“White Christmas” Ethics (UPDATED)

White-Christmas

I just watched“White Christmas” again when my wife wasn’t around (she hates it), and was again struck by how entertaining it manages to be while making no sense at all and containing one ethics breach or gaffe after another. Ethics Alarms did an ethics review of the film in 2012, and reading it now, I realize I was too kind. This is an update.

Yes, I still get a lump in my throat when the old general, played by Dean Jagger, gets saluted by his reunited army unit, which has gathered at his struggling, snowless, Vermont inn on Christmas Eve to remind him that he is still remembered and loved. Nonetheless, it is by far the strangest of the Christmas movies, and also the most unethical. Though everything works out in the end, the characters in the sloppy plot spend the whole movie lying, extorting, betraying, manipulating and generally mistreating each other, always with no recriminations at all, and usually with no consequences either.

The movie starts out with guilt extortion. Army private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) rescues his smooth-singing captain, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) from being crushed by a falling wall in a World War II bombing raid. (It’s not a plot feature, but the battlefield set for the entire opening sequence is itself unethical by being chintzy even by musical standards: it looks like they are filming a skit for a Bob Hope Christmas Special.  I thought it was lousy when I saw it as a kid.) Phil then uses Wallace’s debt of gratitude to coerce him into accepting the aspiring comic as a partner in Wallace’s already successful civilian act. This is obviously unfair and exploitative, but Bing accepts the ploy with good spirits, and the next we see  the new team of Wallace and Davis knocking ’em dead and rising in the ranks of stage stars. Now they have a show on Broadway, and as a favor to a mutual army buddy, they agree to watch the boonies nightclub act of “The Haynes Sisters” (Rosemary Clooney as Betty. and Vera-Ellen, of wasp-waist fame, as kid sister Judy. Did you know that in the “Sisters” number, Clooney sang both parts? ). Bing is immediately smitten with older sister Rosemary, but there is a tiff over the fact that younger sister Judy fooled them into seeing their act: she, not her brother, had sent the letter asking for a “favor.”

This is the first revealed of many lies woven into the script. This one is a double beach of ethics: Judy uses her brother’s name and contacts without his permission or knowledge, and lures Wallace and Davis to the night club under false pretenses.

Bing dismisses Judy’s cheat by noting that everyone “has an angle” in show business, so he’s not angry. Rosemary is, though, and reprimands Bing for being cynical. That’s right: Vera/Judy uses their brother’s name to trick two Broadway stars into watching their little act, and Rosemary/ Betty is annoyed because Bing/Bob (Bing’s bandleader, look-alike, sound-alike brother was also named Bob) shrugs off the lie as show business as usual. True, Betty is technically correct to flag the Everybody Does It rationalization, but shouldn’t she be grateful that Bob isn’t reaming out the Haynes sisters and leaving the club in a huff? OK, nice and uncynical is better than nice and cynical, but Bob is still giving her and Judy a break.

As we soon find out, however, Betty is prone to flying off the handle.

It seems that the girls are about to be arrested because they skipped out of their hotel room without paying, because, they say, the owner wanted to charge them for a burnt hole in their room’s carpet. Phil assumes, without confirming it, that this is an attempted scam by the hotel, though Judy, who relates the circumstances, is already established as a con-artist.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she was smoking a joint and set the carpet on fire. In either event, they still owe for the bill. This happens in old movies all the time: the heroes stiff landlords what they are owed, and the landlords are the villains.  Whole generations were raised to believe that skipping out on the rent was the kind of thing good people did.

How many liberals got started with this concept, I wonder?

Phil/Danny arranges to let the sisters escape (thus abetting theft)  to the train, which will take the  girls to a gig at a Vermont inn. Wallace and Davis stall the fuzz by doing the sisters’ final number (and apparently the act’s only number) in drag. Thanks for the obstruction of justice, guys! The boys barely escape arrest themselves after their spoof and jump on the same train. (The number was largely improvised by Bing and Danny, and the take used in the film by the director, Michael Curtiz, who was a long way from “Casablanca,” was supposed to be ditched. The famously unflappable Crosby was cracked up by Kaye’s clowning, and reportedly was angry that an “unprofessional” moment made it into the film. Not unethical by Curtiz, unless he promised Bing he wouldn’t use the take, though. His duty is to the film, not the star.)

The lovely sisters are going to Vermont, so Danny and Bing, who have a whole cast and show waiting for them and depending on them in New York, decide to abandon their responsibilities and chase tail to Vermont too. Surprise #1 when they get to the inn: no snow. Surprise #2: the inn is owned by none other than General Waverly, Bob and Phil’s much-admired commander during the war, now retired and going broke running a ski lodge where nobody can ski. The general is the only consistently ethical character in this movie, and he, against all self-interest, says that he will pay the Haynes Sisters full salary to play to crickets, though he had an out in their contract that could have saved him half their fees.

If they had any honor, they wouldn’t accept it. The Haynes sisters are cashing in, clearly, on sexist male bias. Then  again, this is how the Betty and Judy—especially Judy– roll. It’s how all gorgeous women roll in Hollywood films. Is it unethical for women to appeal to men’s brain-numbing hormones with faint suggestions of potential lust and love that the women know is a fantasy, because they also know many men fall for it no many how many times experience proves them to be saps?

I think so.

But then I’m bitter.

Now Bob/Bing  gets the generous, kind, irresponsible and stupid idea to haul the whole Broadway show up to Vermont from New York on the theory that Wallace and Davis will draw the customers that the lack of white stuff is keeping away. He is doing this at a guaranteed financial loss, not just to him, but to Phil, and also his investors, who he doesn’t consult or let in on his plans, and the theater owners, who were counting on some Christmas tourist trade, and couldn’t possibly get another show ready.  It’s a bright line breach of fiduciary duty, and in the real world of show business would get the team sued faster than Danny Kaye could sing “Tchaikovsky.”

