Any holiday can bring out the worst in people, but Christmas Holiday really isn’t about the supposedly joyous season. It’s a noir, so how can it be? A soldier’s Christmas leave provides the frame for the story. He”s just been jilted by his sweetheart, and he’s angry, so angry that he has to call upon her and her new husband across the country despite his friend’s warnings to stay away and cool down. Winter weather isn’t very kind to this hothead or his plans and strands him in New Orleans. He’s an easy target for a newspaper reporter who makes extra money leading men astray to the local brothel. There he meets a dark lady. First she fascinates him, and then she serves as his warning sign. She shows him what happens to those who cling to failed love affairs when they should have let go long ago.
Deanna Durbin can’t escape her singing career in this film. She plays Jackie Lamont the mysterious chanteuse-and-maybe-more of the brothel. In a gown slit to there, she looks grown-up, moody, and hard, yet our hero Lieutenant Charlie Mason (Dean Harens) is still drawn to her. Other men want to meet her, but they’re handed over to other girls working the club. Maybe she’s part of a bait-and-switch ploy, or maybe only the big spenders get her, or maybe what turns out to be another kindly screen madame (Gladys George as Valerie de Merode) protects Jackie. Mason must impress her as being different because she introduces him to Jackie, who’s none too thrilled.
After some dancing and barely chatting, Jackie must decide that Charlie is okay, too. He doesn’t know who she is. He’s some troubled guy on leave. That may make her trust him. She makes him attend midnight mass with her. During the service in the cathedral, she makes the second worst move of any pseudo-date. She breaks down bawling. Charlie does not flee like most strangers would from such a hot mess. He stays and makes sure that she’s alright as someone like her can be. Since he’s gained her trust, she tells him her real name, Abigail Martin. He has no idea who she is, so she tells him her story.
Her husband Robert Manette (Gene Kelly) is infamous, but she takes Mason and us back to when she first met him. They chance to meet at a musical performance. Nick Hornby was right when he wrote of how anyone who’s passionate about music has known what it is to be lonely. They needed that time alone to develop their bond with and their taste for music. Abigail is a single girl attending a concert by herself. Robert seems to be there half for the music and half for the macking. He’s got a city guy feel that contrasts with her more suburban one. He wears down her defenses with his manic charm, and they become a couple. She has no idea how troubled he is.
His mother Mrs. Manette (Gale Sondergaard) does, but she never directly tells Martin. She’s so naïve that she misses all the hints, like being told she’ll be good for him, that they will take care of him together. She never onces wonders why these members of a once illustrious family live isolated in their grand old house. Manette is a little man, a momma’s boy who makes messes that his mother cleans up, and Abigail becomes the third wheel to that couple. Robert murders a bookie and finally gets himself into trouble that his mother can’t cover up, and she blames herself and Abigail for failing him.
Formerly lonely Abigail becomes lonely again. With too much time on her hands, she obsesses over her romance and pines for her husband. She becomes a celebrity by her association with him, yet she’s an outcast because she cannot stop loving him. His mother’s words haunt her, and she believes them. She thinks she failed her husband, and she punishes herself by falling lower in society and taking her singing job. It’s as if the contagion of his mother’s pathology has been passed on to her. As the new Mrs. Manette she’s taken over the old sick role.
Charlie has met someone worse off than himself, and his thoughts of Abigail that prevent him from leaving. Momentarily it seems that a romance might brew between the two–if she can get over her husband, but he can’t stay in jail. He’ll never get out for good behavior, so he breaks out, and he’s very mad that his wife has been spending time with another, and he’s not believing they’re platonic friends.
I’ve shared a lot of the plot, so I don’t want to spoil the film’s conclusion, but I do not get the people who think it has a hopeful ending. Look at Dean Harens’s expression at the end. He shows that Charlie is horrified. Sometimes people cannot overcome their obsessions. Sometimes their obsessions do break them. Love transforms, but not everyone is made better by that transformation, especially in the noir world, and I fear Abigail is too far gone.
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