“Holiday Inn” (1942) gives us a brief New Year’s Eve scene, which though released during the first year of our involvement in World War II, gives us no indication of any war theme or trouble brewing for the new year.
Except for the Independence Day scene where a musical montage shows us fighting men, factory war production, Douglas MacArthur, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, most of this film is blissfully unaware of the war overseas, or gas rationing, food ration stamps and points. Among the inn’s guests, there is conspicuously not a uniform in sight.
The film begins on Christmas Eve, in what is evidently the year 1940, and there are actually three Christmas Eves that occur before the conclusion. In the New Year’s Eve scenes, which must be as 1941 turns into 1942, there is not a mention of the catastrophic Pearl Harbor bombing with brought us into the war only some three weeks previously to the donning of paper hats.
But paper hats there are galore in Bing Crosby’s new Holiday Inn which celebrates its grand opening in this New Year’s Eve party. There are a few tuxedos among the guests, a few furs, but most of the men are dressed in suits, and among the women there are even knit tops with skirts, as if the more austere war years have indeed made their presence known even if not openly discussed in the movie. Fred Astaire, who makes a drunken arrival after being left by his dance partner and fiancée, looks overdressed in his top hat, white tie and tails. The similar absence of elegant Easter finery in the Easter sequence of this film was discussed last April in this entry.
The New Year’s Eve scene begins with newspaper clippings that tell of the opening of the Inn, and Bing and Marjorie Reynolds sing “Come to Holiday Inn” to a full house.
If the traffic noise affects you
Like a squeaky violin,
Kick your cares down the stairs
And come to Holiday Inn.
The Inn’s cook, Mamie, played by Louise Beavers wears an enormous chef’s hat, and when her poker-faced kids are not taking part in the floor show dressed as Father Time and Baby New Year, they are shadowing her wherever she goes. Miss Beavers in real life did not like to cook, despite playing cooks and servants throughout her film career, and very prudently married a man who was a chef.
Bing and Marjorie, along with Mamie and the kids, and a few hired waitresses, hide out in the kitchen, help themselves to some food, and sing “Kissing the Old Year Out.” They do not actually kiss the old year out, in fact, nobody does. We hear the shouts of Happy New Year from the other room, and Bing and Marjorie get back out onto the dance floor, where everybody is dancing and Fred shows up a little drunk and despondent. When he dances with Marjorie, he decides she is his new dance partner and his new love. Bing and Fred spend the rest of the movie stealing her away from each other.
The drunken dance number Fred Astaire performs with Marjorie Reynolds is quite stunning in its athleticism. To continually stumble, wobble, and nearly collapse but not quite would likely take more energy than to do the dance properly. He does fall spectacularly on the floor at the end, perhaps helped by what is reported as his having taken several drinks of bourbon before each take of this number to help him play it convincingly.
No one says, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” Everybody says “Happy New Year!”