Christmas Holiday is a 1944 film noir crime film directed by Robert Siodmak starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly. Based on the 1939 novel of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham, the film is about a woman who marries a Southern aristocrat who inherited his family's streak of violence and instability and soon drags the woman into a life of misery. After he is arrested, the woman runs away from her husband's family, changes her name, and finds work as a singer in a New Orleans dive. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Musical Score for Hans J. Salter.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Siodmak|
|Produced by||Felix Jackson|
|Screenplay by||Herman J. Mankiewicz|
|Based on||Christmas Holiday|
by W. Somerset Maugham
|Music by||Hans J. Salter|
|Edited by||Ted J. Kent|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||over $2 million|
On Christmas Eve in New Orleans, U.S. Army officer Charlie Mason meets beautiful Maison Lafitte hostess "Jackie" (whose real name is Abigail Manette). She tells him, in flashbacks, the story of the decline of her marriage with the charming but unbalanced Robert Manette. When her husband kills a bookie his controlling mother tries to cover it up. When he is caught she and her son blame Abigail. Abigail, feeling guilty when her husband receives a life sentence, becomes a bar hostess. Meanwhile, Robert escapes from jail and comes to see Abigail, but he is shot by police and dies in her arms, leaving her to start again with Charlie Mason.
- Deanna Durbin as Abigail Manette
- Gene Kelly as Robert Manette
- Richard Whorf as Simon Fenimore
- Dean Harens as Charlie Mason
- Gladys George as Valerie de Merode
- Gale Sondergaard as Mrs. Manette
- David Bruce as Gerald Tyler
- Heinie Conklin as Jury Member (uncredited)
- Robert Homans as Policeman (uncredited)
- Larry Steers as Courtroom Attendant (uncredited)
The film was based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham published in 1939. The New York Times called it "surprisingly talky."
Walter Wanger wanted to turn it into a film in 1939, but the Hays Office rejected his proposal as they felt the novel's story about an Englishman meeting a beautiful Russian prostitute was too sordid.
In March 1943 Universal bought the screen rights to the book as a vehicle for Deanna Durbin. The movie was part of a specific plan by producer Felix Jackson to broaden the sort of films Durbin was making - it would be followed by her first color film, Caroline, then a mystery, Lady on a Train, then a film with Charles Boyer.
Durbin, usually the girl next door in Universal Pictures musicals, plays a naif who falls for him and sticks with him even knowing he's a killer. Christmas Holiday was the first film Durbin starred in that had not been specifically written for her.
In August 1943 Durbin called the movie "my dramatic debut." She would only sing two numbers. "Deanna did always have sex appeal" said Jackson. "I don't believe a star can be a star without it. Of course each of us has a different opinion on the matter."
Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz changed the setting from a Paris brothel to a nightclub in New Orleans and the main character was changed from a prostitute to a more ambiguous nightclub singer and hostess.
Mankiewicz was fired while writing the screenplay by Universal executives who saw him drunk on the studio lot. A week later the writer walked into Jackson's office and said "Felix, don't you think Herman Mankiewicz drunk is still better than Dwight Taylor sober?" Jackson rehired him. Mankiewicz considered the screenplay among his 1940s successes of which he was most proud.
Universal loaned Turhan Bey to MGM in exchange for Gene Kelly who played her husband. Kelly was signed in October 1943. Dean Harens who had been a success on Broadway signed to make his feature film debut. Gale Sondegaard joined the film in November.
The director was Robert Siodmak who said the film had "a good plot (though the studio always wanted to change my psychological endings into physical ones, when the Hays office didn't intervene...) and interesting casting Gene Kelly in such a way as to suggest a sinister quality behind a rather superficial charm."
Siodmark said Durbin "is a real actress. For five days she had to cry and for five days she cried and cried. But each day at 4 pm sharp and would cry no more. It was amazing. That is a real actress for you."
Siodmak later said Durbin "was difficult: she wanted to play a new part but flinched from looking like a tramp: she always wanted to look like nice wholesome Deanna Durbin pretending to be a tramp. Still, the result was quite effective."
