Plot: Jim (Bing Crosby) is part of a song & dance trio, but he has plans to leave it behind and embrace a more relaxed lifestyle. But he won’t be going alone, as he plans to take dance partner Lila (Virginia Dale) with him, which would leave the third member Ted (Fred Astaire) out in the cold. But in a twist, Ted and Lila have decided to get together and when Jim learns the truth, he is crushed. He still heads to his laid back life, but the farm life proves to be even more work than show business. So he hatches a new plan, to open the farm as an inn and only be open on holidays, to give people a place to relax and take in a show on those special dates. When Ted’s manager pawns off a persistent fame seeker named Linda (Marjorie Reynolds) on Jim, it turns out to be a coup, as she fits in well in his Holiday Inn performances. The two also connect on a romantic level, but when Ted shows back up, jilted by Lila, he sets his sights on Linda, despite her being involved with Jim. Will Jim find himself left behind once again, or is Linda his one true love?
Entertainment Value: Holiday Inn has remained a popular Christmas movie for decades, thanks to some big star power, a romantic narrative, and a blend of music and comedy. The premise is a solid one, with Fred Astaire as a masterful dancer and Bing Crosby as a world class vocalist, with both seemingly always after the same woman, despite their obvious friendship. The musical numbers are sure to please genre fans, with Astaire hoofing it up in grand style, but I preferred the comedy aspect of the movie to the musical elements. Crosby really starts to shine once he opens the inn, while Astaire is fun to watch as a cad, even if the movie never gives him much comeuppance for his ruthless behavior. I do appreciate the banter between Crosby and Astaire however, as the two work well together, especially in this kind of friendly rivalry. Marjorie Reynolds is bright and dynamic as the woman in the middle, but I dislike how her angle in the romance was played, it doesn’t make much sense and kind of dampens the finale. The way her role is handled in the final stretch just seems odd and out of place, a cheap twist to secure a big finish. The supporting cast is fine as well, with Virginia Dale, Louise Beavers, and Walter Abel in smaller roles.
While Holiday Inn has earned a place in the Christmas cinema pantheon, it does feel a little more dated and dusty than some of its peers, in my opinion. The song & dance routines don’t have a lot of flash or style, just letting the natural talents of the leads take center stage. While the cast is terrific, a little more showmanship or grandeur would have been nice, I think. When tossing a few firecrackers is the most memorable part of a musical’s dance routines, that’s not a great sign. But fans of old school, scaled back musical routines will appreciate the approach, I am sure. I did like how they shoehorned in a number for each of the holidays, including a wild, certain to raise eyebrows blackface routine for Lincoln’s birthday. The blackface sequence is likely to offend and alienate some viewers, especially Reynolds’ part in the sequence. As I mentioned before, the romance isn’t all that well handled, while the Linda/Ted thread feels rushed and how Linda acts towards the end is nonsense, just to set up the grand finish. The movie is also on the slow side, but if you’re a big fan of the leads, that might not be much of an issue. But being a little more slow and dated than some of the other holiday classics doesn’t push Holiday Inn out the mix, is it still a fun movie, just not quite on the same level as the best in the genre.