Christmas Holiday (1944) Robert Siodmak

Have yourself a very noirish Christmas…

After recently hearing about this film, I was optimistic that I had found a gem for the holiday season, a film noir with a Christmas setting directed by one of the masters of dark cinema, Robert Siodmak. To say the least, it sounded intriguing. When the DVD arrived in the mail, I watched it that same night staying up later than I should considering it was going to be rise and shine at 5AM the following morning.

With the title, “Christmas Holiday” and the two stars Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin, on the surface this sounds like a festive holiday film along the lines of “White Christmas” or “Holiday Inn.” However, with Robert Siodmak directing you know you are not in for bright fluffy musical extravaganza. The film is more fascinating in spots than a first-class work overall. Sad to say the two leads offer rather flat performances, though Durbin has one shining moment, and the script, by Herman J. Mankiewicz, is presented with an uneven storyline. Deanna Durbin, best known for light musicals, is unconvincing in what was suppose to be her big dramatic breakthrough, and a nervous Universal threw in two songs for her to sing, Frank Losser’s “Spring Will Be Late This Year” and the Irving Berlin classic, “Always” just to cover their bases.

    The film is set on Christmas Eve and day, though you would not know it from the opening scene. It is graduation day for a group of new cadets at West Point. Now consider what was just said, Christmas Eve, December 24th at West Point in upstate New York. It should be cold; freezing, instead the weather and the clothes all are wearing make it seem more like June in Florida. You also have to question the validity of a cadet class graduating on Christmas Eve. I won’t even mention the oddity of there being a Christmas tree in the barracks…oops I just did. I thought this was all a bit sloppy and quickly put me off.  More important is the rest of the opening sequence that introduces secondary character, Lt. Charles Mason (Dean Harens) to the story. After the ceremony, Mason receives a cruel “Dear John” letter from his fiancé, and decides to catch a plane for San Francisco to try and convince her the breakup is a mistake. Inclement weather, forces his plane to land in New Orleans (an indirect route to say the least, going from West Point, New York to San Francisco but this is 1944 and I have no idea what air travel was like in those days). Anyway, in New Orleans, the young officer meets Jackie Lamont (Durbin) a “hostess” at a sleazy nightclub run by Valerie de Morode (Gladys George). This is arranged by sleaze bucket newspaper reporter, Simon Fenimore (Richard Whorf). We find out Jackie Lamont is really Abigail Manette who has had a rough go of it.  She unloads on Mason, and us in flashbacks, her tale of woe.  She first meets Robert Manette (Gene Kelly) at a concert and is quickly charmed by the young handsome man. Quicker than you can say “Gotta dance!” they marry, however it soon becomes apparent there are hidden secrets; a domineering mother-in-law (Gale Sondergaard), and a husband with a gambling addiction who cannot pay off his debts and eventually murders his bookie. Despite mother covering up for her son’s crime, (she burns a pair of his blood stained pants) Manette is caught, put on trial and sent to prison. Blamed by her mother-in-law for not helping Robert enough with his problems, Abigail’s dream marriage has turned into a nightmare of the darkest proportions. Back to the present, we soon learn Robert has escaped from prison and is seeking revenge.

    Based loosely on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, the location was switched from Paris to New Orleans. The nightclub where Jackie/Abigail works, a bordello in the novel was turned into a nightclub in the film, though you can easily read between the lines and realize Durbin’s character is working there as a prostitute, and that newspaper reporter Fenimore has a sideline pimping for the Madam, club owner de Morode.

As a film, it is better in parts than as a whole. Director Robert Siodmak does the best possible with an uneven script and to his credit he does gives us one of his most visually startling sequences in the film. This occurs when Lt. Mason and Jackie go from the nightclub/whorehouse she works at directly to this cathedral size house of worship where midnight mass is in progress. Siodmak lingers on the ceremonial proceedings, the music, and the prayers before closing in on our couple in one of the crowded pews. Here we see Jackie breaking down and crying, overcome with the emotional pain and guilt life’s ugly events has bestowed on her. Definitely, Durbin’s one shining moment in the film.

Acting kudos go to Gale Sondergaard’s performance as the over protective mother, Gladys George as the nightclub owner and Richard Whorf as the slimy newspaperman. If you find yourself overdosing on saccharine coated festive fare, you may want to try this dark holiday treat and have yourself a very noirish Christmas.

