It seems Classic Movie Chat receives more mail about Deanna Durbin than any other star of Hollywood’s golden era. When we ran a blog a few weeks ago about director Robert Siodmak’s Christmas Holiday (1944) regular contributor Mark wrote in:
Although I wasn’t around when the film was originally released, I’m always surprised (and a bit suspicious) to read that the public who did see it, even those who weren’t fans of Deanna Durbin or Gene Kelly, were “shocked” at the stark and tragic plot of this film.
If they were, it certainly wasn’t Universal’s fault. The film received mountains of publicity (“DEANNA GOES DRAMATIC!!”) for months prior to its’ release, and there was a great deal of interest in seeing how Deanna would fare in such an out-of-sort vehicle.
Since its’ release it has remained a controversial film with partisans of Durbin and Kelly, professional and amateur, debating over who gave the more successful performance, and film noir enthusiasts marveling and disparaging over Siodmak’s moody directing style.
Although I think both Deanna and Gene Kelly give fine performances, I find Deanna’s the more successful and intriguing of the two, and her role the more demanding one. While Kelly is good, as (film scholar) Jeanine Basinger observed, it is, for much of the film, the typical “Gene Kelly” screen character, his psychopathic tendencies only becoming clear in the last part of the film.
Deanna, in essence, plays three parts: the young girl from Vermont who begins a whirlwind courtship with Kelly after meeting him at a classical music concert, the confused but loyal newly married wife who’s too nice to ask all the right questions when Kelly begins to exhibit his darker side, and the world-weary, disillusioned “hostess” of the classiest, gleamingest looking brothel you’ve ever seen.
Siodmak’s moody direction is often marvelous, especially during the extended Midnight Mass sequence, and though the Production Code compromises show, the film remains a stark production of two disturbed individuals destroyed by their obsessions with each other. (If a good look at Gale Sondergaard, perhaps the cinema’s all-time greatest SNEERER, at her creepiest isn’t enough to make you head for the hills, nothing will!)
Despite the almost immaculate look of the “brothel,” there’s little doubt that this is a house of ill repute, and even less doubt what the elderly gentleman has on his mind when he slips a note to a waiter and instructs him to give it to Durbin after she finishes her desultory rendition of Frank Loesser’s “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year.” (Which she introduces in this film in a jazz-inflected style radically different from her commercial recording for DECCA.)
The film is available for viewing on Youtube. Not perhaps the best way to see it, but it’s definitely a film worth seeing, and though it remains a controversial film to this day, appreciation for its’ virtues and fascination with its’ intents have continued to grow through the years.
Thanks Mark. We agree. It’s an old film worth catching especially if one is a fan of film noir. And, aren’t we all?