White Christmas is a classic. It’s got everything: comedy, romance, lavish musical numbers, a story about the bonds forged between friends during wartime and what they mean once everyone goes home and tries to return to a peaceful life that’s guaranteed to bring a tear to the eyes of even the grinchiest viewer, and a soundtrack that includes the best-selling single in the history of music. And, you know, it also has that minstrel show number, which probably seemed like a better idea back in 1954.
In fact, that particular section of the movie, when the cast sings “Abraham,” talks about how great minstrel shows are, and mixes in a few old timey jokes featuring Mr. Bones and Mr. Interlocutor — the Jay and Silent Bob of minstrelsy — is often cut out of TV broadcasts. There’s a good reason for that, too. Unlike, say, “Choreography,” a genuinely funny lament about how all these dancers today are just so darn serious, “Abraham” yearns for the past through the visual iconography of Jim Crow-era “entertainment,” right down to the background dancers wearing costumes meant to look like watermelons. Once you notice that, it’s the only thing you’ll see.
The only saving grace of the number is that Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney aren’t performing in blackface. That’s a pretty low bar to clear, but it’s one they’ve failed to get over before — White Christmas is a kinda-sorta remake of 1942’s Holiday Inn, the movie that introduced the song “White Christmas” to the world. That movie also includes the minstrel number, and in that version, Bing and the entire cast do full-on blackface makeup in a scene that’s downright jaw-dropping. This Christmas, maybe just skip to the next number. We promise you won’t miss it.