15 comments on “Christmas Holiday (1944) Robert Siodmak

  1. This turned up many years ago on AMC, if I remember right, and I recall being stunned by the discrepancy between title and content — though it is the title of Maugham’s original story. The concept of Gene Kelly as a sort of psycho kept me intrigued even if his performance doesn’t live up to anticipation. But I remember liking it better than posterity says I should have. The idea of a noir musical probably impressed me more than the actual execution, but I would like to see it again for old time’s sake.

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    • John Greco says:

      Samuel,

      Seeing Kelly as someone with a dark side intrigued me, as did the idea of Durbin, who admittedly, whose work I am not familiar with except for this film and Lady on a Train, another non-musical she made. I think they were working with a bit of a clunky script to the film’s overall detriment. It’s worth seeing but for me ultimately disappointing.

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  2. […] at “Twenty Four Frames” where his most recent post is on the film Christmas Holiday: https://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/christmas-holiday-1944-robert-siodmak/   Troy Olson’s torrid pace continues with excellent extended capsule reviews of The […]

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  3. Sam Juliano says:

    John: I got a good laugh over some of those astounding inaccuracies, particularly the graduation on Christmas Eve and the warm weather. Robert Soidmak is a talented director, and as you note his forte is the darker material. I think my favorite of his is THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, which featured Dorothy Maguire and Ethel Barrymore as an aging matriarch in an old dark house with a killer lurking.

    Your description of that one effective scene in the pew is very vivid, and as you suggest, it has issues but it may be worth a visit, at least for Sondergaard’s performance.

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  4. John Greco says:

    Sam,

    I like Siodmak’s work especially The Killers and Phantom Lady. I haven’t seen The Spiral Staircase in many, many years and admittedly do not remember too much about it. I recorded off TCM and it is there on the pile waiting to be plucked.

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  5. great site and some nice information

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  6. Ultracat says:

    During the War there were accelerated graduations in many colleges, plus with some cadets missing semesters, graduating in December in not an inaccuracy. As far as the weather, it’s not uncommon to not have snow in December. I’ve lived outside the gates of West Point all my life. This year although we had early snow, recent rains have washed most of it away and the lakes are not frozen. Nobody sneezed at the lack of snow in Vermont, much farther north, in “White Christmas”.

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    • John Greco says:

      Ultracat,

      thanks for your thoughts and yes it does not have to snow to show winter but generally it is cold at that time of year. As for the graduation that is interesting information and I do not doubt they had graudating classes in December but in the movie it was December 31st, Christmas Eve and that I do doubt, I may be wrong but it seems unlikely. And then there is that Christmas tree in the barracks. No way would that happen.

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  7. Fred says:

    “but in the movie it was December 31st, Christmas Eve”

    Just to nitpick, Christmas Eve is December 24th. Do you mean New Year’s Eve? Or the 24th?

    No biggee…just looking for clarification. Though I suppose I’d be better off watching the movie and then finding out…

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    • John Greco says:

      Fred,

      That was a bone head mistake on my part. It was Christmas Eve, December 24th. Thanks for pointing that out. I fixed it in the article.

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  8. DorianTB says:

    John, having discovered your CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY review while reading Grand Old Movies’ current post made for an interesting and enjoyable compare-and-contrast. Both posts were enjoyable and interesting and well worth reading, but I must admit your quips and remarks about apparent bloopers cracked me up!

    Again, great post, and Happy New Year to you and yours from your pals here at Team B.!

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  9. John Greco says:

    Thanks again Dorian. The film is worth watching and I know GOM liked it more than I did. I am a big fan of director Robert Siodmak so there are some interesting shots going on. The whole Chirstmas graduation thing just seemed bogus.

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  10. Jan Zamojski says:

    You actually don’t need to fret about Siodmak being “sloppy” regarding the depiction of locale in the opening scenes: as the telegram Lieutenant Mason receives indicates, he is graduating from Anti-Aircraft Artillery School at Camp Davis, North Carolina.

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    • John Greco says:

      Jan, I guess i was the one who was being “sloppy!” I completely missed that. Appreciate you bringing it up and will have to take another look at the film especially with the holidays coming soon. Thanks!!!

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      • Jan Zamojski says:

        No problem! It seemed worth pointing out. I’ll be re-watching the film again myself; I think it’s remarkable and deserves to be more well-known. Cheers!

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