Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Frank and Bing kind of Christmas

I just watched "Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank," an old television Christmas special.  Talk about Christmas from a different time.  I love watching these time capsules, especially ones that lead to such a hip past. 

The time- 1957.  The scene- the fabulously modern and cool pad of Frank Sinatra as intepreted by a set designer on a film stage.  The occasion- Bing swings by for an evening of high-octane egg nog, dinner, a few jokes, and of course singing. 

When the show begins, Frank is singing and trimming his Christmas tree with the look of a guy who hasn't hung a single ornament on his own tree for over 20 years.  He awkwardly drops an ornament, which luckily lands on a lower branch instead of the floor.  He picks it up and hangs it on the tree right next to another ornament.  The song he's singing, "Mistletoe and Holly,"  is a bit of a typical Sinatra ring-a-ding-ding tune, with a Christmas lyric.  That's the one and only song that is Sinatra being hip.  For the rest of the show the songs are traditional Christmas songs done in a rather restrained style.

Who hasn't had this happen to them: the doorbell rings, you wonder who could that be, you open the door, and there stands Bing Crosby.  It happens to Frank in this very tv show, but this is just a typical evening for the Chairman of the Board and he isn't too fazed by it.  Bing is dressed in a very nice suit.  Luckily Frank was wearing a suit while hanging out at home alone trimming the tree, so he doesn't feel underdressed.  They exchange gifts, which turn out to be each's own latest Christmas album.  After a few jocular put-downs it's down to business: singing.

I don't know how many times I've put on a suit, gone over to a friend's house, and hung out with him sitting on the couch singing Christmas songs, but it's a lot.  So it struck me as perfectly normal for a couple macho bros like Bing and Frank to do that.  Sometimes solo, sometimes together, they worked their way through seven or eight classics like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Silent Night, Away In A Manger, and finishing with Bing's tour-de-force White Christmas.  Somewhere in the middle they answer the door to find some carolers dressed in Victorian clothes, thereby giving the Binger and Ol' Blue Eyes a chance to sing a little louder for a couple tunes.

Sinatra is credited as being the director.  This special was filmed in color despite being broadcast in a decidedly black and white tv era.  Bing comes off as more relaxed and sings better.  Frank appears more distracted, stiff, and appears to be reading cue cards for a lot of the lyrics.  It's amazing how little movement there is on camera.  They just stand next to the bar or sit on a couch and sing, with one unchanging camera shot the entire song.  The camera never zooms in or cuts to a different angle.  In the fifties you didn't need a bunch of quck camera cuts, you just needed Bing and Frank sitting on a contemporary couch singing Oh Come All Ye Faithful.  There wasn't much else to do in those days other than sit around and wait on the internet to be invented.