Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Christmas Holiday

US 1944. PC: Universal. A Universal Studios print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Robert Siodmak's film noir cycle), 27 March 2012.

I have already blogged about my 1998 viewing of Christmas Holiday, and it was now rewarding to revisit it in the context of a Siodmak noir retrospective, a revelation of which is how different his films noirs are from each other. Deanna Durbin was a superstar at Universal Studios, hugely popular as a singer and a girl next door type in light entertainment movies. Tired of being stereotyped, Deanna Durbin welcomed Christmas Holiday, a film noir about deranged love, as her personal favourite film. The story is about a Christmas midnight mass meeting of two people profoundly disillusioned in love. Ltn. Charles Mason (Dean Harens), about to fly to San Francisco on Christmas Eve to get married, gets a telegram from his fiancée announcing that she has just been married to another man (an instance of cinema's obsession with the cancelled wedding). Jackie Lamont / Abigail Manette has survived a traumatic marriage to the pathological liar, gambler, robber, murderer and convict Robert Manette (Gene Kelly). Thanks to the Production Code Administration Charles and Jackie's meeting place in New Orleans has been turned into a nightclub (in W. Somerset Maugham's novel, it was a brothel), and Jackie into a dancing hostess (in the novel, she was a prostitute). Gene Kelly is memorable in the only sinister role in his career. Deanna Durbin has turned Southern Gothic, and the shock is comparable to what Helena Bonham Carter did with her original wholesome persona long ago. Gladys George is convincing as Valerie de Merode, owner of the nightclub. There are touches of Expressionism but also of Surrealism in the juxtaposition of the nightclub and the midnight mass and in the ending influenced by Un chien andalou: the Liebestod to the strains of Wagner, the night clouds parting as the final image. The print viewed was fair to good; in my recollection the NFTVA print seen in 1998 was brilliant.

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