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Due to inclement weather, Lt. Charles Mason is forced to spend Christmas in New Orleans. Recently dumped by his girlfriend, the depressed Lieutenant falls in with Jackie Lamont, a singer who works at a nightclub and brothel. After attending midnight mass together, she tells her story to Charles. Her real name is Abigail and she fell in love with Robert Manette. After six months of happy married life, Robert is arrested for murder, but Abigail can't help loving her no-good husband. Written by
This is a strange noir, made even more so by the odd casting of the usually wholesome Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly as a barely-disguised 'floozie' and an inveterate gambler and murderer respectively! Besides, the title is most ironic since, while it does revolve around just that occasion, the main narrative (which unfolds in flashback, a typical genre device, I might add) hardly evokes a feeling of good cheer incidentally, this is possibly the only film set around this time of year to depict the Midnight mass traditionally held on Christmas Eve! Christmas HOLIDAY, then, was only director Siodmak's second noir: the result is somewhat pretentious for a movie from this vintage, yet this very quality has helped render it less dated than others of its ilk! I should point out that the late eminent British film critic Leslie Halliwell resented the script's approach to the source material but, while this is unusually billed in the opening credits as "W. Somerset Maugham's Christmas HOLIDAY as written by Herman J. Mankieiwicz", the author himself was reportedly enthusiastic about the screen rendition!
For the record, I own 10 vehicles by the female lead (who actually initiated the project in an effort to change her child-star image!) but, more by accident than design, this is the first I have watched and it appears that, not only was the film her personal favorite but also, in her opinion, the only worthy one she ever did! Incidentally, she would again dabble in the thriller genre with the more modest but still interestingly-cast LADY ON A TRAIN (1945), which I do have a copy of. By the way, the actress (who retired from the screen way back in 1948!) has just turned a venerable 90 years old in December! With respect to Kelly, this was his seventh picture (having debuted just 2 years previously) and, in his case, too, he would appear in only one other title in this vein i.e. BLACK HAND (1950), which I have also acquired some time back but have yet to catch up with. As for how the two fare within this seedy/gloomy environment, Kelly is quite good as a ne'er-do-well but Durbin (even though the studio bosses forced her into a couple of numbers Frank Loesser's "Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year" and Irving Berlin's "Always", with the latter essentially turned into a motif throughout to appease her established fan-base!) is surprisingly excellent.
Anyway, the plot involves Durbin and Kelly meeting at a concert (the 'Love/Death' theme from Richard Wagner's opera "Tristan And Isolde" also effectively reprised here for the finale which, for my money, has been immortalized in two Luis Bunuel films!) and immediately falling in love. When he takes her home to meet his mother (Gale Sondergaard in one of her best roles), the latter realizes the girl (who obviously is unaware of his character foibles) can help her make an honest man of her boy. However, events take a tragic turn as Kelly kills a man in a dispute over money, is caught, tried and condemned. Sondergaard, whose feelings for her son go far beyond motherly love(!), takes it out on Durbin for having failed her which sends Durbin on her path to perdition (self-imposed, really, so as to be herself in a prison of her own making!) which is how we first see her, offering solace at a New Orleans "joint" to a soldier who has his own beef against love (in fact, he was on his way home to take revenge upon the fiancée who had just jilted him!).
Other prominent characters are the proverbial madam-with-a-heart-of-gold played by Gladys George and Richard Whorf as the sleaziest figure of all, a muck-racking reporter who also operates as something of a pimp in the latter's establishment! The climax, then, sees Kelly escape from prison and (understandably) misconstruing Durbin's particular method of expiation: however, the Law is soon on his tracks, and he dies in a shoot-out with the Police his dying words to his wife, finally appreciating the nature of her sacrifice, are "You can let go now, Abigail" (promptly reiterated by the young soldier, looking on).
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