The laws of economic reality, contracts and common sense don’t operate in Vermont, apparently.

This would explain Bernie Sanders.

When the cast gets to the inn, Betty and Judy are suddenly installed as the two female leads in the show, meaning that whoever they replaced had their contracts breached without warning because Danny and Bing have designs on the Haynes sister. (Everybody’s got an angle). This is inexcusable, irresponsible, and wrong.  Wallace and Davis have seen the sister perform one number (that the guys did better), if you don’t count the dumb “Snow” number they jam on in the dining car, and based on that, kick out the equivalent female leads that made the Broadway show the success it apparently was. This kind of thing may happen in show business, but it is despicable, conflicted, dishonest and irresponsible when it does. And the guys doing it in “White Christmas” are the heroes.

Meanwhile, no Golden Rule second thoughts from Betty and Judy about the performers they put out of work by batting their eyes—screw the other women! It’s everyone for themselves in this warm-hearted Christmas classic!

Bob then gets the brainstorm of holding a reunion of the general’s men on Christmas eve, when the show is scheduled to open. This nicely solves the problem that the performance would have no audience otherwise, but it requires Bob to pull out an IOU from an Ed Sullivan-like TV variety show host, who lets Bob turn a nationally broadcast TV show into a personal commercial, both for the general’s surprise party and the stage show. This would be illegal today, and may have been in 1954. I’m sure the TV show’s sponsors would have been annoyed, and with good cause.

But as Bob is arranging the deal, the inn’s busybody housekeeper, played by the wonderful Mary Wickes, eavesdrops on half the conversation by listening in on the extension phone. She thinks that Bob and Phil are setting up General Waverly for a nationally televised, “This is Your Life”-style exploitation of his fall from military power to struggling innkeeper, which would humiliate the old man. She’s a rat for wiretapping, and she also decides to tell Betty about the supposed plot, killing the apparent romance between her and Der Bingle. Betty’s so disillusioned by what she sees as his heartless and crass use of the general for cheap publicity that she just quits the show, and runs to New York to open a new solo act. Huh? If she was so concerned about the general, why didn’t she warn him what was about to happen? (Wickes doesn’t tell him either, though she says that the humiliation will kill him. Maybe she wants him dead? ) Why doesn’t Betty/Rosemary tell her sister, rather than just leaving their long-time act with no notice but a cowardly note? Why doesn’t she confront Bob?

No, better to leave everybody in the lurch and guessing, without being responsible and trying to address any of the problems she sees, or thinks she sees.

Meanwhile, Judy and Phil get the idea that what is really stopping older sister Betty’s budding romance with Bing/Bob is that she wants to see little sister Judy safely married first. Their idiotic and unethical solution? They announce, falsely, that they are getting married, not just deceiving Betty, but the whole cast of the show, a massive, manipulative lie. It doesn’t work, but that’s due to moral luck.

Betty still abandons the show and Bob, but also sabotages her sister, the general, the inn, and her fellow cast members, since it is rather difficult to replace your leading lady a week before your elaborate musical revue opens in Nowheresville, Vermont. For most performers, doing this would guarantee a lifetime, career-ending industry blackball, and should. You don’t leave a show and  cast when everyone is relying on you because you have an argument with an another cast member or the producer, or anyone. This is a theatrical cardinal sin. Moreover, Betty is being paid, by the General last we heard, to perform.

Betty also appears to steal some of the show’s dancers out of spite, since the men we see cavorting with her in her New York nightclub number are the same dancers (including pre-West Side Story George Chakiris) who were backing up Vera-Ellen in Vermont, during the rehearsal for the (god awful) “Abraham Number.” I know, the producers of the movie were just trying to save money by using the same dancers on both scenes….like that WWII set. The nightclub owner who hired her and allowed her to break he commitments to everybody to get back at Bob is also open to a massive lawsuit for interference with contractual arrangements.

[Side note: “White Christmas” misses having a political correctness problem by a hair…actually two hairs. That “Abraham” number was imported from the inspiration for “White Christmas,” “Holiday Inn,” and in that film, Bing sings about Abraham Lincoln in blackface. In the later “Mistrel Number,” Rosemary and Bing do a “Mister Bones” exchange; “Mister Bones” (or “Brother Bones” is also part of the blackface tradition.]

Then Betty sees the Pseudo Ed Sullivan Show broadcast and realizes that Bob’s motives are pure, and realizes that she made a big mistake. So she breaches her contract in New York, leaves the owner high and dry with advance sales to refund, and returns to the Vermont show a day or tow before it opens. (This means displacing the performer, probably a talented chorus member looking for her big break who has studied around the clock and rehearsed until her feet were bleeding to step in for Betty, who isn’t a big star and yet believes–correctly!—that she can just jump in and out of shows, songs, dance numbers and commitments at her whim and it’s up to everyone else to adjust.

I would never allow Betty back in the show, and neither should Bob, no matter what his designs on her may be. This is a pure conflict of interest on his part. Now, if the chorus sub for Betty isn’t up to the role, Bob’s got an ethics conflict. His duty is to put on the best show, and that may mean holding his nose,  taking Betty back and restoring her songs to her. Yet how can he trust her? How can anyone in the cast trust her? And Bob has proven that where she is concerned, blood is not rushing to his brain, so his judgment can’t be trusted to sort out the issue.

Phil should make the call, but he’s an idiot.

