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Christmas Holiday (1944)
Topic Started: Dec 2 2017, 11:27 AM (213 Views)
Laughing Gravy
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Christmas Holiday (1944) Dir. Robert Siodmak
A Universal Picture
Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maughan
93 min. / B&W / 1.37:1

A cheery, peppy holiday musical with two of the great musical stars of their day, Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly, singin' and dancin' up a storm to a delightful array of seasonal songs. Fun for the whole family!

Uh, not.

A young soldier who plans on flying to San Francisco to propose to his girlfriend on his Christmas leave receives a "Dear John" letter just as he's leaving the base; she's married somebody else. He insists he's still going to fly there to "settle matters" which we don't know if that means kill her or throw rice at her or what, but his plane is grounded in New Orleans in a storm and a drunken reporter takes him to a high-class brothel(!) where he meets young, troubled Miss Durbin and they go to Christmas Eve mass(!!) and SAY, what kind of soldier and prostitute ARE these people!?!? (In fairness, this was a Code-era film, and they pretty much just gloss over the whorehouse aspect of its setting and let's get on with the story, shall we, children?) To while away the hours while our soldier awaits the next plane out, she tells him her sad, pathetic life story, which consists of a whirlwind romance and marriage to Mr. Kelly and his buttinsky mother, Gale Sondergaard. Mr. Kelly is a gambler and a liar and the fact that he dresses in a grey suit and a bowtie, making him look just like Pee-wee Herman, only makes things worse, especially when he kills a guy for his roll, which isn't spoiling anything because practically the first words out of Deanna's mouth in the picture are "Hi, my husband's in prison for killing a guy for his roll." She probably says that to everybody as a conversation starter. Anyway, in the end, something dramatic happens and THAT would be a spoiler.

What a weird, odd movie this film, written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, is! Apparently Miss Durbin wanted to try a dramatic role instead of the operatic ingenues she'd been playing, but why then match her up with Gene Kelly (who had to be borrowed from MGM)? Granted it was early in his career, but he was known already for Pal Joey on Broadway and For Me and My Gal at Metro; whose idea was it to cast him as an abusive sociopath husband for Universal's #1 female star in one of the bleakest dramas of the 1940s? Funny how Hollywood works. We had a full house for this one at our Friday Night Films gathering, and the audience was engrossed, but mostly because of how odd the whole thing, including casting, was. I suspect getting all this past the censors was the reason the film is so disjointed, and Miss Sondergaard in particular... well, either she or the director couldn't figure out if she was going to be a menacing character or not. Miss Durbin, referred to as a "hostess" (along with a lot of other swell-lookin' chicks in the broth... er... "club" at which they work) does a couple of songs in the film, notably the classic "Always" by Irving Berlin.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Deanna, reminiscing: "Those days whenever I had half a dollar that didn't belong to the butcher, the landlady or the street car company, I'd go to a concert!"

Apparently, the film did very well but these days it seems miscast all 'round (even though Miss Durbin, at age 22, fills out her gowns beautifully; she's just too chipmunk-cheeked to be considered "sexy") but it's certainly an interesting, well, "failure." Not on DVD, a beautiful copy of it fell into my lap quite out of nowhere. Oscar-nominated for its Hans Salter score, I'm kind of surprised with those stars that Universal hasn't seen to release this in the U.S. as part of their Vault system. Wonder if there's a tie-up of the rights?
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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