solo dance while tossing around firecrackers.

Not all the songs are as memorable though. “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” is the Valentine’s Day number and the kind of maudlin old songs too often associated with Bing Crosby. “I Can’t Tell a Lie” features some fun dancing from Astaire, while wearing a powdered wig, but the song is totally forgettable. “Let’s Start the New Year Right” has an okay melody but doesn’t stick in the brain much. “Happy Holiday” has also become a classic but I’m not a fan, as its lyrics are insipid and its melody is repetitive. There are some other songs that are forgettable. “Abraham” is memorable but for the wrong reasons. Yep, that is the infamous blackface sequence. Astaire, Reynolds, and all the back-up dancers are in blackface, in Antebellum clothes, with just awful ethnic wigs on. The song features some embarrassing Ebonics-esque lyrics. This number just draws attention to the Mammy-style maid character in the rest of the film. Times change and all that. I understand the historical context. It still makes the film an uncomfortable watch.

The non-singing, non-dancing moments in “Holiday Inn” are less consistently interesting. The film begins with Astaire and Crosby as two points of a love triangle. Astaire has won the heart of Bing’s fiancée, causing the both of them to run off and leave Bing in a lurch. Despite the deception and presumed heartbreak, the two remain friends. Midway through the film, when Linda enters the picture, “Holiday Inn” becomes another love triangle story. The original girl waltz back in eventually as well, guaranteeing both men end up with a wife by the movie’s end. The entire film progresses like that, a series of revolving love triangles. It’s not especially compelling stuff. (That the story resolves with a woman abandoning her successful career to become a stay-at-home wife is also uncomfortable to modern eyes.) The attempts at comic relief, which involve a car repeatedly driving into a river, are relatively dire. Script wise, there’s just not a lot to “Holiday Inn.”

Of course, maybe that’s the entire point. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire were two of the biggest stars of their day, so getting both in a movie together predictably resulted in a huge hit. Musicals in the forties were akin to modern day action blockbusters. Slot out giant explosions for song-and-dance numbers. That’s what got the audiences in the theaters. Crosby and Astaire are both incredibly charming and Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale are decent co-stars for each. Beyond those fabulous songs and dances, there’s not too much worth remembering about “Holiday Inn.” It’s also only partially a Christmas movie. [6/10]

The Adventures Sam & Max: Freelance Police: Christmas Bloody Christmas

When “Sam & Max: Freelance Police” premiered on Fox Kids back in the late nineties, I had no familiarity with the indie comic books and cult classic computer games that spawned the series. I watched the show because I watched most everything on Fox’s Saturday mornings back then. Luckily, the show’s demented humor was right in my wheelhouse at the time. Though plenty of cartoons came and went in the late nineties, for some reason “Sam & Max” always stuck with me. When Shout! Factory gave the overlooked series a DVD release some time ago, I picked it up out of curiosity and nostalgia. The show, though not atypical for kids programming of the time, holds up pretty well. Naturally, they did a Christmas episode.

Sam and Max are spending the holidays in a secluded forest cabin when Sam’s grandmother finds them. A former merchant marine and prison warden, Grandma invites Sam and Max to the Christmas celebration on the Blood Island prison compound. There, a notorious criminal named Hurtzog and his gang plan a prison break. Sam, Max, and Grandma work together to recapture the prisoners and save the prison’s Christmas celebration.

“Christmas Bloody Christmas” is probably not the highlight of “Sam & Max’s” run. The comics and video games were way edgier then the cartoon show. You can tell creator Steven Purcell’s twisted humor is being restrained. This results in some lame gags. Such as the villain escaping via an inflatable pool toy or a fruitcake being used as a weapon. Purcell still sneaked in some sick jokes. This is likely the only kids’ show to feature a prison rape joke, dropped soap included. There’s also lots of references to R-rated movies. One of the prisoners says a modified Hannibal Lector quote. Hurtzog is visually patterned after Jeremy Irons’ character in “Die Hard with a Vengeance.” The setting allows for several shout-outs to “Escape from Alcatraz.” Mostly, the show is worth seeing for Max’s non-sequitur jokes, off-hand comments on what’s happening. Though mildly amusing, the episode doesn’t represent the show at its best. Those without a nostalgic connection to “Sam & Max” probably won’t get much out of it. On the plus side, it’s only ten minutes long. [6/10]

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