If I were mayor, every Spokane resident would be required to deliver gifts of golf balls and cardigan sweaters to the statue of Bing Crosby at Gonzaga each Christmas. At the very least, people would have to watch the excellently twisted David Bowie/Bing collaboration on "The Little Drummer Boy" on YouTube every day in December.
Absent such power, all I can do is advocate delving into the annual Bing Crosby Holiday Film Festival at the — you guessed it — Bing Crosby Theater. For 10 years, the folks at the nonprofit Bing Crosby Advocates have showcased the crooner's movies at the all-day event that allows people to drop in and catch a Crosby classic or two. This year, in addition to three films, you can hear some live songs by Howard Crosby, Bing's nephew, and take in some rare photos of Bing as well.
While Bing's Christmas movies have played ad nauseam for decades, there's a chance some of you haven't bothered to actually watch them. There are plenty of other holiday entertainment options, I know, but some things are classics for a reason. Bing was part of more than a few of them.
I took another look at this year's fest selections with an eye for why they still hold a place in the public imagination, and whether they're still worth seeing in 2015. And I include a recommended cocktail for each one in case you're watching at home instead of at The Bing on Saturday.
This 1954 flick is probably associated with Bing even more than his Oscar-winning role in Going My Way. White Christmas was filmed in explosive Technicolor, and the garish reds, blues and greens are still striking. Bing stars as Bob Wallace, half of a song-and-dance team (along with Danny Kaye) who throw a big show at a struggling, remote Vermont inn owned by their old army general. At the same time, the boys woo a couple of singing sisters, played by the entertainingly sarcastic Rosemary Clooney and the disturbingly small-waisted Vera-Ellen. The story is simple, but there's no denying the chemistry between Bing and Kaye, or Clooney's serious singing chops paired with Bing's buttery crooning.
Suggested drink: Bing suggests a round of "hot buttered rum, light on the butter" during the movie. Who are we to argue?
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
This 1949 Technicolor flick is the oddball of the day. It's not holiday-related, and it's a relatively obscure adaptation of a Mark Twain novel about a mechanic named Harry (played by Bing) who gets conked on the head during a storm and wakes up in Camelot in the year 528. He uses his knowledge of the future to convince people he has special powers, and soon finds himself in a showdown with Sir Lancelot for the hand of the knight's fiancée, Alisande, and ensnared by castle intrigue between King Arthur and Merlin. Naturally, there's plenty of singing and Bing helps the medieval musicians update their sound while he's there. Consider it a nice pause from all the Christmas action.
Suggested drink: The era of King Arthur calls for wine or beer, both available at the Bing.
Irving Berlin wrote 12 songs for this 1942 black-and-white musical, including an early version of "White Christmas," and Bing makes the most of the role of Jim, a nightclub performer ready to retire to the country with his fiancée, Lila. Early on, Lila ditches Jim for his partner Ted, played by the ultra-suave Fred Astaire, and Jim bails to make a go as a farmer. Failing spectacularly, he turns his farm into an entertainment hot spot, open only on holidays. A burgeoning romance with a young performer named Linda (Marjorie Reynolds) is going great until Ted shows up, freshly dumped by Lila himself, to wallow at his friend's inn. The love triangle between Bing, Astaire and Reynolds is inspiration for some slapstick shenanigans, some incredible dance numbers from Astaire, and an inexplicable inclusion of Bing in blackface singing an ode to Abraham Lincoln at a President's Day show. That few minutes will make you shudder, but the vast majority of the film is lighthearted fun, with Bing showing a little underhanded chicanery that's a nice contrast to his typical good-guy roles.
Suggested drink: Fred Astaire gets soused on scotch and soda, and pulls off an amazing drunken dance number. Maybe you can do the same. ♦
10th Annual Bing Crosby Holiday Film Festival • Sat, Dec. 12, at 11:30 am • $10/kids under 12 are free • Bing Crosby Theater • 901 W. Sprague •
bingcrosbytheater.com • 227-7638