Meanwhile, nobody punches the housekeeper in the nose. She sparked this debacle by eavesdropping on a private conversation (dishonest, unfair, a breach of respect, autonomy and privacy), revealed it to others (confidentiality), and got the facts wrong, causing chaos. (Irresponsible and incompetent.)  Then she lies to General Waverly about sending all his suits to the cleaners to trick him into wearing his old uniform. This is based on the rationalization that it’s all for the best. Since this whole plot is in Ethics Hell by now, I think I’ll give her a pass.

The general is touched when he sees all his men gathered, and they again sing the catchy song they serenaded him with while the Germans were bombing them all those years ago. Just in time for the finale, it starts to snow (and a horse drawn sleigh appears seconds after the first flake hits the ground), as Bing, Danny, Rosemary and Vera-Ellen sing “White Christmas” in the fruitiest Santa costumes you ever saw in your life. Judy’s going to marry Phil for real now, Betty will wed Bob, and Bob and Phil, knowing that the show that they all headline is scheduled to go on the road, that the cast needs it to do so to get paid, and that the whole enterprise will fall apart without them, agree that what the hell, they’re going on long honeymoons anyway.

Of course they are.

 

31 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Popular Culture, Workplace

31 responses to ““White Christmas” Ethics (UPDATED)

  1. I guess this all explains why the original script ended with a chorus member blocking the exits and then torching the place as the schmucks sang “White Christmas”?

  2. This movie is a MUST for a re-make, with emphasis on the snowless resort being the result of CLIMATE CHANGE. I will go no further…

  3. Wayne

    Jack, you are wrecking my Christmas and that’s not right!! Lovable scoundrels were a part of many musicals and holiday movies in the 40s and 50s. These pictures weren’t supposed to be a lesson on ethic, I.e. “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

  4. Paul Compton

    You could spend the rest of your life running this work-up on movies and still not get out of the sixties. I tend to be one of those who blames Hollywood for the general decay in society!

    Then you would have to go on to critiquing the plots. I am sick of seeing movies, and the books behind them for that matter, with plot holes so enormous that I could reverse a road train through them. Star Trek Nemesis or The Da Vinci Code as examples, I felt I had been totally ripped off in both cases. Surely producing films that are ethics nightmares or with totally ludicrous plots should be treated the same as selling any other faulty product? Both actions are unethical in and of themselves. (Latin has been dead for a long time so I don’t need to use ‘legal’ jargon)

    But, it’s just entertainment isn’t it; people aren’t meant to take it seriously, therefore it’s all ok isn’t it. For any Sheldon’s out there I’m holding up my sarcasm sign.

  5. charlesgreen

    Delightful! You have a second (third?) career as a critic.

  6. Emily

    I think some of your ethical problems regarding the show business aspect are a misunderstanding. I’d need to rewatch to confirm, but I could have sworn that the situation was that Wallace and Davis’s show was on break for the Holidays (which is why Bob and Phil were going back to New York by themselves– they were going to be doing development or publicity or something.)

    I do know they mention, when brainstorming the idea, that they won’t be able to get the whole cast to come to Vermont. They’re basically offering a bonus to do a charity show, and they’ll fill in anyone who can’t make it with Betty and Judy– so presumably the female leads couldn’t make it, or those numbers were thrown in to fill in for other numbers.

    So there shouldn’t have been an issue with the cast. The investors, maybe, with all of those extra paychecks and moving costumes and sets (“somewhere between ouch and boing,”) but they weren’t missing any revenue, at least, since the show was on break.

    • Of course, Broadway shows don’t take breaks for the holidays, and never did, as far as I can determine. The plot also depends on the ignorance of the movie audience regarding what a full production requires as opposed to two women singing “Sisters.” Sets and people to build it; an orchestra, lights to be transported and hung and focused, stage hands, electrician, stage managers, costume staff, props handler,director: this requires easily 75 people minimum, with salary, transportation (round trip), food, daily expenses and lodging, as well as promotion. What’s your best guess what this coats? If Bing and Danny are that rich, why are they working?

      • In addition, Bing and Danny don’t own the show, or the costumes, or the set and props. There’s insurance, and repairs, and the theater presented the production with an exclusive contract: anyone who sees the show in Vermont doesn’t see it in New York. Bing sure doesn’t sound like he is personally paying for everything, does he?

        • SykesFive

          Actually it does sound to me like Wallace & Davis own the show and are thus in a sense personally paying for everything. When Davis interrupts the phone call about bringing the show to Vermont, I think it’s pretty clear that both he and Wallace are thinking about their decision’s impact on their personal finances, not how they will explain this to investors or seek approval from the producers or anything like that. This may be unrealistic but it is one of the movie’s givens.

          For that matter, the Wallace & Davis show just does close down for the holidays. Maybe this wasn’t customary at the time–I myself have seen big productions on Christmas Day though decades later–but that’s what the audience is told and there’s no reason to doubt it.

  7. Ahhhhh… shaddap already. Eat your fudge and popcorn and just watch the movie! (grumble…)

  8. Elizabeth I

    Was this a slow day? Who gives a damn? It’s a horrible movie, stupid from start to end (including plot, dialogue, and characters) and regardless of the cast (who in other movies are fun to watch), I would rather chew off my foot than watch it a second time — or even spend brain cells thinking about it. Ooof.

  9. S Schumacher

    Ever watch the classic “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”? Santa, the elves and the reindeer are bullying, closed-minded, selfish characters. They’re actually proud of their nasty behavior. Don’t even get me started with the maiming of the Bumble by pulling all his teeth out, then forcing him to labor as a “tree topper” putting stars on trees.

