Holiday Inn

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This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 1942
Rating: NR (but really I for Infuriating)
Currently Streaming on Netflix? No

Earlier this week, my husband and I were in the mood for a Christmas movie we hadn’t seen over and over again. I’ve been fighting some nasty cold (it’s almost made me think I’ve had influenza a couple of times but I haven’t had a fever or very many body aches) so novels and movies have been my friends. Holiday Inn was OnDemand. I hadn’t seen it in years—I think my last viewing was when I was home for Christmas during college. My husband had never seen Holiday Inn so we chose it from a long list of movies. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, what could go wrong?

The premise of the movie is that Jim Hardy (Crosby) is tired of the travel and hubbub of show business and wants to “go relax” and be a farmer with his singing partner Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds). Unfortunately for Jim, Ted Hanover (Astaire) has been wooing Linda on the side and wants her to stay in the act with him and not be drowned by domesticity down on the farm. Dialogue between Jim and Ted indicate there has been a long history of girlfriend “stealing” between the two men. Linda chooses to stay with Ted while Jim tries to tough it out on the farm he has purchased. But surprise! Being a farmer is as hard, if not harder, than being in show business. Realizing he is not cut out for farming, Jim decided to renovate the big farm house into an inn, which will only be open on holidays. This will minimize his work and provide a hook for people to come from New York City to the inn for the various holidays. Through a series of mishaps, Jim discovers Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) and has her sing and dance in the Holiday Inn shows. Sure enough, he starts to fall in love with Lila about the time that Linda abandons Ted for a Texas millionaire.

All is well and good in old movie time and space for quite a bit of screen time. Bing Crosby sings. Fred Astaire dances. There is slapstick humor and a money-grubbing manager. But on Lincoln’s birthday, my husband and I ran into some serious trouble, as the entire musical number is performed in blackface. I had never seen this scene before, I didn’t know it existed. We didn’t have and then couldn’t afford cable growing up, so the only time I had ever seen Holiday Inn was on network TV—where they with forethought, edited this scene out.

I think everyone has to swallow a certain amount when watching old movies—the depiction of women (which really hasn’t improved that much), the stereotypes of other races and religions, the complete lack of people of color (still working on that one, too) but what was most painful about the blackface was the complete norm of it as well as Lila’s ingenuous but cutting and awful comment as Jim is applying her blackface, “For a month and a half I’ve been dreaming how pretty I was going to look tonight. Well, here is my punishment for thinking so well of myself.” The code here is that a black face could never be pretty and it is chilling to watch. For those people who think we are “post-racial” and that there is “white discrimination” if the pictures of lynchings and cross burnings from the 60s don’t impact these people, or seeing black unarmed teenagers gunned down for merely existing today, seeing Mamie (Louise Beavers) have to sing to her children in the kitchen because black entertainers aren’t allowed to entertain a white audience probably won’t change anyone’s mind about the history of race relations in the United States.

I’m not a big fan of censorship. A few years ago there was a push to take the N-word out of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and I disagreed strongly. But part of me was glad that I got to enjoy Holiday Inn as a younger person without being confronted with its racial reality. Because now I can never go back and I will never watch that movie again. Many people herald older movies as somehow better—from a more innocent time, a time when there were values and decency. Holiday Inn proves that in the United States of America, there has never been a time of innocence, values and decency. That we have always complacently accepted injustice and called it “just the way things are.”

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