Five Reasons to See... Wintertime (1943)


When Norwegian millionaire Hjalmar Ostgaard (S.Z. Sakall) and his niece Nora (Sonja Henie), an amateur skating champion, arrive in Canada to wait for their quota numbers in order to emigrate to the United States*, they are tricked into staying at the shabby Chateau Promenade by its desperate owner, Skip Hutton (Jack Oakie). Skip and his partner, Freddy Austin (Cornel Wilde), have just one more day to convince their creditors to keep the hotel open and Skip believes that Ostgaard is just the man to help them.

Freddy quickly admits to Nora what Skip's idea is, but rather than be upset, she is charmed by the hotel (and Freddy) and the three of them scheme to convince her uncle to invest in the Chateau Promenade. It works, but trouble immediately appears when Nora and Freddy are kept apart by Marian Daly (Helene Reynolds), a flirty photographer for an influential winter sports magazine whose publicity would help the hotel. On top of that, the Ostgaards' millions are cut off when Germany invades Norway, setting in motion further financial and romantic complications.


To me, there is nothing cozier than a good Sonja Henie film. Sun Valley Serenade, which I wrote about here, is my absolute favorite of her movies -- and really one of my favorite movies ever -- but another gem is 1943's Wintertime. I can't deny that it has its issues, such as the thin plot and the boring coupling of Nora and Freddy. However! There are so many things about this film that make it as charming as it is. Below are my five reasons why you should grab a mug of hot chocolate, cuddle up with a fluffy blanket, and check out Wintertime:

The supporting cast

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Wintertime is that it really lets its supporting cast shine. Without a doubt, Henie is the star, but her leading man, Cornel Wilde, is oddly pushed to the side -- as evidenced by his name being billed sixth -- which ultimately hurts his and Henie's romantic storyline. What little time they do spend together doesn't have enough spark to prove their characters' love for one another, which weakens the tension and jealousy that are supposed to motivate their actions for the majority of the film.

To me, the actual leading man of Wintertime is Cesar Romero. As Brad Barton, the conceited singer who works at the Chateau Promenade, Romero is a joy to behold. If it weren't for Henie's ice-skating spectacles, he would easily steal the whole show. Every scene with him is a comedic delight, and it all culminates in a nearly ten-minute-long setpiece where Brad is forced to hide around the hotel in his long underwear after his clothes are stolen. It is so ridiculous and so fun.

A smooth-talking, hilariously egocentric man, Brad decides to chase after wealthy Nora, despite his equally ambitious and clever girlfriend, Flossie, played by a sublime Carole Landis. Honestly, after watching the way Landis and Romero played off of one another, I think we deserved a sequel that focused on the antics of Flossie and Brad.

Rounding out the supporting players are S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, one of my favorites, and Jack Oakie. I probably groan at Oakie's cheesy joke-a-minute persona more than I laugh at it, but I think Wintertime knows how to use him and he doesn't end up overstaying his welcome.


The music

Although there weren't any big standards that came out of this film, it still has plenty of bouncy, pleasant numbers, thanks to the lyrics and music of Leo Robin and Nacio Herb Brown and the fantastic big band stylings of Woody Herman (pictured above) and his orchestra. A great, albeit short, example of the music is "I Like It Here," a tune that is performed by the shivering, miserable duo of Flossie and Brad as they take in the Chateau Promenade's dismal state and ironically sing about the warmth and sunniness of their surroundings.

The aesthetics

While there are brief moments where director John Brahm is trying a bit too hard to be artistic, Glen MacWilliams and Joseph MacDonald's cinematography is both subtle and dramatic. There are few things in life as gorgeous as an exceptionally lit black-and-white film, and it can be so unexpected when that film is just a simple musical comedy like Wintertime. (Sadly, my DVD stopped cooperating before I could get all of the screenshots I wanted. So now you definitely have to watch the film to see what I'm talking about!)



Aside from a quick scene at a train station platform and a finale that happens in New York, the entire film stays at the Chateau Promenade. While the action is set in the snowy countryside of Canada, the hotel's architecture feels more European, specifically Scandinavian, which is fitting considering that the Ostgaards and Henie are Norwegian. This also infuses the sets with a fairy tale quality; I often find myself thinking of the dwarves' cottage in Disney's Snow White while watching this film, actually. The set is a sprawling one, complete with a dining room, a cavernous lobby, and, of course, an outdoor ice-skating rink. (Again, my DVD prevented me from getting all the images I wanted of the hotel set.)



