Everybody knows about Christmas horror (BLACK CHRISTMAS, CHRISTMAS EVIL, the SILENT/DEADY NIGHT saga, etc.). And of course there’s Christmas action (DIE HARDs 1-2, the works of Shane Black). But did you ever notice there’s Christmas crime, too? I just reviewed SILENT PARTNER, and there’s THE ICE HARVEST, BAD SANTA and others. So I was using the Google.com websight to see if there were others and came across this interview with a guy who did a book just about Christmas movies. He chose this CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY as a movie he wishes were on DVD and that more people knew about.
It is on DVD, I found a PAL Code 2 copy. It’s an old noir complete with a murderer, some light beams and dark shadows. Dean Harens plays Charles Mason, a Good Lieutenant on the shittiest Christmas leave of his life. Just as he’s excitedly telling his buddy about his plans to get married over the break he receives a letter from his girl apologizing for marrying some other dude. You know how it is, she probly couldn’t wait another couple days. He decides to catch his flight to San Francisco anyway, have a good foggy stew in his own misery I guess, but then a sudden storm grounds him in New Orleans. For some reason a drunk reporter (Richard Whorf) wants to drag him to a nearby club and set him up with a torch singer there – Jackie, played by Deanna Durbin.
Durbin gives a pretty interesting performance because she seems so stiff and lifeless as she’s introduced singing this song, it’s kind of creepy. But when she meets him and starts telling her story we go to a flashback where she seems normal and human, expressing emotions, etc. And you realize that she’s just miserable now and her face can’t hide it. It’s kind of like what Naomi Watts did in MULHOLLAND DRIVE, actually. At first I honestly thought she was bad in the role but then when things switched up and I realized what was going on all along I realized she was brilliant in it.
The Lieutenant seems to be going along with it just to humor the drunk and kill some time, but maybe he has some illusions of filling that new opening on his dance card. If so there are several points where he should have realized it was time to say he had to take a shit and then climb out the restroom window and never come back.
1. When she said she changed her name from Abigail to Jackie because “I thought it would be best after the trial.”
2. Right after that when she explained that her husband is in Angola for murder.
3. When he goes to church with her anyway and then she just starts bawling and doesn’t stop for the entire service.
On the other hand, within the flashback story she has a long list of reasons to run like hell before marrying her husband, including when he brings her for “one last time” to hang out where he meets with his bookies, but especially when her future mother-in-law tells her “Between us we will make him strong.” Whuh?
There’s alot of music in the movie. She sings at the club a couple times, there’s the music in church, and they go to a symphony. They also attempt to dance together, but the Lieutenant cuts it off and says he’s not a very good dancer. This is interesting because we know from the poster that Jackie’s incarcerated husband is played by Gene Kelly. Not to be too controversial here, but in my opinion Gene Kelly was known as a pretty good dancer. So when her substitute man-friend is not a good dancer this is kind of a joke. In fact, it’s what we now would call a meta joke, isn’t it, because the joke only has to do with our outside knowledge of the actors in the movie and not anything that takes place within the movie? Everybody considers this meta business to only exist now, but here it is in ’44. It’s pre-postmodern-postmodern.
Gene Kelly doesn’t dance, but he does make a decent bad guy. His character is a smooth-talker and a desperate guy who can’t help but constantly dig himself into holes he can’t climb out of (except for Angola, which it turns out he is able to escape from). For most of the movie he just seems like a shitty husband, but when he returns as a jealous, possessive fugitive he’s actually pretty threatening.
But really this is more of a tragedy than anything else. She really loves the guy, and he doesn’t get it. Just like the Lieutenant and his ex-fiancee.
The movie has a pretty impressive pedigree. The director is Robert Siodmak, who did the ’46 version of THE KILLERS as well as SON OF DRACULA. We film loving individuals would probly talk about him more if we were confident in our pronunciation of his name. This one’s based on a book by W. Somerset Maugham (THE RAZOR’S EDGE and all that) and adapted by Herman J. Mankiewicz, who worked on a few fairly well known movies like THE WIZARD OF OZ and CITIZEN KANE, things like that.
I have to say though, my reason for watching it was as a Christmas crime movie, and you do get a little bit of crime, but not a whole lot of Christmas. It does take place then but it’s not all that crucial to the plot which holiday he has a break for, and it doesn’t have alot of Christmas imagery or music in it. So you could watch it at other times of year, if you wanted to, it wouldn’t bother you that much.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.