White Christmas

White Christmas, www.EFLsuccess.com

Story: The song “White Christmas” is one of the most popular modern holiday songs ever recorded. It is also the center of this classic film! In the movie, two top NY entertainers fall in and out of love with a pair of cute, singing sisters. They end up working on their next show in a Vermont snow lodge, but there’s no snow in Vermont, and the owner (a retired general and old friend) is in financial trouble. Can these entertainers save the Inn? Who is in love with whom at the end of the story? There is also a surprise ending that involves lots of cold white stuff! (1954; Paramount Pictures; romance, comedy, musical; 120 min with lots of beautiful singing and dancing)

Setting: The movie begins in 1944, near the front lines of a World War II battlefield, probably in Germany. It then moves quickly to 10 years later for the rest of the story.

Note 1: “White Christmas,” a song written by Irving Berlin, was recorded by the actor in this film (Bing Crosby) during World War 2. The song won an Oscar for “best song” in 1942 (in the movie Holiday Inn), and sold more than 30 million copies when it topped the “pop charts” in 1942, ’45 and ’47. This song has joined centuries-old classics that are sung every Christmas; new Christmas songs are written every year, but few enjoy the success of “White Christmas.”

Note 2: this movie contains several slang expressions from 50 years ago that are not used any more!

People and proper nouns:

  • Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby): a famous entertainer
  • Phil Davis: someone who saved Bob’s life during the war, and later became Bob’s entertainment-company partner
  • Betty Haynes: Judy’s older sister and singing partner; their brother was in the army with Bob/Phil
  • Judy Haynes: Betty’s younger sister
  • General Thomas Waverly: he was the army leader for Bob and Phil during the war; now he owns an inn (hotel) in Vermont that is running out of money
  • Emma Allen: the main housekeeper at Waverly’s Inn
  • Vermont: a state known as the “outdoor winter playground” for the northeast USA

Vocabulary:

(underlined words are vocabulary terms)
  • a white Christmas: a Christmas with snow on the ground, or at least falling!
  • yuletide: the Christmas season
  • outfit: a company or group (esp. as in a military group)
  • wacky idea/person: crazy idea/idea
  • crooner: (1950s) a singer
  • chaperone: a mature person who accompanies less mature people so that they will not get into trouble (esp. young people of the opposite sex so that they will not be alone)
  • larceny: theft (in this case, it refers to improper behavior in general)
  • sheriff: a county police official
  • warrant for your arrest: an official document giving the police the authority to take someone to jail to await a meeting with a judge
  • knight on his white charger: this means a brave medieval hero on a white horse, and by implication “the perfect man of my dreams”
  • minstrel show: a type of entertainment from the early 1900’s, featuring “silly jokes” and dancing in formal wear (such as a Tuxedo and top hat)
  • dress rehearsal: the final practice of an entertainment company, when the performers are in costume but there is no audience
  • cast party: a party for all of the members of an entertainment group (often just after a performance)
  • choreography: a type of dance with well-practiced, precise movements, performed by several people doing different things at the same time (often to accompany music)
  • tap dancing: a dance in which one’s shoes make clicking sounds as they move rapidly
  • busybody: someone who is always trying to find out other people’s business (this is not a polite term—it means someone is looking at things you would rather keep private)
  • cocker spaniel: a popular type of dog
  • electric blanket: a blanket is a thick material used to keep you warm, and this type can be plugged in so that electricity warms it up
  • berserk: to act crazy or extremely excited, like at the end of a close, surprising sports match. “This crowd is going absolutely berserk right now.”

Phrases/sayings:

  • “Lord help the person who…”: this person is doing something I really don’t like
  • “He keeps us on the ball”: He helps us be alert and ready, working at our best
  • “You’re off your nut”: (1950s) “You are crazy”
  • “What’s your angle?” : “How can this benefit you?”
  • “Everyone has an angle.” : “Everyone is looking at things to see what he/she can get out of it.”
  • “I’m on KP” : “I’m on Kitchen Patrol,” that is, “I have to go work in the kitchen” often as a military punishment for misconduct.
  • “No one’s getting anything out of this.”: “This is not bringing financial profit to anyone—it is an act of charity or goodwill to help someone.”
  • “We laid an egg.” : “We made a bad error when we were trying to do something good.”
  • “I count sheep” : refers to the practice of “counting” imaginary sheep in your head, as you try to go to sleep.
  • “Count your blessings”: Think about the good things (blessings from God) in your life
  • “pass the buck”: to blame someone else, usually when you should take responsibility for a problem yourself

