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  Christmas Holiday A Marriage Made In Hell
Year: 1944
Director: Robert Siodmak
Stars: Deanna Durbin, Gene Kelly, Richard Whorf, Dean Harens, Gladys George, Gale Sondergaard, David Bruce
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is approaching Christmas, and Lieutenant Charles Mason (Dean Harens) is preparing to go on leave for San Francisco when he receives an unwelcome telegram from his fiancée. It informs him she has left him and married another man while he has been away, and he is devastated but filled with a resolve to go to San Francisco and confront her. However, the flight he takes is grounded along the way due to bad weather and he lands in New Orleans, having to stay at a hotel for the night. A newspaperman, Fenimore (Richard Whorf) persuades him to go to a local night spot, where he meets singer and hostess Jackie (Deanna Durbin), who has a story of her own...

In the list of un-Christmassy Christmas movies, this one must be near the top. There's no good cheer to be enjoyed in this relentlessly glum, film noirish melodrama from director Robert Siodmak, on his way to becoming an old hand at this kind of thing. It was based on W. Somerset Maugham's novel, adapted by Herman J. Mankiewicz, and proved an unlikely vehicle for that creature of sweetness and light Durbin: the title may sound appropriate for her, but her fans were not prepared for something so dour, and so lacking in musical numbers for that matter.

There is music in the film, as if Siodmak was uncertain of how much a Durbin film could do without it, but the star only sings a couple of songs, one of them, "Always", twice. Otherwise there's a cathedral service Charles takes Jackie to, only for her to break down in sobs during the hymns, and a concert we see in flashback. Flashbacks take up a lot of the running time as Jackie reveals her true name is Abigail and fills Charles in on her past life, a life which includes marrying a murderer.

The husband, Robert, is played by Gene Kelly in what could be described as an untypical role, explained by its early stage in his career. I'd like to say that his aggressively easygoing, ordinary Joe persona is intriguingly warped by such a casting decision, but the truth is that he is miscast as the psychopath who is, as is customary with many of his big screen kind, too attached to his mother (Gale Sondergaard), who herself knows the depths he is capable of sinking to. In these early flashbacks we see the Durbin we recognise from her other films, the happy go lucky girl, but she doesn't last long in all this gloom.

Fair enough, there's a need for the story to be so depressing, but with only the music providing any emotion, light or not, Christmas Holiday becomes a real slog to get through. Its cult resides in seeing the usually sunny stars in such a dark work, but with no surprises in the script - the imprisoned Robert escapes in the final reel to track Abigail down, naturally - dullness creeps over the drama. In the original novel Durbin's character had taken to prostitution, but there are only hints here that this is the path she has chosen, and her shame stems from marrying Robert more than anything else - but she still loves him, despite his murderous ways. It's a strange and awkward film, but not curious enough to satisfy. Music by Hans J. Salter.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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