This is the third time in less than two weeks I’ve reviewed a Robert Siodmak joint. Christmas Holiday really amps up the melodrama and while it kinda seems overly sappy on the surface, ya gotta put it into context. Hollywood didn’t take too kindly to hookers as lead characters, so Siodmak took a lotta flak for this one. I’m not a huge fan of this one, it’s nothing I would want to rewatch anytime soon, but there’s some interesting things going on. And when the tone dramatically shifts from domestic bliss to noir, it’s wicked fun.
Christmas Holiday opens up with a lot of military fanfare. A group of cadets is graduating from academy and preparing for holiday leave. Charlie Mason (Dean Harens) is particularly excited to head home so he can propose to his girlfriend, then he gets a telegram from her, saying she’s married someone else. Merry Christmas, Charlie Mason.
He doesn’t take it very well, even telling one of his army buddies “they won’t get away with this.” Sounds like he wants to kill them both, but before he can make it back to San Fran, the weather forces his plane to make an emergency landing (just like in Roadblock the other day!). Stranded in New Orleans, he meets a brothel “hostess” named Jackie.
She’s played by Canadian actress Deanna Durbin, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 91. Before Christmas Holiday, she was typecast as “girl next door” types. Playing a singing hooker helped her break free of the mold, much to the critics’ chagrin. It also helped her land a role in the comedy noir Lady on a Train the following year.
Up to this point the film’s been all about Charlie boy’s romantic woes. Now Jackie begins to tell him her story, and the film flashes back for pretty much the rest of its running time. Jackie’s real name is Abigail Manette. For a time she was married to charming playboy Robert Manette (Gene Kelly). Robert has some serious mommy issues – his domineering mother controls every aspect of his life, to the point where he becomes a twitchy little prat around her. The only thing she can’t control is his gambling, which has gotten outta control.
One night, he steals away from home and murders his bookie. His mother helps him cover it up, but when he’s arrested, him and his mom blame Abigail for his life sentence. The movie gets pretty dark after the murder happens, and it’s impressive how Siodmak handles the tonal shift and makes it work.
Mother and son Manette claim Abigail didn’t do her part in helping quell his gambling habit. It’s obvious bullshit, but Abigail is so hurt she changes her name and becomes a hostess. Even after he murders, she still madly in love with the guy, so seeing him taken away in shackles emotionally destroys her.
I don’t think I’ve seen any other movie with Durbin in it, but I really don’t buy her in this role – except when she’s crying, she’s great at that. She doesn’t seem to have the range and she looks really stiff throughout the whole film.
This flashback is the bulk of the film and by the time it was over, I had forgotten about Charlie boy. He pretty much gets the shaft, but at least Gene Kelly gets some screen time towards the end. He plays a great creep, guys. Seriously. The ending is really over the top, but Siodmak makes it work.
I posted this one on Christmas because of its title. But once Abigail/Jackie starts spinning her yarn, the movie flashes back to the summer, so there’s really no Christmas vibe. There is, however, FIVE musical interludes, including a Catholic mass. That’s a lotta musical numbers for a 90-minute-non-musical.
Ah well, Merry Christmas, you mugs.
Robert Siodmak Power Rankings:
1. The Killers
2. Criss Cross
3. The Spiral Staircase
4. Phantom Lady
5. Cry of the City
6. The Dark Mirror
7. The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
8. The File on Thelma Jordon
9. The Suspect
10. Christmas Holiday