  10. BOB
    Thanks, fellows. I guess by now you
    know the Old Man’s being replaced by
    a new Commanding General fresh out
    of the Pentagon… this divisions’s
    been awfully lucky so far, but tonight
    they’re running a special on St.
    Christophers at the PX… The Old
    Man’s heading back to the rear –
    he’s never moved in that direction
    in his life. All I can say is, we
    owe so much to General Waverly and
    the way —

    WAVERLY’S VOICE
    (A bellow)
    ATTENTION!

    Automatically, Bob stiffens. Phil does the same.

    AUDIENCE – FULL SHOT

    Every man is at attention and every head has turned to where
    General Waverly has taken up a position near the front of
    the platform.

    GENERAL WAVERLY
    Captain Wallace, button your shirt.
    You’re out of uniform!
    (Bob, grinning, hastily
    buttons his shirt)
    This division is now under the command
    of General Harold G. Carlton, and I
    don’t want anyone to forget it —
    not that he’ll let you. He’s tough —
    just what this sloppy outfit needs.
    You’ll be standing inspection night
    and day — you may even learn how to
    march. And if you don’t give him
    everything you got, I may come back
    and fight for the enemy. Merry
    Christmas!

    • Got it, so the men, we assume, have no confidence in General Carlton.

      Now we have a Shmuck Captain…A COMMISSIONED OFFICER…openly undermining that confidence even further. It would have been just as wrong for an NCO to do it or even a Private. Yeah, soldiers will whisper in private to each other about their leaders…but any open comments like that…

      Article 15 and removal from the unit if not worse.

      But a COMMISSIONED OFFICER??????

      ON THE EVE OF BATTLE??? Which we learn from the scene just before that one.

  11. GENERAL CARLTON
    (To Adjutant)
    What’s this all about, Colonel?

    ADJUTANT
    (Turning)
    A little entertainment for the men,
    sir. Tonight’s Christmas Eve.

    GENERAL CARLTON
    These men are moving up tonight.
    They should be lined up for full
    inspection!

    The jeep has come to a halt.

    GENERAL WAVERLY
    (Eyeing him)
    You’re absolutely right.
    (To Adjutant)
    There’s no Christmas in the Army,
    Colonel.

    ADJUTANT
    Yes, sir.

    • Let’s go ahead and really push the “crappy new guy” vs “grizzled experienced guy” trope by having the new guy be completely clueless about HOW INCREDIBLY BACKWARDS the Army bends and bent for reasonable amounts of Morale, Welfare, and Recreation.

      Hopefully the real reason General Waverly is being relieved is because his boss noticed that General Waverly authorized a mass entertainment gathering to occur within range of accurate enemy artillery fires and also decided to schedule it literally hours prior to a major offensive maneuver, when the men most certainly would have been preparing gear, checking equipment, and moving into their Assembly Areas prior to crossing the Line of Departure.

      Hell, this General Carlton is looking better and better by the minute.

  12. GENERAL WAVERLY
    (To Carlton)
    There’s always a slip-up or two during
    a change in command. The men get a
    little loose. But I know I’m leaving
    them in good hands.

    GENERAL CARLTON
    (Stiffly)
    Thank you.
    (To Driver)
    Sergeant, take me to headquarters
    immediately! We’ll have those men
    turned out on the double!

    The Sergeant looks at General Waverly.

    GENERAL WAVERLY
    Goodbye, Sergeant. Take the short
    cut.

    SERGEANT
    Yes, sir!

    The jeep pulls off and makes a half circle. The Adjutant
    makes a gesture, as if to stop it. The General stops him.

    TWO SHOT – GENERAL WAVERLY AND ADJUTANT

    The Adjutant turns to him.

    ADJUTANT
    That’s not the way to headquarters!

    GENERAL WAVERLY
    Joe, you know that, and I know that,
    but the new General doesn’t know it.
    Or he won’t for about an hour and a
    half.

    ADJUTANT
    That Sergeant’ll be a private
    tomorrow!

    GENERAL WAVERLY
    Yes… isn’t he lucky?

  13. So I blew it severely on my first 3 posts. As the kids were watching White Christmas and I walked by, in passing, I noticed something amiss about the “military” feel of the

    opening scenes that seemed off ethically. So I copied and pasted the first website that claimed to be a script of White Christmas. I’m not sure what it was…if it was a

    working copy or a first draft, but it has significant differences from the actual filmed scenes. So, I’m forced to modify some of my assessment from the original three posts.

    All the dialogue is Transcribed *directly* from the listening to the movie, so I think I’m pretty close to word for word. The scene descriptions and action statements are

    modified versions of the script I got from the original website (which can be found here).

    Before I go into commentary, I’ll insert the entire dialogue for perusal and familiarity. There are numbers to reference particular dialogue in my analysis at the end. Here

    are the opening scenes:

    OPENING Scene in the Jeep as they hear the Entertainment show.

    GEN CARLTON
    (To Adjutant): What’s this all about, Captain?

    ADJUTANT: A little entertainment for the men, sir. Tonight’s Christmas Eve.

    GEN CARLTON: These men are moving up tonight, General Waverly. They should be lined up for full inspection!

    GEN WAVERLY
    (To Carlton): You’re absolutely right.
    (To Adjutant): There’s no Christmas in the Army, Captain.

    ADJUTANT: Yes, sir.

    GEN WAVERLY
    (To Carlton): There’s always a slip-up or two during a change in command. The men get a little loose. But I know I’m leaving them in good hands.

    GEN CARLTON:
    (To Waverly): Thank you, General.
    (To Driver): Sergeant, take me to headquarters immediately! We’ll have those men turned out on the double!

