Wednesday, November 17, 2010

'Tis the Season - Part I


I adore the Christmas season. I love the music, the baking, the decorations. The days grow short and the nights are long and dark with the darkness of mystery and crime and film noir. Enough light seeps between the cracks in my venetian blinds to remind that life, filled with jolly revelers, is going on outside my door. I curl up with a steaming brew (dolloped with something special) and lose myself with the tough guys and gals of classic cinema.

First up, 1944s Christmas Holiday starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly. A movie with that title and those stars leads the mind to a Lake Placid resort featuring a tap dance on skates to Jingle Bells and a heartwarming Ave Maria solo. No. The musical side of my soul must seek elsewhere for that sort of entertainment. A Somerset Maugham story was the basis for Herman Mankiewicz's screenplay, a story of deceit and obsession. Noir master Robert Siodmak directed and this places among his best in that time-honoured style, The Killers, Criss Cross, Phantom Lady and Cry of the City.



Deanna Durbin (Jackie/Abigail) and Gene Kelly (Robert)

Reliable "everyman" Dean Harens plays Lt. Mason, a young soldier about to be sent overseas. On the eve of what he thought was to be his wedding a "Dear John" letter spurs him to thoughts of revenge. A storm detours his plane to New Orleans where he is befriended by drunken (aren't they all?) newspaperman Simon Fenimore played by future director (Champagne for Caesar, TVs My Three Sons) Richard Whorf. Fenimore thinks the lieutenant needs to drown his sorrows and takes him to a dive run by Gladys Cooper who introduces him to jaded gal singer Jackie Lamont played by Durbin.

Jackie has her own troubles. Let's start with the fact that her real name is Abigail and she's running from something, running from herself. She fell in love with a charmer by the name of Robert Manette played by Kelly. Manette, in turn, had his own issues with narcissism, gambling and mother. Mother is played by Gale Sondergaard so you know off the bat that something is off kilter in the family tree.


Deanna Durbin with Dean Harens (Lt. Mason)

The rain-soaked Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Lt. Mason spend with Abigail as she recounts life with a murderous hubby and imperious mother-in-law prove to be life changing for the young man and intriguing storytelling for the viewer.

Gene Kelly channels his famous energy and charm into the wastrel Manette. His attraction for lonely Abigail is understandable. Deanna Durbin's trademark perkiness is nowhere in view as we see her tentatively reaching for happiness and shutting down when life slaps her in the face. Her perfunctory delivery of Frank Loesser's Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year when we first meet her in the nightclub shows us her weariness. The later rendition of Irving Berlin's Always is a heartfelt glimpse into her pining heart.

I am struck when watching Christmas Holiday how so many private things occur in such very public places. Abigail and Robert meet and fall in love in the upper gallery of a crowded concert hall. The final crash of the safe world Abigail thought she had found is in a courtroom filled with spectators. It is in church on Christmas Eve that Abigail finds the strength to start to break down. What private calamities and victories will be going on around us during this busy season?


5 comments:

  1. Patricia, I loved your account of Christmas Holiday, especially your notice of the public nature of so many of the significant events of the two central characters. It is a particular favorite film of mine directed by Siodmak, with an exceptionally quiet mood unlike most American films.

    I know many people find it odd casting, but the roles for Gene Kelly as the troubled young man and Deanna Durbin as a lost soul spiraling down into a New Orleans netherworld gave both performers a rare chance to portray some darker emotions. While Kelly had several opportunities to play in dramatic films as well as his classic musicals, I wish that Durbin had been able to break out of her musical niche more often. Even aside from her singing talent, she had such presence and showed a flair for comedy and drama in several of her roles.

    Thanks for reminding me of this different film for the holidays. I can't wait to see your followup to this! Happy Holidays to you and your family.
    Cheers,
    Moira

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  2. Like Moira, I love your obseration in the last paragraph about the public nature of so many private experiences of the characters.

    I regret to say I have not seen this movie yet, but I'll be on the lookout.

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  3. Hello, ladies. So nice to see you all.

    Thank you for the holiday wishes, Moira, and I pass them along to your family. Your comment about the quiet mood is so true. "Christmas Holiday" is unusually introspective - another tradition of the holiday.

    Jacqueline and Tracey, it seems as if the movie Fates are leading you to this film. I predict viewings before very long.

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  4. I thought that those readers who haven't had a chance to see the unfortunately obscure Christmas Holiday (1944), which is currently only available on VHS and Region 2 DVD formats, might like to know that it can be seen in its entirety at the moment on you tube beginning at the link below. Who knows how long it will remain available there?:

    Christmas Holiday (1944)

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