Many people at least know of White Christmas, the Christmas movie with Bing Crosby, which had that touching scene at the end with the “old man.” What many people don’t know is that White Christmas was a remake of an older film Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby using the same inn set and even featuring the same song, “White Christmas,” which inspired the remake. Holiday Inn, however, has a stronger conflict mechanism than White Christmas.
The most profound difference between White Christmas and Holiday Inn is how conflict occurs. In the former, Bing Crosby doesn’t want to get married or settle down, and it’s up to his friend to push him into a relationship that Crosby eventually embraces. However, in Holiday Inn, Ted pulls Linda and Jim apart and forces Jim to take a proactive role. This is the fundamental difference between the two movies. One’s conflict centers around pushing two characters together through circumstances and the behavior of other people. The other, however, has circumstances play against the main characters in such a way that forces them to overcome those circumstances. These are two different approaches to conflict often called the “unwilling hero” or “willing hero.” Neither is right or wrong. They are just different styles of conflict; however, one needs certain plot structures in order to make either work.
For the unwilling hero approach to work, one needs a large story goal in order to keep the audience focused around supporting the hero on this great task. In White Christmas, however, there is no large story goal which provides enough motivate for the audience to back the main characters. Our main characters, army pals Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), run into a sister-pair preforming outfit which then takes them to Connecticut. Once they arrive in Connecticut, they just so happen to go to a certain inn where their old general worked at after the war. They never strive towards a tangible story goal until more than halfway through the movie. Phil tries to convince Bob that he needs to settle down and get married, and then woe and behold, Bob’s perfect girl enters the picture. This gives a feeling of complete apathy on the characters’ sides. They do not strive with their fullest efforts towards a story goal of any great significance, distancing their audience.
For the willing hero approach to work, one can work with a smaller story goal and use the hero’s hard work towards that story goal to appeal to the audience. One limitation of this approach is that a villain is always needed within such an approach. In Holiday Inn, Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) is the story’s villain. Ted Hanover, however, isn’t your pure-bred villain but rather a self-centric man who wants his own way in the world and has personable qualities. The film even starts off with Ted Hanover doing a series of positive actions, such as giving to a couple of street boys, which puts him in a positive light in reference to the audience. But he fulfills the definition of the villain in that he provides a set of morals which directly opposes Jim’s. Contrast is vital for conflict as conflict by definition is the collision of contrasting ideals. The conflict between the characters in Holiday Inn creates a more realistic atmosphere.
Why does conflict matter? As I mentioned in my previous article, where there is conflict, there is a story. Whether the conflict is a character trying to push past the language barrier in a foreign culture, working hard at overcoming procrastination, or trying to get out of a Minecraft addiction, the conflict builds a story which we call the character’s life. Movies like White Christmas give us role models who react rather than act. Holiday Inn gives us role models who act and demonstrate that one must not be subject to circumstances. Want to watch a movie with compelling characters and plot with a few musical numbers thrown into the mix to prepare you for the holiday season? Watch Holiday Inn instead of White Christmas this year.