    The Sergeant looks at General Waverly.

    GEN WAVERLY: Goodbye, Sergeant. Take the short cut.

    SERGEANT: Yes, sir!

    The jeep pulls off and makes a half circle. The Adjutant makes a gesture, as if to stop it. Waverly stops him. The Adjutant turns to him.

    ADJUTANT: That’s not the way back to headquarters!

    GEN WAVERLY: Joe, you know that, and I know that, but the new General doesn’t know it. Or he won’t for about an hour and a half.

    ADJUTANT: That Sergeant’ll be a private tomorrow!

    GEN WAVERLY: Yes… isn’t he lucky?

    SCENE CHANGE TO ENTERTAINMENT SITE:

    CAPTAIN BOB WALLACE and PRIVATE PHILIP DAVIS are doing a number on stage to entertain a mass of 200 or so soldiers. GENERAL AND ADJUTANT just starting to take seats, off to one

    side where they are not noticed by the performers. ABOUT 6 SOLDIERS seated in audience. They look off, see General, start to rise. The General notices them – motions for them

    to sit down again, indicating he doesn’t want attention called to himself. Captain Wallace sings “White Christmas”.

    CPT Wallace: Well that just about wraps it up, fellas. It’s certainly too bad General Waverly couldn’t be here for this little yuletide clambake ’cause we really had

    a slam bang finished cooked up for him. I guess by now you know the Old Man’s being replaced by a new Commanding General fresh out of the Pentagon…it’s not a very nice

    Christmas present for a division like us that’s moving up. The Old Man’s moving toward the rear. That’s a direction he’s never taken in his entire life. Well all I can say is

    we owe an awful lot to General Waverly and to the way…

    GEN WAVERLY: ATTENTION!

    Every man is at attention and every head has turned to where General Waverly has taken up a position near the front of the platform.

    GEN WAVERLY: Captain Wallace, who’s responsible for holding a show in this advanced area?

    CPT WALLACE: Well sir as a matter of fact it was…

    PVT DAVIS: …me Sir! It was my idea sir. Uh, I mean when you gotta entertainer sir of the caliber of Captain Wallace, sir…I mean sir…it’s Christmas Eve, sir.

    And well, sir, I mean that if you were in New York, Sir, you’d have to pay six sixty or even eight eighty to hear a great singer like Captain Wallace, sir.

    GEN WAVERLY: I’m well aware of Captain Wallace’s capabilities. Who are you?

    PVT DAVIS: Er…Phillip Davis, sir. Private First Class, sir.

    GEN WAVERLY: Well, at ease, Davis.

    DAVIS: Yes, Sir!

    WAVERLY: I said, At Ease!

    DAVIS: Oh, uh, Yes, sir, thank you sir.

    WAVERLY: This division is now under the command of General Harold G. Carlton, and I don’t want anyone to forget it — not that he’ll let you. He’s tough — just

    what this sloppy outfit needs. He’ll have you standing standing inspection night and day — you may even learn how to march. And if you don’t give him everything you got, I

    may come back and fight for the enemy. Merry Christmas!

    ASSEMBLED MEN: “Merry Christmas”.

    GEN WAVERLY: Well, I guess, all I can say is, how much I…what a fine outfit…How am I going… (to Wallace) don’t just stand there, how am I going to get off…?

    CPT WALLACE: We happen to have a slam bang finish…

    He turns to the musicians, gives the downbeat. They play THE OLD MAN, which is sung by the entire outfit.

    ARTY FALLS IN VICINITY…Soldiers crouch…then finish singing.

    GENERAL AND ADJUTANT DEPART.

    MORE ARTY FALLS, ON SITE…Men scatter. Captain Wallace and Private Davis try to get men to cover. Private Davis man handles the Captain to cover as a wall collapses where he

    had just been standing.

    For starters, we see a mass of soldiers in an open air situation within effective range of enemy artillery fires. A single well placed artillery round could eliminate

    approximately 200 soldiers — more than an entire World War 2 Infantry Company (whose authorized strength is about 190-195 men; but given this stage of the war and attrition,

    this could easily be 2-3 companies of EXPERIENCED soldiers). Someone in the chain of command KNOWS this to be true and authorized this gathering despite the obvious danger. We

    know for certain that the Adjutant knows what the gathering is, as he answers on line 2 precisely what is going on. But an Adjutant has no command authority, so someone else

    authorized the gathering. We have to assume General Waverly didn’t know until the Adjutant answered General Carlton’s inquiry based on General Waverly’s later questioning of

    Captain Wallace. We can’t ever be sure who actually made the decision to have the entertainment occur at that location since Private Wallace, breaking an incredible number of

    military bearing protocols, interrupts a Captain, to answer a General. This Private, Private Davis, accepts all responsibility for the decision to expose upwards of 2

    companies-worth of men to devastating artillery fire.

    This information leaves us with two options: Either it really was Private Davis’s idea to have the venue at that location, in which case, Private Davis’s commanding officer and

    the various commanding officers AND EVERYONE ELSE in their chain of command are colossally INEPT for agreeing to the idea. The second option is that Captain Wallace DID indeed

    make the decision to have the venue at that site, and now he’s standing there like a lump allowing a subordinate to cut him off mid sentence, a military No-no, and then allowing

    the subordinate to take the heat of any potential censure that was forth-coming.

    But of course, even General Waverly doesn’t seem to mind that 200 of his soldiers are idling around with a population density rivaling that of Bombay, just one artillery strike

    away from having more in common with mist than with humanity. When HE discovered what was going on by the Adjutant’s answer in line 2, he should have immediately ordered the

    soldiers disperse and had about 2 dozen commissioned officers who had every ability to stop the farce standing in his headquarters receiving the most royal dressing down of

    their careers and maybe a few firings.

