The Cast and Characters in Michael Curtiz’s White Christmas
The film begins with Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) on the European front during World War II, entertaining their army division with a Christmas musical show. But their commanding general, Thomas Waverly (Dean Jagger) isn’t present. General Waverly was to be redeployed back to the United States, replaced by a hard-nosed commander who, from the film’s initial scenes, cared little about Christmas shows.
Waverly makes a last minute appearance during Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas.” From the faces of the soldiers, many soon to die, the prospect of being at home with family at this time of year leaves a deep impression. It reminds the viewer of Judy Garland’s tear-jerking “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” As the men join in a rousing chorus of “We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go…,” bombs explode and the enemy attacks.
Christmas is cut short on the battle front and Bob almost dies, saved at the last minute by Private Davis. Davis uses Bob’s guilt to form a duo when they return state-side. Although dubious of success, Bob is won over when “Wallace and Davis” make it to the “big time.” As the headline in Variety exclaimed, their act was “Boffo.”
Betty, Judy and the Inn in Vermont Weaves the White Christmas Plot
Bob and Phil meet Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and her sister Judy (Vera Ellen) in Florida. The highlight of the sister act is the number “Sisters” but the best musical scene involves a dance sequence with Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen. Phil connives to entangle Bob with Betty and, on a train north, the group convince Bob to vacation for the holidays in Vermont. Irving Berlin’s “Snow” characterizes the romantic element of the Christmas holiday. What would Christmas be without snow? Irving Berlin composed all of the songs in White Christmas.
But Vermont is balmy and vacation bookings are down. The Columbia Inn, which hired the Haynes’ sisters, (Betty and Judy) is empty. The Inn, however, is owned by a retired General Waverly and run by his housekeeper Emma (Mary Wickes) and his daughter Susan. Here is where the plot crystallizes.
The Message of the Film White Christmas
The general has sunk all of his savings and pension into the Inn but the lack of snow was pointing to bankruptcy. Waverly has applied for a new active-duty command. But nobody wanted an old general, as Phil declared in a song, “what do you do with a general when he stops being a general?” According to Emma, the old grist-mill had become a “Tyrolean haunted house,” an albatross around Waverly’s neck.
Although Betty has fallen in love with Bob and Judy feels strong ties to Phil, Bob’s decision to bring his entire show to the Inn smacks of profit. Betty obtains wrong information on this and abruptly leaves for New York, even after Phil and Judy fake an engagement.
But the real message is selflessness. Bob goes on national television to ask members of his division to travel to Vermont on Christmas Eve to give the general the “nicest present” he will ever know. And hundreds respond. Waverly, who has been passed over for a request to return to active duty from a letter he received, knows nothing of the plans.