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Shows Deanna's acting to good advantage, but not much of Maugham left
If you want to see a film version of Somerset Maugham's "Christmas Holiday", you'll have to wait a while. This isn't it, despite the credit. "Suggested by..." would have been a more accurate credit. Maugham's tale is set in prewar Paris and concerns a young English college student who goes to Paris to see the sights during his Christmas vacation. This film updates the action to WW2 and concerns a lieutenant just graduated from flight school on leave to get married in San Francisco. Grounded by bad weather in New Orleans, he receives a telegram from his fiancée announcing her marriage to some other cluck. He decides to continue to S.F., presumably bent on vengeance. From here on film and Maugham more less parallel each other in broad outline, but all of Maugham's discussions between the student and his radical journalist friend about politics, sex, society and other more or less tabu topics in 1944 Hollywood are eliminated. In the film, the journalist is a pestiferous, drunken ne'er-do-well who frequently acts as a pimp for Gladys' dive. In the original story, Deanna's character, named Sonya, is a Russian émigré forced into prostitution to support herself and her sociopathic lover. Stripped of all of Maugham's philosophical thrust, we have just another film-noir/weeper, although it's not too bad in many respects. Not to reveal the melodramatic denouement tacked on by Hollywood, I'll only say that Maugham's story ends without any resolution, except possibly the student's regret that after being introduced to Sonya, he didn't see Paris, and all he got out of Sonya was conversation. In that, film and story agree.
Well, there you are! Somerset Maugham's "Christmas Holiday" indeed! But it's not as bad as some critics declare. Pauline Kael didn't like it, of course. But it is interesting as a film noir, and Deanna's first, perhaps only real, chance at a dramatic vehicle. Helen Hayes, or even Jane Greer, she wasn't, but then it's doubtful that Universal ever made any effort to develop her acting talent beyond the merest fundamentals. Also she didn't have the long film background of a Helen Parrish. She does present a winsome, sympathetic girl plunged into bad circumstances when her attractive husband proves a murderer and general bad type. Added to that, her mother-in-law casts her out after the husband's conviction. It's not a great performance, but Hollywood has produced many worse. Gene Kelly and the rest of the cast are very good. Kelly is in a very early role, the others are mostly veterans. It's a very moody piece, with photography to suit, and not at all what you would have gotten if Maugham's real story had been filmed.
Oh, yes. Deanna gets to sing two songs. Early on we get "Spring will be a little late this year", which is a slightly jazzy torch song, and later in the film, "Always", beautifully and wistfully delivered by Deann.
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