Christmas Holiday (1944)

The Christmas Holidays are the perfect time for film noir. Christmas stories are after all always about redemption ― while film noir deals directly with betrayal, failure, and loss.

There are a few film noirs set during the season, including Christmas Holiday, They Live By Night, and Mr. Soft Touch.

World War 2 is so important to the film noir style that emerged in that decade, because it wasn’t all about the great optimism and patriotism that applied to the drive for victory. There was of course also a dark, corrupt universe to describe, and it portrayed a cultural dark side, an underside to the image of goodness.

The whole Christmas genre in fact showed individuals who would come to value the importance of life, while film noir did the opposite. The forces of nature, whether they were attraction, compulsion or pure criminality, always exposed the underside.

Christmas Holiday (1944) has a compelling yet strange narrative structure. It is unusual in that it portrays a story told to an innocent at Christmas time. The hero of the film ― the young soldier who has just graduated from military school, is unceremoniously dumped by his sweetheart, and then by a further twist of fate finds himself stranded in New Orleans ― itself partially representative of America’s own American Nightmares.

Here in New Orleans, this soldier is drawn to a speakeasy by a seedy character who is part-journalist, part hustler, and meets a hostess called Jackie who then proceeds in flashback, through the night, to tell her the awful story of her marriage to the deceitful, charming and yet unbalanced man of her dreams ― played by Gene Kelly.

Christmas Holiday is both wonderful and unusual. It promises to be a story of degradation and loss of innocence ― the signals are all there in the empty and fresh face of Dean Harens. As the young and innocent lieutenant listens to the story told by Abigail Manette, it almost also becomes like analysis, the way he listens, draws out a few conclusions. You might expect in fact, from the start of the film, that we are going to see his downfall as he is dragged into this mess of murder and love.

The framing is unusual. But recognisable. Deanna Durbin is the star of the film, with no competition at all, and this allows a clean portrayal of all the necessary evils which combine to create film noir. 

Look how well she does this. Here she plays the vamp, the femme fatale, the nightclub singer and the sure-fire danger that wants will accrue, in favour of the pure. You can see the discomfort on her face beautifully, and it is a great performance. 

Deanna Durbin - doubt in noir.

The rather dark themes of prostitution, self punishment, sexual manipulation, incest and some other fairly twisted emotional backdrops are permitted development in Christmas Holiday, often through the use of the church, where the tears flow fast and dark.  

Robert Siodmak remained something of a film noir specialist, although even in thise rather hastily constructed redemptive thriller, we don't truly unravel the puzzling circumstances surrounding the murder, and find out in fact who was killed, and why.

The actors are all strong of course, from Gale Sondergards' sphinx-like mother Monette and the truly handsome and wide-eyed Dean Harens as the empathetic lieutenant, who leads the story.

Gene Kelly's sole foray into film noir?

This is a highly teary film noir, thanks to Deanna Durbin's massive grief, regret and remorse.

Gene Kelly

Film Noir / Horror / Female Fear, not Paranoia 

These final flowing tears before the end, and  a moonlit redemption once more to a state of American grace.

"The planes are all grounded, the trains won't do you any good, and you're too big for me to carry on piggyback."


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

Christmas Holiday on Wikipedia

The Film Noir of Robert Siodmak

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