Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944). Director: Robert Siodmak.

Now here's a weird one. Someone got the idea of taking a serious novel by Somerset Maugham (The Razor's Edge and many others) and casting Gene Kelly and, of all people, Deanna Durbin in the leads -- talk about epic miscasting. True, neither of these actors exactly disgrace themselves, it's just that you can imagine what a wholly different picture this would have been with different leads. But in any case, it wouldn't have been much good. Lt Mason (an effective Dean Harens) has just been jilted by his fiancee when he meets up with a singer named "Jackie" (Durbin), whose real name is Abigail but who changed it after her husband, Robert (Kelly) was convicted of murder. Most of Christmas Holiday consists of flashbacks as Jackie pours out her story [seemingly at the drop of a hat] to the kind lieutenant. Robert remains a shadowy character, however, and we never really learn the details of his crime nor anything about his victim. We do get to know his strange mother (Gale Sondergaard), who does the best she can with another underwritten role. Richard Whorf, who later became a director, plays a reporter named Simon, and Gladys George is cast as Valerie, who runs the club that Jackie sings at. Kelly does no singing or dancing, but Durbin gets to warble "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year" and "Always," the film's signature tune. There's an interesting segue from a Beethoven concert to a dance club, but Christmas Holiday has the gall to use Wagner's liebestod from "Tristan and Isolde" to try to add dramatic heft to this kitsch. It doesn't work, although, ironically, the best scene in the movie has Kelly and Durbin listening to the music and being, quite understandably, moved by it. Durbin did seven more films before retiring four years later. Harens did two more films and then had a long list of credits in television.

Verdict: With these leads the fare should be much lighter. **.

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