White Christmas (1954) **

The first film in VistaVision, taking us right back to that moment when Hollywood began advertising its desperation with wide screens and three hour biblical epics and polaroid glasses. But behind the half-filled canvas and the distorted picture was an entirely old-fashioned enterprise, filmed in that scrumptious, thick Technicolor that made every frame look like it had been painted on to the screen.

All in the studio, too, before the real locations fetish gripped filmland and consigned the movie lots to oblivion (it predates that fifties innovation at least). Everything, from a 1945 war zone to the snowy Vermont resort that fills the screen in the final number, is movie makebelieve, conjured from plywood and plastic by the industry's last great craftsmen. What price realism against this? A charming and simple story, lovely lead performances, Bing Crosby confirming yet again that as well as a voice he really did have something special as a screen presence (though God knows what it was: it certainly defies sober analysis), heroes like Grady Sutton and Sig Ruman and Mary Wickes in support, great Irving Berlin numbers.
Hollywood's decline was going at full speed by 1954, but films like this remind you it was still way nearer the top than the bottom. Imagine the luxury - the sheer, decadent luxury! - of being able to turn your nose up at a film this gorgeous!