Christmas Holiday (1944)

“They said it was shameful that I should love him — as if you could stop loving because it’s shameful to love.”

Synopsis:
A jilted G.I. on leave (Dean Harens) encounters a depressed nightclub singer (Deanna Durbin) who proceeds to tell him the sad story of how she met her troubled husband (Gene Kelly), who was eventually sent to jail for murder.

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Review:
Robert Siodmak’s noir-tinged Christmas Holiday — loosely based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham — possesses both an incongruously misleading title (Christmas has little to do with the proceedings), and a mind-boggling choice of romantic leads. Having recently rewatched Universal Studios’ chirpy songbird Deanna Durbin in two of her best-known early films — Three Smart Girls (1936) and 100 Men and a Girl (1937) — I was shocked to see her cast here as a world-weary chanteuse with a shadowy past (though a bit of background reading reveals that she was eager to take on this persona-busting role, and worked tremendously hard to perfect her character). Meanwhile, Kelly (early in his career) seems equally cast against type in a slippery role as a charming husband who turns out to be not only a Mamma’s boy but a convincing liar.

The storyline starts slowly and somewhat mysteriously, leading us to believe that we’ll be watching a film primarily about Harens’ cruelly jilted G.I.; instead, Harens turns out to be merely a side-note in the much darker tale told by Durbin in flashback. At this point, viewers discombobulated by Durbin’s jaded initial appearance on screen may be temporarily renewed to see her as a familiarly fresh-faced young woman falling for Kelly, who only gradually realizes that he’s not all he seems to be. Gale Sondergaard is quietly menacing as Kelly’s deceptively inviting mother, and Durbin herself reveals surprising depth and nuance while portraying her character’s mounting confusion and suspicion. Atmospheric cinematography and a firm directorial hand by Siodmak make this unusual flick worth checking out once, if simply to see its stars in the most atypical roles of their careers.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Deanna Durbin as Jackie/Abigail
  • Gale Sondergaard as Mrs. Manette
  • Woody Bredell’s atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, simply as a most unusual outing by Siodmak.

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One Response to “Christmas Holiday (1944)”

  1. Agreed – must-see, for reasons well stated.

    ‘CH’ is a total reworking of Maugham’s satisfying novel. The main (significant) difference is that the film completely Americanizes the book (this affects the bulk of the dialogue); the original story is populated with Europeans in a Parisian setting (for the most part). However, whittled down as the story is, the film holds fast to the novel’s main events and still manages to capture a surprising amount of the spirit of Maugham’s work. It’s a rare adaptation that is simultaneously altogether different while remaining faithful.

    An added plus for the film is the fact that it’s set in the somewhat-Gothic South (this not only adds noir to the flavor but it also helps maintain some of Maugham’s European sensibility).

    As with the best of his films, Siodmak keeps things economically tight and tense throughout – though ‘CH’ also has a melancholy thread (being a love story gone wildly wrong). And is there another Christmas film that has a fierce thunderstorm running through a large chunk of it? I don’t think so.

    Durbin and Kelly are indeed one of the most unusual combos, given their careers, but it’s to their credit that they are at once up to the task as actors and very well matched in their chemistry. It’s nice to see Sondergaard being not quite as menacing, for a change, and Gladys George (in the type of role she reprises in ‘Flamingo Road’) is a soothing presence.

    To me, ‘CH’ is something of an unsung classic with a unique storyline. Gripping, sad, and mixed with wonderful music as well, it’s also lean and to the point. Though I would still point viewers to Maugham’s book (for its richness, and for what the movie leaves out), ‘CH’ is excellent filmmaking and a real sleeper.

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