The fashion

Speaking of aesthetics, the women's clothes here are divine. Landis wears some wonderful pieces, but it is Henie's wardrobe that I enjoy the most. Comprised of an elegantly shimmering gown, adorable ski jumpsuits, a lovely feathered dress that Ginger Rogers would be proud of, terrific skating costumes, and more, Henie is the film's true clotheshorse.












Sonja Henie!

Ice-skating queen Sonja Henie is like a ball of sunshine when she is on the screen. A record-setting Olympian and world champion, Henie etched out a special place for herself in cinematic history that I can't help but admire. Although she wasn't an actress with a capital A, the camera loved her and it is impossible not to feel bewitched when the blades of her skates glide her through wintery dreamscapes like these:




























Wintertime is a great showcase for Henie in that it allows her to illustrate a lot of what she could do in a short amount of time. (The film is only 82 minutes!) In addition to the skating, she has a brief dramatic moment when she somberly learns about the German invasion of Norway, and she absolutely cracks me up when Nora is talking to Flossie about a hypothetical fight with Freddy. She works herself into such a frenzy that she actually slaps him, much to his confusion.

Another Henie highlight is her dance routine with Romero. To be honest, I'm not sure how proficient the actress was as a dancer, but for me, this scene with Romero is enchanting. The lifts! The jumps! The feathered dress! I love it all.












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This is my meager contribution to the O Canada Blogathon, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. For the other entries celebrating Canadian talent, Canada-set films like Wintertime, and actual Canadian productions, go here.


*Originally determined by legislation in 1921, the quota system limited, by nationality, the number of immigrants who may enter the U.S. each year.

Comments

  1. Joseph MacDonald! Woody Herman! Cesar Romero! And I don't even recall ever hearing of this movie before today!

    Okay. Enough exclamation points. A sincere thanks for putting this on my radar. I love a Twentieth Century Fox musical for comfort and relaxation.

    PS: The screencaps you capped are swell.

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    Replies
    1. So glad I could introduce this one to you! It definitely sounds like it is a film that is right up your alley. And thanks for what you said about my screencaps. I'm still upset that I wasn't able to get images of everything I wanted, but what can you do?

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  2. This movie looks GORGEOUS. Like you said, there are few things as beautiful as black and white, and this film appears to be one of them.

    Also: How do they get the ice to look so beautiful and crystal-clear in some of those shots? It's like they're skating on glass.

    I adore Sonja Henie. True, she's no Sarah Bernhardt, but she's enchanting on film – as is her wardrobe.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon, and for sharing this film. It's one I've not yet seen, but I'll be looking for it very soon.

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    1. Doesn't it look incredible? And I know what you mean about that ice. I believe they put a thin layer of water over it to make it so reflective, but I could be wrong. Whatever they did, the effect is breathtaking.

      Yay, another Sonja fan! I was actually going to make my master's thesis about her and Esther Williams, but it became clear pretty quickly that there was so much to say about the both of them that I had to choose just one... and I'm sure you can guess who I picked.

      Thanks again for co-hosting!

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  3. Wonderful review Michaela! It's funny because a few weeks ago I had to read a chapter on scandinavian actresses and Sonja Henie was among the discussed ones. I haven't seen any of her films but it looks like this one could be a good starting point!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Virginie! I've seen most of her filmography and she has a lot of adorable movies. Sometimes you can find them on YouTube, like Sun Valley Serenade: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUnVNzeVPpI

      And Thin Ice with Tyrone Power, which I enjoy a lot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdI8AR0yZB0

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  4. Classic Movie Muse, I accidentally deleted your comment! :( I receive emails whenever I get a comment, so I was at least able to copy and paste it:

    "First of all, this looks beautiful. Second, how have I not seen a Sonja Henie movie? I've loved watching figure skating ever since I was a kid and I love Esther Williams' movies. Third, Henie's wardrobe looks divine. I think this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship :) Thanks for a splendid post!"

    Sorry about that! And thank you for your kind words. I found out about Henie through Esther and it's really interesting to compare their careers. You can immediately see how Henie's films set up a template for Esther's.

    So glad I could introduce you to Henie! I think most of her movies are on DVD, but YouTube is also a good way to track some down. Thanks again for commenting!

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