    What possibly does General Waverly think outweighs the need to disperse a mass of soldiers within effective range of artillery? Why, a Christmas music concert of course! It is

    Christmas Eve after all. Now, the Army does a really good job bending over backwards for Morale, Welfare, and Recreation of soldiers, much more than was ever considered a

    military precedent. BUT, we learn from the dialogue that the entire division is on orders to “move up tonight”. This somewhat vague description could range anywhere from

    simply occupying a section of the line to relieve a unit coming back or it could mean they are initiating a major offensive operation. We learn, however, that this movement,

    whatever it is, is occuring in mere hours. Having experienced large movements of soldiers myself, I know that if a Division is stepping off in a few hours, the men down to the

    platoon level are ALREADY in their assembly areas doing final preparations. This is apparent to the new commander, General Carlton, who is astonished that the men aren’t doing

    their final checks of equipment and gear. Which leads us to the next bit:

    General Waverly is none too concerned about the unjustifiable exposure he’s tolerating of his…well, now General Carlton’s men…as we know Waverly has just been replaced by

    General Carlton, who, trope-tastically, we learn is one of those wretched new leaders who are probably horribly incompetent. The movie let’s us know early on that he’s a

    despicable piss and vinegar type when he is mad that the men are having Christmas entertainment. Never mind that we now know that Carlton is severely concerned about a huge

    mass of men within artillery range open and exposed as well as not anywhere near where they ought to be to initiate movement of the entire Division. The movie also let’s us

    know he’s a jerk because it pushes the whole “fresh out of ________” trope. The usual way this plays out is the “fresh out of West Point” or “fresh out of ROTC” smear applied

    to new Lieutenants who assume Platoon Leadership with little to no actual experience. Unfortunately this doesn’t exactly play out on the General level. Yes, the General Ranks

    expanded rapidly during World War 2, but an individual didn’t become one by being a complete buffoon (and yes there are always exceptions — but General Carlton, who seems to

    have a sense of urgency that no one in Waverly’s sphere of influence seems to possess, does not seem to be the exception).

    Never mind, we’ll go on with the traditional “smearing of the new guy who replaces the beloved experienced leader”. In the original script I copied and analyzed, the dialogue

    was OVERTLY insubordinate and actively undermining of the men’s confidence in their new commander. In the corrected dialogue, though cleaned up a lot, there are still hints of

    undermining the new guy’s authority before he even makes a decision as the commander. There’s General Waverly’s smart-ass “There’s no Christmas in the Army” jab as a response

    to Carlton’s concern about the location and timing of the entertainment event — which he says “knowingly” to the Adjutant, who, we must remind ourselves no longer works for the Waverly but for Carlton.

    There’s the extra rotten move when Carlton, recognizing the imminent danger as well as the horrifying breach of schedule in implementing the plan of operations indicates he plans to move to Headquaters immediately to begin rectifying the situation, is undermined either by the Sergeant driving Carlton or by General Waverly himself. The driver decides to undermine Carlton’s ability to fix the problem by taking an extra long route back to headquarters. Between a driver and a singing-private, this division is apparently full of the lowest ranking guys thinking they know best when to leave a behind-the-schedule division exposed to enemy fire just so they can catch a few tunes from Bing… The other option is that General Waverly, himself, with a nod-nod wink-wink, authorized the driver to follow the reckless plan to take an hour and half detour, which we assume will require another hour and a half correction before Carlton can get to Headquarters. Just as with the adjutant before, let’s remind ourself that this driver no longer works for Waverly, but for Carlton…the Sergeant is being openly insubordinate.

    Even if Waverly was not the initiator of the 3 hour diversion, he immediately became complicit, when the Adjutant, in an apparent realization who his new boss is (Carlton), moved to correct the Driver but was stopped by Waverly from doing so.

    The last bit of insubordination and undermining faith in the chain of command comes from the subtle digs Captain Wallace makes during his speech. His “Fresh out of the Pentagon” disdain undermines faith that Carlton may be a good commander, followed by the snide “not a nice Christmas present” for the division is enough to get any soldier censured. Soldiers and peers WILL whisper about their leaders, but any open act like that? Stamped out like a spark in a dry forest… I won’t even address the fact that it’s a COMMISSIONED OFFICER making the openly insubordinate comments and a CAPTAIN no less. He would be fired and transferred immediately.

    But hey, I suppose Waverly recognized all their rotten conduct when he feebly tried to make things right by saying “hey guys, he’s a good commander, never mind all the stuff we said before and our attitudes we displayed before!”. A few moments later, though the movie never intended the scene to be interpreted this way, and just to do Carlton some justice, the Artillery began to fall…which is where Jack’s commentary on this movie begins.

  14. So I blew it severely on my first 3 posts. As the kids were watching White Christmas and I walked by, in passing, I noticed something amiss about the “military” feel of the opening scenes that seemed off ethically. So I copied and pasted the first website that claimed to be a script of White Christmas. I’m not sure what it was…if it was a working copy or a first draft, but it has significant differences from the actual filmed scenes. So, I’m forced to modify some of my assessment from the original three posts.

    All the dialogue is Transcribed *directly* from the listening to the movie, so I think I’m pretty close to word for word. The scene descriptions and action statements are modified versions of the script I got from the original website (which can be found here).

    Before I go into commentary, I’ll insert the entire dialogue for perusal and familiarity. There are numbers to reference particular dialogue in my analysis at the end. Here are the opening scenes:

    OPENING Scene in the Jeep as they hear the Entertainment show.

