Noir Nook: Christmas Holiday
It’s called Christmas Holiday.
This is noir?
You bet your rain-swept streets it is.
Released in 1944 and directed by Robert Siodmak, Christmas Holiday is fairly overflowing with unexpected events and a twisty-turny plot from start to finish. It opens during the war at Christmastime, where we see a soldier, Lt. Charlie Mason (Dean Marens) about to take advantage of his leave by jetting off to San Francisco to marry his lady love, Mona. Unfortunately for him, he gets a telegram from Mona before his departure, informing him that she’s said “I do” to someone else. Turning down a pal’s sympathy-inspired offer to accompany him to New York, Charlie insists on going to San Francisco: “She’s not going to get away with this,” he growls. But his flight encounters inclement weather and is forced to land in New Orleans, where Charlie is put up in a hotel. There, he meets newspaper reporter Simon Fenimore (Richard Whorf), who takes him to a local nightclub, where he’s introduced to singer Jackie Lamont (Deanna Durbin).
And then the noir begins. Here’s how:
- When we first see Deanna Durbin’s character, she’s singing on stage, wearing a knockout black dress and a world-weary, why-can’t-I-be-somewhere-else attitude. She literally has no expression on her face whatsoever. It’s really a quite startling performance.
- Twenty minutes into the film, we launch into the first of two flashbacks – narrated in voiceover by Jackie Lamont, Deanna Durbin’s character.
- Jackie Lamont’s name is not Jackie Lamont. It’s Abigail Mannette. She changed it to distance herself from her husband, Robert – who’s serving a life sentence in prison . . . for MURDER!!
- In the flashback, we see that Abigail and Robert lived with Robert’s mother (played to perfection by Gale Sondergaard), who is domineering and wholly devoted to her baby boy – no matter what he does. She’s also quite obviously in charge of the entire household; Mama is running the show.
- On the outside, Robert appears to be a charming, fun-loving, devil-may-care type of guy. It doesn’t take long for him to be exposed as a gambler, a liar and very probably a sociopath.
- There’s an atmosphere of doom in the Mannette home; the feeling that something’s not quite right. Robert comes home in the middle of the night. (“I do keep terrible hours, don’t I?” he asks.) His mother finds a wad of cash in his pants pocket. Robert’s clothes have a mysterious stain on them. When Robert comes down to breakfast, his mother cryptically assures him that there’s nothing in the paper. (“You know what I mean,” she says.) After first seeing Robert’s mother trying to scrub the stain out of Robert’s pants, Abigail later spies her burning the garment in the incinerator.
- Before long, Robert’s asking Abigail to lie for him. “If anybody asks you, you never saw me with that money,” he instructs her grimly. “My life may depend upon it.”
- In the film’s second flashback, which focuses on Abigail and Robert’s courtship, we learn that Robert’s connection with his mother was “pathological,” according to Abigail: “Robert was the only thing in the world she cared about. He wasn’t just her son. He was her everything.”
- In an interesting manipulation of time that I can’t recall seeing in any other noir, the second flashback, which started earlier than the first, then catches up with and passes the first one. If that makes any sense.
- The movie contains this awesome monologue from Robert’s mother: “From the day you married him, I think now from the day you met him, you’ve closed your eyes to what it was all about. To what he was all about. Selfishly. Just so you could be happy. He needed your strength. That’s why I let him marry you. And all you gave him back was his own weakness. You weren’t blind because you had to be. You wanted to be. It might have hurt to know that Robert is what he is. But if you had been willing to be hurt for his sake, you could have helped him. I tried to make him strong myself. I couldn’t alone, so I relied on you. You have failed.”
After Abigail finishes telling her story to the lieutenant, the film takes yet another unexpected noirish turn that I’ll let you discover for yourself. Suffice it to say that it further supports the contention that Christmas Holiday. Is. Noir.
If you’ve never seen this underrated film, treat yourself during this wintry season and snuggle up with Gene, Deanna, and Christmas Holiday. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
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