Discussion:

  1. Tell your partner why you think the song “White Christmas” became one of the most popular holiday songs in US history.
  2. Explain why Phil was pushing his partner, Bob, into getting a girlfriend. Do you think this was a good thing to do (as a friend) or not? Why?
  3. What caused Bob and Betty to “break up” as a couple/lovers? What caused Betty to come back and rejoin Bob’s show? Try to explain this to your partner.
  4. What kind of a husband/wife are you looking for? With your partner, try to make a list of the most important qualities that you want your future spouse to have. What are some things you absolutely do not want him/her to have (or be like)? If you are not planning to get married, explain why.

Sentences/dialogs from the movie:

(there are many more at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047673/quotes)
  • 1.   [General Waverly has told the jeep driver to take the new Commanding General back to Headquarters via a short cut]
  •       Joe, Adjutant Captain: [pointing after the departed jeep] That’s not the way to Headquarters!
  •       Gen. Thomas F. Waverly: Joe, you know that, and I know that, but the General doesn’t! At least he won’t for the next two hours.
  •       Joe, Adjutant Captain: That sergeant will be a private in the morning.
  •       Gen. Thomas F. Waverly: [wearily] Yes, isn’t he lucky.
  • 2.   Bob Wallace: Hey, Davis! How you feelin’?
  •       Phil Davis: Pretty good, Captain.
  •       Bob Wallace: Just dropped by to thank you for saving my life.
  •       Phil Davis: Well, uh, it was a life worth saving.
  • 3.   Bob Wallace: You don’t expect me to get serious with the kind of characters you and Rita have been throwing at me, do you?
  •       Phil Davis: Well, there have been some nice girls, too, you know.
  •       Bob Wallace: Oh yeah, yeah. Like that nuclear scientist we just met out in the hall.
  •       Phil Davis: All right, they didn’t go to college. They didn’t go to Smith [College? Refining School?].
  •       Bob Wallace: Go to Smith? She couldn’t even spell it.
  • 4.   Bob Wallace: Oh, Phil, when are you going to learn that girls like that are a dime a dozen [i.e., as common as something that costs 10 cents for 12]?
  •       Phil Davis: Please, don’t quote me the price when I haven’t got the time.
  • 5.   Phil Davis [complaining that Bob is getting too old to “find a girl and get married”]: When what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting, whatever it is you’ve got left.
  •       Bob Wallace: When I figure out what that means I’ll come up with a crushing reply.
  • 6.   Phil Davis [complaining that his partner keeps him too busy, and thus needs a family]: I want you to get married. I want you to have nine children. And if you only spend five minutes a day with each kid, that’s forty-five minutes, and I’d at least have time to go out and get a massage or something.
  • 7.   Phil Davis [complaining that Bob wants him to go watch two ladies sing instead of going out to “have fun”]: Give me one reason, one good reason, why we should spend our last 2 hours in Florida looking at the sister’s of Freckle-Face Haynes, the dog-faced boy.
  •       Bob Wallace: Let’s just say we’re doing it for an old pal in the army.
  •       Phil Davis: Well, it’s not good, but it’s a reason.
  • 8.   [after Betty finds Judy and Phil embracing after a dance]
  •       Betty Haynes: What is this? The best two out of three?
  •       Judy Haynes: I guess I got carried away. [i.e., overcome by the emotion of the moment]
  •       Phil Davis: Yeah, she carried me right with her – I don’t weigh very much.
  • 9.   Judy Haynes: We’re booked for the holidays. [i.e., a hotel has paid us to sing/perform there during the Christmas season]
  •       Phil Davis: Vermont, huh?
  •       Judy Haynes: Oh, Vermont should be beautiful this time of year, with all that snow.
  •       Phil Davis: Yeah, you know something… Vermont should be beautiful this time of year, with all that snow.
  •       Judy Haynes: That’s what I just said.
  •       Phil Davis: We seem to be getting a little mixed up.
  •       Judy Haynes: Maybe it’s the music.
  •       Phil Davis: Maybe it isn’t only the music.
  • 10. Betty [saying that her sister does not fall in love quickly]: I’ve got a flash for you: she’s a real slow mover.
  •       Phil Davis: I’ve got a flash right back for you: she’s in there with the champ. [i.e., Bob does not either]
