Jim Hardy, Ted Hanover, and Lila Dixon, who form a musical act, are staples of the Manhattan nightlife scene. On Christmas Eve, Hardy prepares to give his last performance as part of the act before marrying Lila and retiring with her to a farm in Connecticut. Lila, however, decides at the last minute that she is not ready to stop performing, and that she has fallen in love with Ted. She chooses to stay on as his dancing partner. Jim, while heartbroken, follows through with his plan and bids the act goodbye.
One Christmas Eve later, Jim is back in New York. Farm life has proven difficult (as shown in a montage of Jim trying to cope with the demands of the life he's chosen), requiring him to spend time in a sanatorium to calm his nerves. While recuperating, Jim has dreamed up a new use for his farm. He plans to turn it into an entertainment venue called Holiday Inn, which will only open on holidays. Ted and his agent Danny Reed scoff at the plan, but wish him luck. Reed then leaves for a flight. Stopping off in the airport flower shop to order flowers for Lila from Ted, Reed is accosted by employee Linda Mason who recognizes him as a talent agent and begs him for a chance in show business. He refers her to Holiday Inn and gives her a pass to Ted's club for the night. She sits at the performer's table where Jim also is sitting. He pretends that he has a big club and isn't sure he could use an act like Hanover and Dixon; she pretends to be a celebrity and friend of Ted's. They both watch Ted and Lila perform, then Linda escapes when the two performers come to Jim's table.
The next morning, Christmas Day, Linda arrives at Holiday Inn. She meets Jim, and both realize that they were fooling each other the previous evening. Jim is readying the place for New Year's Eve. They take to one another immediately and Jim sings his new song, "White Christmas", to Linda, a song he would have performed had the inn been open that night.
On New Year's Eve, Holiday Inn opens to a packed house. In New York, Ted learns that Lila is leaving him for a Texas millionaire. He drinks heavily and heads out to Holiday Inn to talk with Jim. Extremely drunk, Ted arrives just as the clock strikes twelve. Then, wandering aimlessly across the dance floor, Ted and Linda spot each other. She remembers him from Christmas Eve. They dance, with Ted bringing down the house despite his inebriated state. Danny Reed arrives just as the dance ends. He is ecstatic that Ted has found a new partner. However, Ted, who passed out at the end of the dance, remembers very little the next morning and is unaware of Linda's identity. Jim relates no information and hides Linda, as he is afraid that Ted will steal her away from the inn.
At the next performance, Lincoln's Birthday, Ted and Danny return to search for Linda. Jim is ready for them and decides to run the night's big minstrel show number "Abraham" with disguised performers, including Linda, in an effort to foil the search. While applying Linda's blackface make-up, Jim asks if she will stay with him once she is not required to work on non-holidays. Linda takes this as a proposal. The scheme works, with Ted and Danny coming up empty. However, the pair will not give up and plan to be back for Valentine's Day.
On Valentine's Day, at rehearsal, Jim presents Linda with a valentine, a new song called "Be Careful, It's My Heart". While he sings the song with his back to her, she begins dancing alone. Ted enters, spots Linda rehearsing and launches into an impromptu romantic dance with her. Now convinced that Linda was the girl from New Year's Eve, Ted demands that Jim think up a number for them to perform on the next holiday. Jim has little choice but to concede.
Washington's Birthday features Ted and Linda performing in elaborate eighteenth century period costumes. However, Jim attempts to sabotage their dance by changing the band's tune from a minuet to jazz every time the couple attempts to kiss. Afterward, Ted asks Linda to join him as his new dance partner. Linda refuses, saying she has promised to stay at the inn and that she and Jim are to be married. When Ted talks to Jim of the marriage, Jim is surprised but tries to play it off. Ted is unconvinced and tells Danny he will continue to pursue Linda.
At Easter, romance continues to blossom between Jim and Linda as they travel home from church in a carriage. When they reach the inn, Ted is sitting on the porch waiting from them. Ted asks Jim if he can remain in his shows, claiming he wants to experience "the true happiness you people have found here at the inn". Linda is charmed, but Jim is suspicious.
