Reviews — December 7
The 1954 musical “White Christmas” was not, in fact, the first Bing Crosby vehicle to feature the famous song penned by Irving Berlin. That distinction goes to the 1942 film “Holiday Inn,” which featured Crosby crooning while Fred Astaire’s (playing a real cad) dances up a storm.
It’s not as warm or as much stupid fun as the 1954 film (the viewing of which is, in my household, an annual holiday tradition) but it’s worth seeing all the same. Crosby plays a singer who opens an inn that operates only on major holidays. Astaire plays his partner who regularly torpedoes Crosby’s lame attempts at romance. As always, the dancing is amazing and incorporates a lot of great comedy, particularly the George Washington sequence.
Be forewarned: If you get the DVD, you will be subjected to the infamous and truly awful “Abraham” sequence, which has Crosby doing a musical tribute to Lincoln in blackface, which is mercifully cut in some TV broadcasts. That’s what the “skip” button is for, unless you want to cringe through a sampling of undiluted WWII-era racism. Beyond that, however, the film’s climax includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the sprawling set, which is unusual and pretty cool — and within the context of the story, it actually makes sense.
“Holiday Inn” (1942) Directed by Mark Sandrich. Starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale. 100 minutes. Unrated. Not really a Christmas film, but the story begins and concludes at Christmas.
I didn’t expect to like “The Judge Who Stole Christmas” — especially after I flipped through it and noticed that the bad guy is named Mr. Harrod and the title character’s name is one often associated with a non-Christian religion. I thought it would be a a heavy-handed diatribe disguised, thinly, as a novel.
It turns out to be a much more well-rounded examination of different viewpoints about what’s appropriate where when it comes to the Christmas celebration.
Thomas and Theresa Hammond are playing Joseph and Mary in a living nativity scene in the town square in tiny Possum, Va. Some visitors come to pet the animals, others for a reminder of the Christmas story before they head off to see Santa and sip wassail. And some bow before the manger, praying and worshiping the doll Jesus.
Then Harrod, a lawyer for the ACLU, interrupts, handing the devout couple a summons. It’s illegal for them to proselytize on public property, he tells them, even if the mayor — a fellow member of their conservative Baptist Church — gave them permission.
Soon they’re in court — Thomas Hammond, the mayor, the city attorney and Jasmine, a third-year law student who’s been assigned to represent Hammond pro bono.
At first, Jasmine looks at the case simply as a distraction — she’s busy with finals and over the moon about a job offer from a high-paying, prestigious New York firm. But she’s drawn to the cause, as well; a Possum native, she shares the Hammonds’ conservative Christian beliefs.
Jasmine’s also distracted by basketball. A former star player and daughter of a beloved coach, she watches her late father’s replacement make hash of the current team, on which her sister plays.
What does basketball — and there’s a lot of it in this book — have to do with the law, separation of church and state, and the Christmas story? More than you might expect.
Author Randy Singer does a good job balancing basketball with the legal arguments and the religious ones, and he offers a look at the various shades of belief that exist on all sides. It’s a thought-provoking read for the Christmas season.
“The Judge Who Stole Christmas,” Randy Singer, Waterbrook Press, 2005.