Durbin sings the songs "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year" by Frank Loesser and "Always" by Irving Berlin. There are also excerpts from Tristan und Isolde (Liebestod) by Richard Wagner, "Silent Night, Holy Night" by Franz Xaver Gruber, and Latin chant for the Midnight Mass scene (which was footage of an actual Tridentine Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana).
The film received mixed reviews. In his review for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther called the story "the oldest sort of hat—the kind of dramatic farrago that was being played by faded stars ten years ago." Crowther wrote that it was "really grotesque and outlandish what they've done to Miss Durbin in this film"—forced to play a role that is "a figment within a moody and hackneyed yarn." Crowther criticized Mankiewicz' screenplay, which has "but the vaguest resemblance to the Somerset Maugham novel on which it is 'based'". Although not blaming Durbin for the film's shortcomings, Crowther is severe in his criticism of her performance:
As the piteously wronged young lady, Miss Durbin does all that she can to suggest an emotional turmoil. But her efforts are painfully weak. Her speaking voice is girlish and empty of quality, and her gestures of shock and frustration are attitudinized.
Crowther is no more charitable towards Gene Kelly, who "performs her no good husband in his breezy, attractive style, which is thoroughly confusing, considering the character that he is supposed to be."
Durbin later said in an interview with Films in Review that Christmas Holiday was her "only really good film". Christmas Holiday is considered one of the bleakest film noirs of the 1940s, and one of Siodmak's most personally realized films.
By July 1944 the film had made more than $2 million at the US box office, making it the highest-grossing film of Durbin's career up to 1944. It was also Universal's most successful film of the year overtaking Arabian Nights which made $1.7 million. Universal said the average gross of a Durbin film was $1,250,000.
- Kennedy, Paul P (30 July 1944). "NOTES ON A 'FIRST LADY': Ireland's Geraldine Fitzgerald Talks of Her Role as Mrs. Wilson -- Other Items on the Ginema Scene". New York Times. p. X3.
- "Christmas Holiday (1944)". The New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
- Erickson, Hal. "Christmas Holiday Review Summary". The New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
- "Full cast and crew for Christmas Holiday". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
- BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Somerset Maugham's "Christmas Holiday' On the Nature of Good and Evil Raymond Gram Swing's New Book By CHARLES PROBE. New York Times 20 Oct 1939: 27.
- Best Sellers of the Week New York Times 23 Oct 1939: 23.
- 22 Books Top 100,000 Sales Mark in Year Chicago Daily Tribune 3 Jan 1940: 18.
- SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 12 Mar 1943: 12.
- Deanna Durbin Grows Up; She'll Wed Killer in Next: Youthful Star Begins Adapting Herself to Role Durbin Joins Adult Ranks Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 16 Jan 1944: C1.
- American Film Institute (1999). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1941-1950, Volume 2. University of California Press. pp. 425-26. ISBN 0520215214.
- DRAMA AND FILM: WHILE THE FILMS REEL BY New Deanna Durbin Brought to Screen Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 1 Aug 1943: C2.
- THE WARNERS VS. THE SCREEN ACTORS' GUILD: The Controversy That Halted Filming of 'Hollywood Canteen' -- Other Matters By FRED STANLEYHOLLYWOOD. New York Times 2 Jan 1944: 3X.
- Meryman, Richard (1978). Mank : the wit, world, and life of Herman Mankiewicz. Morrow. p. 282.
- SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 4 Oct 1943: 25.
- DRAMA AND FILM: Los Angeles Times 6 Oct 1943: 15.
- SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 29 Nov 1943: 23.
- Encounter with Siodmak Taylor, Russell. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 28, Iss. 3, (Summer 1959): 180.
- A PLAN MARKED 'D' FOR DURBIN New York Times 18 June 1944: X2.
- SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Irene Manning, Dennis Morgan Cast for 'Henrietta VIII' -- Two Films Open Today Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times 4 Feb 1944: 13.
- "Soundtracks for Christmas Holiday". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
- Durbin 'Art' Challenged Lusk, Norbert. Los Angeles Times4 July 1944: 10.
- Crowther, Bosley. "' Christmas Holiday,' Presenting Deanna Durbin in Serious and Emotional Role, Supported by Gene Kelly". The New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
- Everson, William K. (1976). "The career of Deanna Durbin". Films in Review vol. 27 no. 9. p. 526.