  • 11.  [to get the ladies out of trouble, Phil gives them his/Bob’s train tickets; Judy asks why]
  •       Phil Davis: We like to take care of our friends.
  •       Betty Haynes: But we’re practically strangers!
  •       Phil Davis: Uh, we’d like to take care of that too.
  •       Betty Haynes: But I don’t understand. Why are you doing this? I mean, what’s in it for you?
  •       Phil Davis: Forty-five minutes all to myself.
  • 12.  [To give the ladies time to escape, Phil wants Bob to help him, dressed as ladies, sing in Judy/Betty’s place]
  •       Bob Wallace: I have a feeling I’m not going to like this.
  •       Phil Davis: I have a feeling you’re gonna hate it.
  •       Bob Wallace: Then why should I do it.
  •       Phil Davis: Let’s just say we’re doing it for an old…
  •       Bob Wallace, Phil Davis: …pal in the army… yeah
  • 13.  Phil Davis: [about the train tickets] I don’t have them. I must have left them in my girdle.
  •       [They have to buy the tickets again, but since the train is full the only space is in the “club car” or bar. Bob tells Phil to pay.]
  •       Phil Davis: Uh, I don’t seem to have any cash.
  •       Bob Wallace: Where’d you leave that? In your snood?
  • 14.  Bob Wallace: Miss Haynes, if you’re ever under a falling building and someone offers to pick you up and carry you to safety, don’t think, don’t pause, don’t hesitate for a moment, just spit in his eye.
  •       Betty Haynes: What did that mean?
  •       Bob Wallace: It means we’re going to Vermont.
  • 15.  Judy Haynes [talking about Betty]: Yesterday, she couldn’t sleep. Today, she won’t eat. She’s in love.
  •       Phil Davis: Well if that’s love, somebody goofed. [i.e., made a mistake]
  • 16.  Bob Wallace [praising the General’s behavior during the war]: We ate, and then he ate. We slept and then he slept.
  •       Phil Davis: Yeah, then he woke up and nobody slept for forty-eight hours.
  • 17.  [this is from a comedy part of their show]
  •       Betty Haynes: Mr. Bones? Mr. Bones? How do you feel, Mr. Bones?
  •       Phil Davis: Rattlin’!
  •       Betty Haynes: Mr. Bones feels rattlin’. Ha ha. That’s a good one. Tell a little story, Mr. Bones.
  •       Bob Wallace: A funny little story, Mr. Bones!
  •       Phil Davis: How do you stop an angry dog from biting you on Monday?
  •       Betty Haynes: That joke is old. The answer is to kill the dog on Sunday!
  •       Phil Davis: That’s not how you stop a dog from biting you on Monday!
  •       Betty Haynes: How do you bring a thing about?
  •       Phil Davis: Have the doggy’s teeth pulled out!
  •       Betty Haynes: Oh, Mr. Bones, that’s terrible!
  •       Phil Davis: Uh-huh.
  •       Betty Haynes, Bob Wallace: Yes, Mr. Bones, that’s terrible!
  •       Phil Davis: Uh-huh.

 

(For more information about Christmas, see the links to Christmas pages on the bottom of the “candy canes” page on our antique website. You’ll also find movie study guides on our websites for some great holiday films: A Snoopy/Charlie Brown Christmas, White Christmas, The Grinch, Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life)


©2015 Michael Krigline. See our Website Standards and Use Policy.

Monthly English Corner & Weekly Quote

  • April English Corner

    As I always tell my students, the key ingredient in learning English is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. In practicing your listening skills, I would suggest that you watch and listen to the evening news, because most American news anchors speak in a standard Midwestern American accent. Watching videos and listening to the radio are also good ways to improve your listening. Of course, many video, news and radio programs are also on line. Concerning your speaking skills, you need to make an effort to get to know native speakers and practice. Reading and vocabulary development can be achieved by reading magazines and novels. I would especially suggest you read articles from the “Reader’s Digest” and work through their Word Power section. Even reading for ten minutes a day is very helpful on a regular basis. Well I hope these suggestions help, and I’ll see you next time at the English Corner. © Mark Peter, M.A. Used with permission.


    Mr. Peter was Michael’s colleague at the Agape English Language Institute of Limestone College (Columbia, SC). Throughout his career, Mark has taught English at many schools and universities, in the US and in China.

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