    GEN CARLTON
    (To Adjutant): What’s this all about, Captain?

    ADJUTANT: A little entertainment for the men, sir. Tonight’s Christmas Eve.

    GEN CARLTON: These men are moving up tonight, General Waverly. They should be lined up for full inspection!

    GEN WAVERLY
    (To Carlton): You’re absolutely right.
    (To Adjutant): There’s no Christmas in the Army, Captain.

    ADJUTANT: Yes, sir.

    GEN WAVERLY
    (To Carlton): There’s always a slip-up or two during a change in command. The men get a little loose. But I know I’m leaving them in good hands.

    GEN CARLTON:
    (To Waverly): Thank you, General.
    (To Driver): Sergeant, take me to headquarters immediately! We’ll have those men turned out on the double!

    The Sergeant looks at General Waverly.

    GEN WAVERLY: Goodbye, Sergeant. Take the short cut.

    SERGEANT: Yes, sir!

    The jeep pulls off and makes a half circle. The Adjutant makes a gesture, as if to stop it. Waverly stops him. The Adjutant turns to him.

    ADJUTANT: That’s not the way back to headquarters!

    GEN WAVERLY: Joe, you know that, and I know that, but the new General doesn’t know it. Or he won’t for about an hour and a half.

    ADJUTANT: That Sergeant’ll be a private tomorrow!

    GEN WAVERLY: Yes… isn’t he lucky?

    SCENE CHANGE TO ENTERTAINMENT SITE:

    CAPTAIN BOB WALLACE and PRIVATE PHILIP DAVIS are doing a number on stage to entertain a mass of 200 or so soldiers. GENERAL AND ADJUTANT just starting to take seats, off to one side where they are not noticed by the performers. ABOUT 6 SOLDIERS seated in audience. They look off, see General, start to rise. The General notices them – motions for them to sit down again, indicating he doesn’t want attention called to himself. Captain Wallace sings “White Christmas”.

    CPT Wallace: Well that just about wraps it up, fellas. It’s certainly too bad General Waverly couldn’t be here for this little yuletide clambake ’cause we really had a slam bang finished cooked up for him. I guess by now you know the Old Man’s being replaced by a new Commanding General fresh out of the Pentagon…it’s not a very nice Christmas present for a division like us that’s moving up. The Old Man’s moving toward the rear. That’s a direction he’s never taken in his entire life. Well all I can say is we owe an awful lot to General Waverly and to the way…

    GEN WAVERLY: ATTENTION!

    Every man is at attention and every head has turned to where General Waverly has taken up a position near the front of the platform.

    GEN WAVERLY: Captain Wallace, who’s responsible for holding a show in this advanced area?

    CPT WALLACE: Well sir as a matter of fact it was…

    PVT DAVIS: …me Sir! It was my idea sir. Uh, I mean when you gotta entertainer sir of the caliber of Captain Wallace, sir…I mean sir…it’s Christmas Eve, sir. And well, sir, I mean that if you were in New York, Sir, you’d have to pay six sixty or even eight eighty to hear a great singer like Captain Wallace, sir.

    GEN WAVERLY: I’m well aware of Captain Wallace’s capabilities. Who are you?

    PVT DAVIS: Er…Phillip Davis, sir. Private First Class, sir.

    GEN WAVERLY: Well, at ease, Davis.

    DAVIS: Yes, Sir!

    WAVERLY: I said, At Ease!

    DAVIS: Oh, uh, Yes, sir, thank you sir.

    WAVERLY: This division is now under the command of General Harold G. Carlton, and I don’t want anyone to forget it — not that he’ll let you. He’s tough — just what this sloppy outfit needs. He’ll have you standing standing inspection night and day — you may even learn how to march. And if you don’t give him everything you got, I may come back and fight for the enemy. Merry Christmas!

    ASSEMBLED MEN: “Merry Christmas”.

    GEN WAVERLY: Well, I guess, all I can say is, how much I…what a fine outfit…How am I going… (to Wallace) don’t just stand there, how am I going to get off…?

    CPT WALLACE: We happen to have a slam bang finish…He turns to the musicians, gives the downbeat.

    They play THE OLD MAN, which is sung by the entire outfit.

    ARTY FALLS IN VICINITY…Soldiers crouch…then finish singing.

    GENERAL AND ADJUTANT DEPART.

    MORE ARTY FALLS, ON SITE…Men scatter. Captain Wallace and Private Davis try to get men to cover. Private Davis man handles the Captain to cover as a wall collapses where he had just been standing.

    For starters, we see a mass of soldiers in an open air situation within effective range of enemy artillery fires. A single well placed artillery round could eliminate approximately 200 soldiers — more than an entire World War 2 Infantry Company (whose authorized strength is about 190-195 men; but given this stage of the war and attrition, this could easily be 2-3 companies of EXPERIENCED soldiers). Someone in the chain of command KNOWS this to be true and authorized this gathering despite the obvious danger. We know for certain that the Adjutant knows what the gathering is, as he answers on line 2 precisely what is going on. But an Adjutant has no command authority, so someone else authorized the gathering. We have to assume General Waverly didn’t know until the Adjutant answered General Carlton’s inquiry based on General Waverly’s later questioning of Captain Wallace. We can’t ever be sure who actually made the decision to have the entertainment occur at that location since Private Wallace, breaking an incredible number of military bearing protocols, interrupts a Captain, to answer a General. This Private, Private Davis, accepts all responsibility for the decision to expose upwards of 2 companies-worth of men to devastating artillery fire.

