Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) has made up his mind: he is giving up showbusiness for good. He has enjoyed a lot of success with his two musical partners Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), but now wants to settle down on his own farm in Connecticut, and he has asked Lila to go with him. She has not exactly agreed, however, mainly because she is quite happy to continue dancing in the act with Ted, and he is the one who has been elected to break this news to Jim, but somehow he has not gotten around to it, and when their manager blurts it out after a Christmas show Jim is fairly shocked. That said, he accepts her choice, because he thinks she won't know what she is missing...
Yes, this is the film the Bing Crosby hit White Christmas hailed from, the biggest selling song of all time until Elton John reworked his tribute to Marilyn Monroe as a tribute to Princess Diana in 1997 for her funeral performance, whereupon the world and his wife (well, probably mostly the wives) bought it on CD and trampled Irving Berlin's claim to fame as the author of the most popular song ever underfoot. But is that Elton tune any more popular than White Christmas? You hardly ever heard it outside of '97, whereas Der Bingle crooning the seasonal ditty (which nobody had any great hopes for at the time) remains a perennial favourite for Christmas soundtracks to this day, and keeps Crosby's name alive in pop culture.
It must have helped that the song arrived in the world when that planet was in the heat of war, and the sentimental, nostalgic message appealed greatly to the public across that troubled time, with the effect that you just have to hear Bing start up with "I’m dreaming..." and you are transported to Yuletides past, for it is a time for reflection, unlike New Year where you are supposed to be looking forward. But Holiday Inn was not exclusively a Christmas film, for Jim's big idea after his farm proves too much trouble to maintain is to establish the titular setting as a place to celebrate fifteen holidays all year round on their respective evenings by putting on an appropriate show to commemorate them, and naturally Ted gets involved along the way.
Though not exactly amicably, as while this film has the reputation of being schmaltzy, or at the very least goodnatured and warm, the characters do behave with some ill temper and bad wishes. For a start, Lila elopes with a Texan millionaire and leaves Ted in the lurch, which is why he is offered a lifeline by Jim's inn, though not before Astaire had demonstrated his skills by performing a drunken dance, his equivalent of Jackie Chan's drunken master fight choreography and just as impressive. Indeed, though his work here was understandably overshadowed by Bing's behemoth of a hit, he was on excellent form, whether performing with a partner, Dale or the love interest for Ted and Jim to fight over Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), or solo, as in his super-patriotic Independence Day routine with the firecrackers.
Just the thing to encourage the war effort, the attack on Pearl Harbor having happened while this was in production. The most famous other song from this was Easter Parade, which Berlin adapted into a musical in its own right a few years later as a vehicle for Astaire and Judy Garland, Fred singing it that time instead of Bing. Yet there was a reason Holiday Inn (which the hotel chain was named after, fact fans) was associated almost exclusively with Christmas, and it was not the bizarre Lincoln's Birthday setpiece which saw Crosby and Reynolds in minstrel blackface and the maid Louise Beavers trilling the meaning of that President's ethics to her two kids, in a well-meaning but culturally tone deaf to modern sensibilities tribute to the abolition of slavery. Nope, it was down to all those Christmas scenes (this takes place over more than one) with their fake snow and twinkly atmosphere, and though Reynolds sings that song as much as Crosby does, it was he who was immortalised for the season; well, he was on the record, after all.