A perfumed but poisoned Christmas card from Siodmak, Durbin
Christmas Holiday, one of Robert Siodmak's early cluster of what would later be called film noir, is based on a W. Somerset Maugham story and a Herman J. Mankiewicz script. It's a triumph of casting against type. Gene Kelly is a scheming charmer prone to violence; his doting mom is Gale Sondergaard, for once not splaying her usual dragon-lady claws (at least not through most of her role). Most startling is the diminutive thrush Deanna Durbin, a pert presence and teen star in a number of 30s and 40s hits. Here she delivers a natural, nuanced performance that cleaves nicely between the exuberant ingenue of her early romance with Kelly (told in flashback) and the hardened torch-carrier she becomes. Her singing reflects these shadings, too: the winsome songbird warbles an early snatch of "Always;" a swacked, Chet-Bakerish chanteuse phones in "Spring will be a little late this year," while the reprise of "Always" turns into a heavy, torchy number. The plot's about a soldier stranded in New Orleans on Christmas Eve, after getting a Dear John wire from his fiancee; he ends up meeting Durbin in a roadhouse, and they swap stories after midnight Mass. Alas, Kelly has escaped from the pen at Angola with a mind to settle some scores. Maugham's chum Noel Coward once marvelled at how potent cheap music could be; this movie, like Jean Negulesco's Humoresque, ends with the strains of Wagner's Liebestod -- transcendent music cheaply used -- and, against your better instincts, you get sucked right in.
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