This post is part of a new series I am doing I've titled Minor Distractions - just short pieces on small thoughts I write about when they come to my mind,
I've seen White Christmas (1954) more times than I can count, ok, I probably can count the times I've seen the film given that my father and I have watched it every Christmas day for my entire life. It is really interesting how the way you read a film changes as you age. One thing that never changed is my crush on Rosemary Clooney that I've had since I was 5. But, in the last decade of watching the film, my feelings about how romantic the relationship between Crosby's and Clooney's characters has changed - with some cringing involved.
Particularly the scene where Betty Haynes (Clooney) can't sleep, so her little sister, who is trying to hook her up, tells her to go down to the lodge and get some grub. There she finds Bob Wallace (Crosby) playing the piano and inquires about a some rumored sandwiches, as you do in a lodge late at night. This brings up Bob's theories about food and dreaming...
"Now if I have a ham and cheese on rye like that, I dream of a tall cool blond.."
"Turkey? I dream about a brunette..."
"What about Liverwurst?"
"I dream about Liverwurst.."
Cringe. I don't know if Bob is negging Betty or if the kitchen told him to push the leftover sandwiches. Either way, it works, and she joins him by the fire for a song about how he falls asleep to dream about blessings (read women).
According to a Good Housekeeping piece on the '25 Surprising Facts About White Christmas' this dialogue was mostly add lib by Crosby. While this bothers me because it seems outdated, even for 1954, what really struck me was the difference in age between Clooney and Crosby. At the time of filming, Clooney was 26, and Crosby 51. This knowledge, thank you Good Housekeeping, really made me think about the power dynamic of the two characters.
I think that there are a couple of different types of power dynamics at play in this scene. One, Bob is essentially a professional mentor to Betty. He and his partner were picked up by the two women to help improve their act by exploiting an old Army relationship. It is obvious that the men are teaching the women, as laid out it the scene that follows when Bob and Betty discuss the "blessings number". But does this mentoring lead to an uneven balance of power? Does this dynamic force Betty to laugh at Bob's jokes? Or even to feel pressure to be romantically involved with him to further her career? We don't really know.
We see this dynamic told visually in the scene as well.. Bob is standing, leaning over the bar while he explains his sandwich theory. While Betty is seated, looking up at him. The camera is placed to show both actors with a slightly off kilter over the shoulder shot. Thus, keeping the perspective the same. This position places Bob in the visual frame as the character with the power - visually above Betty at all times. Something you would expect from a mentor who is giving sage like advice about dreams, but perhaps not a love interest.
Second, there is the underlying dynamic of the dramatic age difference between the two actors. Since this age difference is visible(ish) to the audience, we can assume that it played into the power dynamic of the two characters. In a way, this age difference plays out a male fantasy, dating a woman half your age. While is not difficult to believe that a man in his 50s could be romantically involved with a 26 year old, it does make us think. What do you think when you see an older man with a younger woman? Gold-digger, yes. Maybe that's why Bob is counting his blessings.
I don't think either of these dynamics negate Betty's agency completely. Let's remember that she was the one who wrote the fake letter to the men getting them to come see the act in the first place. Betty also messes everything up by leaving to do a side gig after she thinks that Bob is a sellout. I think that it is a new way to look a the film, at least for someone who has seen it close to 100 times.
I hope to continue this series along with the other longer pieces I am writing. Sometimes it's really good to get things off your mind. Even if it's fa month after Christmas.
10/8/2020 04:28:41 pm
You seem to be mixing up your characters. Betty didn't write the letter; Judy did. Betty was the one who left for the side gig after thinking Bob was a sellout and leaving without even asking him about it.
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The Distracted Blogger
I watch movies. I write about them here. I watch more movies. I get nothing else done.
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