Thursday, April 23, 2020

“Christmas Holiday”—an unlikely film noir

Christmas Holiday (1944) is a film noir directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly. Audiences in 1944 might have thought they were going to see a light musical, considering the talent involved, but it’s a heavy drama with both Durbin and Kelly playing against type.

This was Durbin’s biggest box office success up to that time and Universal’s biggest hit of the year, but it’s practically forgotten today. The film has an interesting pedigree. It’s based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, with a screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane). The cinematographer was Woody Bredell (The Killers, The Inspector General). It had an Academy Award-nominated film score by Hans J. Salter (The Reckless Moment), and a new song, “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year” by Frank Loesser.

Deanna Durbin reads her fan mail. Durbin had the largest fan club in the world.
Like Judy Garland, Durbin had grown up on film. At 15, Durbin starred in Three Smart Girls (1936) and became an overnight sensation. She had the vocal range of a legitimate lyric soprano. Durbin had considered a career in opera, but the movies changed all that. In 1938, she was awarded the Academy Juvenile Award. Durbin starred in a string of box office hits where she was the wholesome heroine with the beautiful singing voice. In almost all of her features, Durbin would sing a famous opera aria. As she matured, Durbin wanted to tackle more adult roles. Durbin was 23 when Christmas Holiday was released. Critics weren’t too sure the role was right for Durbin, but director Siodmak thought she was a “real actress” and had confidence that she was up to playing the abused wife of a small-time criminal (Kelly).
This publicity still for Christmas Holiday belies the dark subject matter.
Kelly was brought to Hollywood and put under contract by M-G-M based on his performance in Pal Joey on Broadway. The same year that Christmas Holiday was released, Kelly, on loan to Columbia, starred with Rita Hayworth in the Technicolor musical Cover Girl. With Durbin and Kelly in the same picture, movie fans surely expected a musical or light comedy, but instead, they were drawn into a complicated drama set during the Christmas holiday.

In spite of the critics “bothered” that wholesome Durbin was playing a woman of questionable character, audiences ate it up. It was a huge commercial success. Based on the film’s bx office, Durbin was signed to a new exclusive six-year contract.

Watch to the movie on YouTube:

Join us for the discussion on Zoom on Tuesday, April 28 at 6:30 p.m. Central Time.

Stephen Reginald is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: My Meeting
Time: Apr 28, 2020 06:30 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 798 9487 9990
Password: 9RhQfe

Durbin and Kelly share a light moment on the set of Christmas Holiday.

Discussion Questions:
1. Noir or not? Does it fit in with your idea of film noir?
2. What did you think of the performances?
3. The film had some famous character actors, including Gladys George and Gale Sondergaard. What did you think of their performances?
4. What did you make of the mother-son relationship?
5. In Hitchcock films, there is something called the “transference of guilt.” This often involves a transference of guilt in which the innocent characters failings are transferred to another character, and magnified. Do you think this transference of guilt was a big part of Christmas Holiday?

Deanna Durbin has her hand and footprints immortalized at Graumans Chinese Theatre in 1936


  1. I really enjoyed this movie. Classic film actors often had a hard time when they wanted to branch out from the genre they were famous for. Both Kelly and Durbin were good in this. The mother-son relationship seemed simultaneously creepy, suffocating, and enabling. I couldn't help wondering if Durbin's character would end up with the soldier that helps her at the end. And Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year has become a favorite of mine...I love how, even though the tone of the song is sad, it promises a little bit of hope...eventually spring will arrive.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the movie. I think it's underrated. Durbin has more talent than they knew what to do with.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...