Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) and Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), along with Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), are a successful song-and-dance act, but Jim has had just about enough of the showbiz lifestyle. He plans to do one last performance on Christmas Eve, then marry Lila, move to a farm in Connecticut, and enjoy a more leisurely life. However, Lila has other plans. She’s fallen in love with Ted and wants to keep performing with him, so Jim retires to that Connecticut farm by himself. But Jim quickly realizes that living on a farm takes a lot more work than he anticipated and Jim winds up having to spend some time resting in a sanitarium.
Going to a sanitarium wasn’t all bad, though. Being there gave Jim time to think and he came up with the idea of turning his farm into an inn that is only open on holidays. Ted and Danny (Walter Abel), Jim’s manager, aren’t too keen on the idea, but when Danny runs into aspiring dancer Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), he tells her to get in touch with Jim. When she arrives at Jim’s farm on Christmas day, she and Jim have an instant rapport and he hires her to perform at the inn’s opening night on New Year’s Eve.
Opening night is a big success, but just before the stroke of midnight, an unexpected guest arrives — Ted. Lila had just left Ted and now Ted’s very drunk and looking to talk to Jim. But before he can find Jim, he winds up dancing with Linda and the two of them are the hit of the night. The next morning, Jim can’t remember who he danced with, but he knows that she’s his dream dance partner and sets out on a mission to find her again. Not wanting Linda to run off with Ted the way Lila had, Jim proposes to Linda and tries anything to stop Ted from finding her. But Ted finally figures out the truth on Valentine’s Day and wants to start performing with her at the inn.
Ted continues trying to woo Linda, but Linda stays faithful to Jim. But when Jim finds out that some Hollywood agents will be coming to the inn to see Jim and Linda perform, Jim fixes it so that she misses the performance and Ted has to perform alone. After Linda finally does make it to the inn, she finds out what Jim has done and is hurt that Jim doesn’t trust her. She heads off to Hollywood with Ted to star in a movie based on the story of the Holiday Inn while Jim stays in Connecticut, following their romance through movie fan magazines. Ted is completely lost without Linda, and with some encouragement from his housekeeper Mamie (Louise Beavers), flies to Hollywood on Christmas Eve to make one last attempt to win Linda back.
Holiday Inn is definitely one of my essential Christmastime movies. I love Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby together and all those wonderful Irving Berlin songs are the icing on the cake. Even though I think the character of Ted is a bit of a jerk, leave it to Fred Astaire to play him with enough charm to still be likeable. Of course, Holiday Inn is best remembered for introducing the song “White Christmas,” which went on to become one of the most successful singles of all time. As memorable as Bing’s songs are, I absolutely adore some of Fred’s dance numbers such as the firecracker dance and the drunken New Years Eve dance.
Even though Holiday Inn is generally thought of as being a Christmas movie, it covers so many different holidays that you could probably watch it any time of year and not feel completely out of season. It’s an absolutely delightful movie. The only thing stopping me from saying, “What’s not to like?” about it is that unfortunate “Abraham” musical number featuring Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds in blackface.