Saturday, December 16, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Movies #3: Christmas Holiday (1944)

Happy Holidays everyone! To celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, I've decided to complete a daily review series of 12 Christmas movies leading up to the big 12/25. To qualify, the movies have to be tied to Christmas in some way and also something I've never seen before. I'll be going in chronological order. So, without further ado, if you got chestnuts, roast 'em - and enjoy my 12 Days of Christmas Movies!

Christmas Holiday
Dir. Robert Siodmak

With a title like Christmas Holiday and starring Gene Kelly, you'd think this movie would be a colorful, musical romp for the whole family to enjoy. There you'd be wrong. Christmas Holiday is actually a black-and-white gritty noir, complete with jilted lovers, sleazeball reporters, and murderous momma's boys. Directed by Robert Siodmak (The Killers) and adapted for the screen by Herman J. Mankiewics (Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz), this movie is a far cry from It's a Wonderful Life... more like It's a Miserable Life.

On Christmas Eve, US army officer Charlie Mason (Dean Harens) is stuck in New Orleans, awaiting his next plane ride home to San Francisco to confront his wife who moved on and married some guy while he was in basic training. While bumming around, he sparks conversation with a beautiful nightclub hostess named "Jackie" (Deanna Durbin) - whose real name is Abigail. Cutting between flashbacks and the present, we learn about how Jackie's unbalanced husband, Robert (Gene Kelly), landed in prison for murdering a bookkeeper and how his controlling mother tried to cover it up.

I loved the doomed romance between Abigail and Robert. Abby goes from a wide-eyed, innocent girl from Vermont to the headliner of the sleazy bar she'd hoped never to set foot in again. Between the flashbacks and the present, she changes her name to "Jackie" and loses her girlish vivacity, hardened from her married life of lies and violence. Gene Kelly also does well playing against type as the devilish Robert. He's not "singing in the rain" so much as "wringing necks in the rain." The idea of a charming guy being a murderer definitely has shades of Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, and it was interesting to track the characters as the film jumps around to all different stages of their relationship.

There are also a number of stand-out musical moments in the film - but they aren't exactly the "uppity" songs you'd find in your closest copy of a Rankin/Bass Christmas special. Each number has a sense of dread and melancholic weight to it. There's a midnight mass, an orchestral concert, and a number of chilly nightclub performances that add a lot to the shadowy atmosphere of the film. At one point Abigail asks, "Why is this place so full of smoke?" Robert replies, "It's a law." In a way that line sums up the noir genre to me - if it's black-and-white and in the 40s you just need to have a smoke-filled nightclub.

While it might not be your typical holiday-time pick, Christmas Holiday is a great, moody Christmas movie for those who might be a bit too cynical for frothy romances and holiday cheer.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Clip (Effortlessly classy noir-y music number from Deanna Durbin):

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