    This information leaves us with two options: Either it really was Private Davis’s idea to have the venue at that location, in which case, Private Davis’s commanding officer and the various commanding officers AND EVERYONE ELSE in their chain of command are colossally INEPT for agreeing to the idea. The second option is that Captain Wallace DID indeed make the decision to have the venue at that site, and now he’s standing there like a lump allowing a subordinate to cut him off mid sentence, a military No-no, and then allowing the subordinate to take the heat of any potential censure that was forth-coming. Of course, since he’s a Private trying to cover for his boss, he’ll say anything, so I won’t even ding him for the horrible excuse that 200 men should be exposed to German artillery fire because CPT Wallace is a famous singer – we all know it’s worth dying to hear Bing sing…

    But of course, even General Waverly doesn’t seem to mind that 200 of his soldiers are idling around with a population density rivaling that of Bombay, just one artillery strike away from having more in common with mist than with humanity. When HE discovered what was going on by the Adjutant’s answer in line 2, he should have immediately ordered the soldiers disperse and had about 2 dozen commissioned officers who had every ability to stop the farce standing in his headquarters receiving the most royal dressing down of their careers and maybe a few firings.

    What possibly does General Waverly think outweighs the need to disperse a mass of soldiers within effective range of artillery? Why, a Christmas music concert of course! It is Christmas Eve after all. Now, the Army does a really good job bending over backwards for Morale, Welfare, and Recreation of soldiers, much more than was ever considered a military precedent. BUT, we learn from the dialogue that the entire division is on orders to “move up tonight”. This somewhat vague description could range anywhere from simply occupying a section of the line to relieve a unit coming back or it could mean they are initiating a major offensive operation. We learn, however, that this movement, whatever it is, is occuring in mere hours. Having experienced large movements of soldiers myself, I know that if a Division is stepping off in a few hours, the men down to the platoon level are ALREADY in their assembly areas doing final preparations. This is apparent to the new commander, General Carlton, who is astonished that the men aren’t doing their final checks of equipment and gear. Which leads us to the next bit:

    General Waverly is none too concerned about the unjustifiable exposure he’s tolerating of his…well, now General Carlton’s men…as we know Waverly has just been replaced by General Carlton, who, trope-tastically, we learn is one of those wretched new leaders who are probably horribly incompetent.
    The movie let’s us know early on that he’s a despicable piss and vinegar type when he is mad that the men are having Christmas entertainment. Never mind that we now know that Carlton is severely concerned about a huge mass of men within artillery range open and exposed as well as not anywhere near where they ought to be to initiate movement of the entire Division. The movie also let’s us know he’s a jerk because it pushes the whole “fresh out of ________” trope. The usual way this plays out is the “fresh out of West Point” or “fresh out of ROTC” smear applied to new Lieutenants who assume Platoon Leadership with little to no actual experience. Unfortunately this doesn’t exactly play out on the General level. Yes, the General Ranks expanded rapidly during World War 2, but an individual didn’t become one by being a complete buffoon (and yes there are always exceptions — but General Carlton, who seems to have a sense of urgency that no one in Waverly’s sphere of influence seems to possess, does not seem to be the exception).

    Never mind, we’ll go on with the traditional “smearing of the new guy who replaces the beloved experienced leader”. In the original script I copied and analyzed, the dialogue was OVERTLY insubordinate and actively undermining of the men’s confidence in their new commander. In the corrected dialogue, though cleaned up a lot, there are still hints of undermining the new guy’s authority before he even makes a decision as the commander. There’s General Waverly’s smart-ass “There’s no Christmas in the Army” jab as a response to Carlton’s concern about the location and timing of the entertainment event — which he says “knowingly” to the Adjutant, who, we must remind ourselves no longer works for the Waverly but for Carlton.

    There’s the extra rotten move when Carlton, recognizing the imminent danger as well as the horrifying breach of schedule in implementing the plan of operations indicates he plans to move to Headquaters immediately to begin rectifying the situation, is undermined either by the Sergeant driving Carlton or by General Waverly himself. The driver decides to undermine Carlton’s ability to fix the problem by taking an extra long route back to headquarters. Between a driver and a singing-private, this division is apparently full of the lowest ranking guys thinking they know best when to leave a behind-the-schedule division exposed to enemy fire just so they can catch a few tunes from Bing… The other option is that General Waverly, himself, with a nod-nod wink-wink, authorized the driver to follow the reckless plan to take an hour and half detour, which we assume will require another hour and a half correction before Carlton can get to Headquarters. Just as with the adjutant before, let’s remind ourself that this driver no longer works for Waverly, but for Carlton…the Sergeant is being openly insubordinate.

    Even if Waverly was not the initiator of the 3 hour diversion, he immediately became complicit, when the Adjutant, in an apparent realization who his new boss is (Carlton), moved to correct the Driver but was stopped by Waverly from doing so.

    The last bit of insubordination and undermining faith in the chain of command comes from the subtle digs Captain Wallace makes during his speech. His “Fresh out of the Pentagon” disdain undermines faith that Carlton may be a good commander, followed by the snide “not a nice Christmas present” for the division is enough to get any soldier censured. Soldiers and peers WILL whisper about their leaders, but any open act like that? Stamped out like a spark in a dry forest… I won’t even address the fact that it’s a COMMISSIONED OFFICER making the openly insubordinate comments and a CAPTAIN no less. He would be fired and transferred immediately.

    But hey, I suppose Waverly recognized all their rotten conduct when he feebly tried to make things right by saying “hey guys, he’s a good commander, never mind all the stuff we said before and our attitudes we displayed before!”. A few moments later, just to do Carlton some justice, the Artillery began to fall…which is where Jack’s commentary on this movie begins.

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