Join us Tuesdays and Thursdays in December for our Christmas Watch. Each time you comment and share a post, you are entered into a drawing to win a free paperback of your choice from Bear Manor Media. Today Rodney and Samantha delve into the dark side of Christmas in 1944.
S: Dean Harens (in his film debut) plays a young Lieutenant who has been jilted by his fiancee. His plane is grounded midway to San Francisco, and while stuck in New Orleans on Christmas Eve, he meets a jaded singer named Jackie Lamont (Deanna Durbin). She explains that it is a stage name, and that her real name is Abigail Manette, and she is the wife of convicted killer Robert Manette (Gene Kelly).
R: Dean’s character (Charles Mason) has his plans for his Christmas leave thwarted when he gets a telegram at the last minute from his fiancée telling him that she has married someone else (who, we assume, didn’t go overseas to fight). I was struck by the emotional response that this must’ve gotten from audiences in 1944 who would’ve undoubtedly related to his desire to simply escape into his melancholy for awhile.
S: I've seen every single movie Deanna Durbin made, and this one is by far the most unusual. It was a chance for her to play against type. She doesn't quite pull off the hardened fatale part, but she is luminous as the innocent and lovesick Abigail. She and Gene Kelly are an unusual match, but a good one. They're a beautiful couple.
R: The casting is interesting, and while I agree that Durbin doesn’t quite pull it off, I really get the sense that if given more opportunities like this she would’ve adapted into a very competent dramatic actress. There are things that I consider weak about this movie, but her performance is not one of them.
S: The cinematography by Woody Bredell is gorgeous. Not only are the actors lit to perfection, the composition of some of the shots is art.
R: There are some really striking scenes, but that leads to my biggest issue with the film which is that it seems overly padded to me. Particularly the church service scene seemed excruciatingly long to me. I know it didn’t take up as much of the movie as it seemed, but there were a few moments like this.
S: Yes, I kept waiting for the church to signify something or to motivate something new. It doesn't. I also wondered if Durbin was going to spontaneously sing, but she doesn't. Although she usually sang opera in her films, Christmas Holiday gives Durbin a chance to do some more contemporary songs. This film features one of my favorite songs of all time, "Always" by Irving Berlin. It is used in several places. Durbin also sings "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year," another song that often runs through my head. She had a beautiful voice.
R: She did have a lovely voice and having her do contemporary songs was a smart choice since her usual repertoire wouldn’t have worked well…since, well, she was basically working in a Hays Code sanitized brothel. I enjoy her voice and I enjoy her renditions of these songs, but I didn’t particularly like the way they were shoe-horned into this potboiler. Oh well. That’s the way it works sometimes.
S: Yeah, it's like the studio bosses said, "Sure, she can play a prostitute, as long as you let her sing. No songs, no deal." There is some good dialogue. "In my own little way I'm just as much a gentleman as you are."
R: I bet there was a LOT of great dialogue in the original story that they weren’t able to use. I’d like to visit the original novel to see what we missed out on.
S: I imagine some of the violent reactions of the characters, without proper motivation, and the biggest weakness of the film for me, has to do with the fact that this is an adaptation from a novel and we are likely missing exposition due to time restraints and censorship. The ending especially falls flat. However, there is a scene where Manette's mother confronts Abigail, and it is deliciously dramatic, full of pretty speeches that no one is clever enough to think up in real life and swollen music to emphasize the point. It is everything I love about drama from this time period; it is bigger than life.
R: My biggest gripe is that I feel like they took what would’ve been a completely serviceable B and stretched it out to a shaky A with musical numbers and overly long atmospheric scenes that did little to actually propel the plot.
S: I give Christmas Holiday 2 stars, because the weather outside is so frightful it grounded the Lieutenant's plane and since there was nothing else to do, he indulged himself in other people's misery for a little while to forget his own.
R: Two stars seems about right to me as well, although I think we may be accused of sacrilege for rating a Durbin film so low. That 40’s Universal globe usually means a good time to me, and this time I was left pretty flat. It just didn’t gel to me.