Christmas Holiday (Robert Siodmak / U.S., 1944):

The saturnine, quicksilver progression from military barracks to crowded hotel to lush-seedy club is a preamble to the revelation (Deanna Durbin grown into a "hostess," bluesy and dented), the long midnight mass sequence sets up the first flashback. The callow lieutenant (Dean Harens) gets a Dear John letter the day before his wedding (Christmas Eve), boards a flight to San Francisco but is stuck in stormy New Orleans; the local maison des putains offers a glowing yuletide tree and crystal chandelier, Durbin in plunging neckline is the doleful chanteuse ("Spring Will Be a Little Late this Year"). Her husband (Gene Kelly), jailed for murder, is her albatross -- a gambling weakling with a ton of familial baggage (his relationship to mother Gale Sondergaard is offhandedly described as "pathological"), he’s nevertheless the source of Durbin’s passion and guilt, and the two flashbacks in Herman J. Mankiewicz’s screenplay (out of W. Somerset Maugham) are positioned so that the couple’s traumatic downfall precedes their initial romance. (Ozon’s 5 x 2 picks up on the structure.) Robert Siodmak fills it with dark elation, double lives, a variety of musical cathedrals. Kelly’s grin here becomes the Devil’s, he comes home with blood-stained trousers and finally materializes to "straighten out the family"; Durbin first sees him at a recital of Liebestod and then performs "Always" to celebrate their union (Sondergaard, up to now just a darkling gorgon, glows from her chair at the sight). "I guess maybe there’s another meaning to love than what I was taught," Harens says after hearing the tale. Melodic noir, and unsettling delirium -- the ripely masochistic former child-star and the stubbly, grounded dancer face each other in the shadows, and Siodmak wonders how America got to this point. (Hitchcock similarly reimagines Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train.) With Richard Whorf, and Gladys George. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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