Sunday, August 2, 2015

Christmas Holiday (1944)

(SLWB  March 24, 2012)

Director: Robert Siodmak based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel and reworked for the screen by Herman J. Mankiewicz. The film stars Deanna Durbin, Gene Kelly, Dean Harens, and Richard Whorf.

The story begins with Army officer (Dean Harens) about to leave for San Francisco to marry his sweetheart during the Christmas Holidays,right before departure he receives a “Dear John” letter from his fiance saying she married another. Harrens hops on the first flight heading west to confront her in San Francisco. Foul weather forces the flight to land in New Orleans to wait out the storm. While boozing away his misery in the hotel bar, the young Lieutenant is visited by a news reporter who also serves as a pimp for one of local whorehouses and he talks Harrens into riding out with him to the Storyville house of ill repute that supplements his pay and keeps him in his cups.

Harrens gets the letter

Bad weather

Gotta love Hayes Code Hollywood, after Harren's plane lands in New Orleans and he's put up in a Hotel a guy (actually a pimp for a whorehouse) suggests that they go to a "dance hall" to forget his troubles and after all its Christmas Eve. They arrive and we get subtle shots suggesting what the dance hall really is:

We see two women sitting together, and two women dancing together pass by as the pimp goes to find the Madame.

At the whorehouse Harren's becomes smitten with torch singer Deanna Durbin.

Harren's and Durbin get acquainted. One thing leads to another, in the film Harren's takes her to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve where Durbin breaks down and tell him her tale of woe that brought her to hooking, but none of this is ever spelled out directly, in the film after the mass,  they eventually wake up in Harren's Hotel room together after a platonic night. Her tale is told in a very long flashback sequence where we first meet Gene Kelly, her husband and ner-do-well gambler from one of the better New Orleans families.

After the platonic Christmas Eve, Harrens and Durbin having breakfast at the hotel.

Durbin & Kelly live with his tyrannical mother Gale Sondergaard. Kelly one night not long after their marriage kills a man, his mother finds the evidence of his bloody pants and a wad of bills in a pocket.

Kelly after being convicted and sent to prison escapes confronts Durbin and violently pushes a shocked Durbin around at the finale

Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin are cast way against type in this sad and dark melodrama. Kelly plays a charming killer, while Durbin, plays a clueless woman who loves him even knowing he's a murderer.  Its bleak and at times creepy with the visuals against its Christmas backdrop, the Christmas decorations keep reminding you of the holiday in the barracks and even in the whorehouse, there is an extended Midnight Mass church service sequence that causes Durbin to breakdown, a concert sequence, and a few musical numbers that highlight Durbin.

Cinematography by Elwood Bredell   whose Noir credentials include The Killers, Lady on A Train, The Phantom Lady, and The Unsuspected.

Worth watching for its entertainment value I'll give it a 6.5-7/10 Seeing Kelly against type is a mind-bender, Durbin has a little bit of baby fat and a bit too innocent looking for what it is suggested that she's doing for "work". Too bad it couldn't be remade straight forwardly without the Hayes Code ridiculousness.

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