These suspicions are confirmed on Independence Day when Jim overhears Ted and Danny discussing an offer Ted has received. Hollywood representatives will attend the night's show and determine if Ted and Linda are suitable for motion pictures. Desperate, Jim bribes hired hand Gus to ensure that Linda does not arrive at the inn. Gus attempts to delay her by driving the inn's car into a swollen creek. As Linda tries to return to the inn, she is picked up by Lila, who left the millionaire after his tax problems were revealed. She tells Linda (who is pretending to be a waitress) about the studio tryout and that she (Lila) will be Ted's partner. Apparently, Jim arranged for her to take Linda's place. Linda directs Lila into the same river. Back at the inn, Ted is forced to perform a solo dance. When Linda eventually makes her way to the inn, she finds that Ted has impressed the studio honchos with his improvised solo and the opportunity stands. Irritated with Jim for not trusting her to make her own decision, she takes the offer and leaves for Hollywood. The producers want to make a film about Holiday Inn, and Jim reluctantly agrees.
At Thanksgiving, the inn is closed and Jim is deeply depressed. He barely touches the turkey dinner prepared by his housekeeper Mamie. Jim is prepared to mail to Hollywood a recording of his new Thanksgiving song, but, before he does, he plays it on a record player and makes bitter negative comments over the positive ones in the recording. Mamie realizes just what is wrong and, ignoring decorum, implores him to travel to California to win Linda back from Ted by telling her how he really feels.
He arrives at the studio on Christmas Eve, as Ted is preparing to leave with Linda after the final film shoot to get married. Jim confronts Ted in his dressing room, then locks him in it. Before Linda films the final scene for her movie, which features a recreation of Holiday Inn, Jim walks around the set with the director, who says it is the most exact recreation ever created of a place for a motion picture. Jim leaves his pipe on the set's piano and hides nearby. Linda enters the room and sits at the piano, performing "White Christmas". Startled by the pipe's appearance, she falters, then continues as Jim's voice joins her. He appears and she runs to him as the director hollers "Cut." Ted and Danny, having learned of Jim's plan, are too late to stop him.
The film ends with the New Year's Eve celebration at Holiday Inn. Jim and Linda are prepared to stay together and run the inn. Ted is reunited with Lila, who is ready and willing to perform with him again.
- "I'll Capture Your Heart Singing"
- "White Christmas"
- "You're Easy to Dance With"
- "Happy Holidays"
- "(Come to) Holiday Inn"
- "Let's Start the New Year Right"
- "Be Careful, It's My Heart"
- "I Can't Tell a Lie"
- "Easter Parade"
- "Let's Say It With Firecrackers"
- "Song of Freedom"
- "I've Got Plenty to Be Thankful For"
The success of the song "White Christmas" eventually led to another film based on the song, White Christmas, which was released in 1954 and starred Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. White Christmas was a loose remake of Holiday Inn, with a plotline again involving an inn, but otherwise different from the first one. Fred Astaire was offered the second lead in it, but after reading the script, he declined. The role was then offered to Donald O'Connor, but he was injured before filming began. Danny Kaye took the role.
A colorized version of the film was released by Universal on October 14, 2008. The colorization was done by Legend Films. The colorization company used Edith Head’s sketch artist, Jan Muckelstone, as a color design consultant for costume authenticity.
Each segment of the film is preceded by animation of a calendar with a visual symbol of the given holiday. For November, a turkey is shown jumping back and forth between the third and fourth Thursdays, finally shrugging its shoulders in confusion. This is a satirical reference to the "Franksgiving" controversy sparked in 1939 and 1940 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to expand the Christmas shopping season by declaring Thanksgiving a week earlier than his predecessors. The dispute led to the date of Thanksgiving being established by law rather than by presidential declaration.
The Holiday Inn hotel chain was named after the film.
- "White Christmas" won an Academy Award for Best Song.
- Marth Mears' singing voice was used for Marjorie Reynolds' character.
|Bing Crosby||Jim Hardy|
|Fred Astaire||Ted Hanover|
|Marjorie Reynolds||Linda Mason (speaking)|
|Marth Mears||Linda Mason (singing)|
|Virginia Dale||Lila Dixon|
|Walter Abel||Danny Reed|
|Irving Berlin||Flower store manager|
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