Once a year, Americans gather together to share gifts, sip eggnog and celebrate the memory of the greatest popular singer this country has produced, Bing Crosby. And because he wasn’t a bad actor, either, this week’s special seasonal edition of “New DVDs” in the New York Times examines “The Bing Crosby Collection,” a recent set of early Paramount Crosby vehicles released by Universal Home Video, and Paramount Home Video’s excellent new Blu-ray edition of Michael Curtiz’s 1954 “White Christmas,” derived from the original Vista Vision elements and looking very spruce in high definition.
Though it’s usually considered a commercial follow-up to the 1942 Crosby-Astaire-Berlin hit “Holiday Inn,” “White Christmas” also works as a sequel to and completion of the Curtiz-Berlin “This Is the Army” of 1943 — a symbolic attempt to move past wartime trauma and recover the innocence of a pre-war America “just like the one we used to know.” Alas, in the context of an escalating Cold War, this Arcadia is no longer accessible, if indeed it ever existed — a reality the film acknowledges with a sublimely subconscious Brechtian climax.
During the final reprise of “White Christmas,” the rear wall of the nightclub set lifts to reveal another set behind it: a New England scene right out of a department store window, complete with gently falling soap-flake snow. Crosby’s performance, as apparently effortless as always, is shaped by a melancholia never addressed by the screenplay (his troubled wife, Dixie Lee, had died just weeks before filming began), lending this apparent trifle an unexpected emotional depth. But that, of course, had been a Crosby specialty since the start of his career.