Holiday Inn appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite some ups and downs, the transfers seemed more than acceptable given its age.
For the most part, sharpness appeared good. Although some shots presented a bit of softness – especially during the scene when Jim slathered Linda in blackface – the majority of the flick came across as pretty well-defined. I noticed no jagged edges or shimmering, but edge haloes were an issue. These could be moderately prominent throughout the film and they caused some distractions.
Print flaws were a sporadic concern. I noticed specks on more than a few occasions, and some nicks and blotches also materialized. The movie tended to be a bit grainier than average.
Black levels appeared very good through the flick. It boasted deep tones as well as nice contrast most of the time. A couple shots came across as a little muddy, but most demonstrated nice delineation. Low-light shots also offered good clarity for the most part. The edge haloes and the source flaws knocked down my grade to a “B-“, but I felt fairly pleased with the presentation.
As for the monaural soundtrack of Holiday Inn, it seemed average. Dialogue was perfectly acceptable for material of this vintage. Though the lines never seemed particularly natural, they were reasonably concise, and they didn’t sound edgy. Effects were thin and slightly shrill at times, although some surprising exceptions existed; the firecrackers in the Fourth of July scene appeared pretty clear and accurate.
Music sounded listenable but could be a bit harsh and discordant. The mix presented a little light noise in the background. Overall, the audio was satisfactory based on its age but no better than that.
How did the picture and audio of this Special Edition compare to those of the original 1999 DVD? I felt the audio remained lackluster for both, but the new transfer worked a little better. The 2006 DVD offered somewhat improved definition and clarity, especially in terms of contrast and blacks. It wasn’t a tremendous step up in quality, but it did look better than its predecessor.
While the 1999 disc – a “double-feature” with Going My Way - presented few extras, this Special Edition adds a few components. We open with an audio commentary from film historian Ken Barnes. He offers a running, screen-specific chat, but he doesn’t go it alone. Along the way, we hear some archival notes from actors Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and conductor John Scott Trotter. Most of the material comes straight from Barnes, though; the audio clips from the others are rare.
Barnes covers a lot of topics. He starts with a look at the project’s origins and development before he provides notes about story ideas, music and performances, cast and crew, specifics about “White Christmas” and its impact, the film’s era and social context, its reception, competition and legacy.
That’s a lot, and Barnes makes this a fine discussion. My only complaint comes from the amount of dead air, as Barnes goes silent a little too often, especially during the film’s second half. However, the quality of the content more than compensates for those gaps. We get a surfeit of excellent details. Barnes sings us the original first verse of “White Christmas”, relates the blackface number as part of its era, and even explains the confusing Thanksgiving gag during which a cartoon turkey jumps from one Thursday to another. Barnes offers a genuinely terrific commentary.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we find a pair of programs. A Couple of Song and Dance Men runs 44 minutes, 34 seconds. It mixes movie clips, archival materials and comments from Barnes and Fred Astaire’s daughter Ava Astaire McKenzie. They discuss the lives and careers of Astaire and Crosby. The format seems a little awkward, as it often feels like Astaire and Barnes just lecture each other; it doesn’t always comes across like a conversation and it can be weird.
Nonetheless, plenty more good information develops here, and the archival elements prove winning. Yeah, the program occasionally comes across like annotated filmographies of Crosby and Astaire, but the conceit works. We learn a lot and see plenty of fun clips to flesh out the package.
(By the way, maybe I’m just a stooge, but I never realized that Crosby wore a hairpiece until I saw him without it in these clips!)
All-Singing, All-Dancing goes for seven minutes, 15 seconds and features narration from Barnes as he discusses the evolution of singing and dancing in films. Barnes goes through techniques used over the years and discusses how movies captured these elements. Barnes proves informative as always in this informative little piece.
Holiday Inn has long been a favorite of mine. Though known best as a Christmas movie, it works all year-round and consistently entertains. The delightful pairing of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire helps make this a classic. The DVD offers decent picture and audio along with some nice extras highlighted by an excellent audio commentary. This would make a good addition to your holiday DVD collection.