Saturday, November 14, 2020

Movie Review: "Christmas Holiday" (1944) starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly

Christmas Holiday begins with Charles Mason (Dean Harens) just about ready to begin his holiday leave from the army. He's heading home to San Francisco to be married, but before he sets foot on the plane, he receives a telegram from his girl, telling him that she's terribly sorry but she's married someone else.

Despite the shock, Charles keeps his plans, boards the plane, and when foul weather arises, finds himself landed unexpectedly in New Orleans. A man he meets randomly invites him out to a nightclub where he meets singer Jackie Lamont (Deanna Durbin). Over the course of their brief encounter of a few days, Jackie tells him her story, that of a woman who fell in love with and married a liar and a prolific gambler, Robert Mannette (Gene Kelly). And, as it turns out, a murderer. When Robert is caught red-handed (almost literally), he is sentenced to prison. His mother, Mrs. Mannette (Gale Sondergaard), is deeply devoted to her son, and his arrest crushes the hopes she had that Robert might turn out all right since he married such a sweet, wholesome girl as Abigail (Jackie's real name). Instead, her fury turns against Abigail and before she can even blink, 7 years have passed and Abigail is now Jackie Lamont, a nightclub singer and about as far from that wholesome girl as she could get.

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Deanna Durbin and Dean Harens

I see where Universal Pictures went wrong with this one. If you cast Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly in a movie called Christmas Holiday, people will think that it's actually a fun, lively, breezy Christmas musical. You might just as well say that The Godfather is a Christmas movie.

To be fair, the novel's author W. Somerset Maugham entitled his 1939 novel the same title. But still, there were bound to be problems, first with the title, and then with the cast. It would have served them well to rename the film, giving Maugham the right to choose the name naturally, but to pick something else, anything else.

That said, for a 1940s noir film, it's not bad. There are a lot of dark, broody, dusky scenes, helped along by the black and white filming. I like how they added a bit of a New Orleans flavor to the set, especially the many levels of balconies so prevalent in that city.

Gene Kelly and Gale Sondergaard

You can tell where Gene Kelly is headed. He had only been in Hollywood for 2 years at this point, which I'm sure is why they cast the newcomer in such a different role than we usually associate with him. His character is charming, but he's a liar. He has the typical Kelly smile, but he's also somewhat terrifying. Let's just say it's not his normal fare which makes Christmas Holiday all the more interesting because it isn't how we're used to seeing Gene Kelly.

Deanna Durbin

As for Deanna Durbin, she's lovely, but she's dark. I didn't know she could play such a disillusioned character. One of my favorite scenes with her is actually when she begs Charles to take her to Christmas church services, where she sits weeping in one of the pews, grieving over what she has become and over what has been taken from her. She possessed genuine star quality in this film, something I didn't anticipate. She actually outshone Kelly, which is a hard thing to do, imo.

Dean Harens and Deanna Durbin

Then we have Dean Harens, an actor who was only cast in a couple of motion pictures and then moved over to television. He was a delight, handsome, good-natured, and sweet. I liked him immensely and I'm so terribly disappointed that he isn't in more movies.

Gale Sondergaard

Gale Sondergaard as Manette's mother was a brilliant casting choice. She's always brilliant, but I appreciated her being not a straight-up villainess like we sometimes see. Here she's simply a mother who wants her son to be a better man.

Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly

Did I love this movie? No, not really. I don't regret watching it, but sometimes the noir is just too broody if you know what I mean? A least the Hays Code kept Abigail from being a prostitute in a brothel, which is how the novel depicts her. So that's definitely on the plus side for me. It was more an interesting view of two actors whose usual roles are VERY different than their roles in Christmas Holiday. The ending is a bit of a humdinger so keep that in mind.

Deanna Durbin proclaimed this film to be her favorite role that she ever performed and I can see why. She does sing and here's where she sings Irving Berlin's Always, that beautiful song that most people probably associate with her. It's the theme song for Abigail and Robert's love and she sings it more than once, and it's just beautiful.

Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly

If you want to try something different then Christmas Holiday might be right up your alley. Just remember, this is not an actual Christmas movie. It just happens to take place over the Christmas season, that's all. It could have been set at any time in the year and have been exactly the same story. This is film noir, plain and simple, and does a pretty decent job of depicting the genre.

4 yorum:

  1. I would have expected a very different movie, judging by the title. However, you've still sold me on it! :)

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    1. I know, right?! It's the strangest thing, but very good once you get over the shock of the title not matching the story. It's really a solid noir representation so I hope you enjoy it.

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  2. I've always been curious about this movie because I love Gene Kelly! But.. I love dancer Gene Kelly, so I haven't actively sought this one out. It sounds interesting though, but dark. Not sure that I'd really like him in this role...but then again, he can be a heel in some of his musicals too before he redeems himself! I may have to give it a shot just to see it :)

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    1. This one is a VERY different character for Gene Kelly, that's for sure. He seems so likable with all that Kelly charm, but, nope. Still, it was intriguing to see him play someone so outside of the norm. I'm glad I watched it even though I'll probably never watch it again and I thought it was very good noir. I'll be interesting to get your thoughts on it if you ever do give it a try.

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