Christmas Holiday

Last updated
Christmas Holiday
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Siodmak
Screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz
Based on Christmas Holiday
by W. Somerset Maugham
Produced by Felix Jackson
Starring Deanna Durbin
Gene Kelly
Cinematography Woody Bredell
Edited by Ted J. Kent
Music by Hans J. Salter
Color process Black and white
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • July 31, 1944 (1944-07-31)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box officeover $2 million [1]

Christmas Holiday is a 1944 American film noir crime film directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly. [2] Based on the 1939 novel of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham, the film is about a woman who marries a Southern aristocrat who inherited his family's streak of violence and instability and soon drags the woman into a life of misery. After he is arrested, the woman runs away from her husband's family, changes her name, and finds work as a singer in a New Orleans dive. [3] The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Musical Score for Hans J. Salter.



On Christmas Eve in New Orleans, U.S. Army officer Charlie Mason meets beautiful Maison Lafitte hostess "Jackie" (whose real name is Abigail Manette). She tells him, in flashbacks, the story of the decline of her marriage with the charming but unbalanced Robert Manette. When her husband kills a bookie, his controlling mother tries to cover it up. When he is caught, she and her son blame Abigail. Abigail, feeling guilty when her husband receives a life sentence, becomes a bar hostess. Meanwhile, Robert escapes from jail and comes to see Abigail, but he is shot by police and dies in her arms, leaving her to start again.




The film was based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham published in 1939. The New York Times called the novel "surprisingly talky." [4]

The book became a best seller. [5] By the end of the year it had sold over 100,000 copies in America. [6]

Walter Wanger wanted to turn it into a film in 1939, [2] but the Hays Office rejected his proposal as they felt the novel's story about an Englishman meeting a beautiful Russian prostitute was too sordid.

Deanna Durbin

In March 1943 Universal bought the screen rights to the book as a vehicle for Deanna Durbin. [7] The movie was part of a specific plan by producer Felix Jackson to broaden the sort of films Durbin was making - it would be followed by her first color film, Caroline, then a mystery, Lady on a Train , then a film with Charles Boyer. [8]

Durbin, usually the girl next door in Universal Pictures musicals, plays a naif who falls for him and sticks with him even knowing he's a killer. Christmas Holiday was the first film Durbin starred in that had not been specifically written for her. [9]

In August 1943 Durbin called the movie "my dramatic debut." [10] She would only sing two numbers. [11] "Deanna did always have sex appeal" said Jackson. "I don't believe a star can be a star without it. Of course each of us has a different opinion on the matter." [8]

Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz changed the setting from a Paris brothel to a nightclub in New Orleans and the main character was changed from a prostitute to a more ambiguous nightclub singer and hostess. [9]

Mankiewicz was fired while writing the screenplay when Universal executives saw him drunk on the studio lot. A week later the writer walked into Jackson's office and said "Felix, don't you think Herman Mankiewicz drunk is still better than Dwight Taylor sober?" Jackson rehired him. [12] Mankiewicz considered the screenplay among his 1940s successes of which he was most proud.

Universal loaned Turhan Bey to MGM in exchange for Gene Kelly who played her husband. [9] Kelly was signed in October 1943. [13] Dean Harens who had been a success on Broadway signed to make his feature film debut. [14] Gale Sondegaard joined the film in November. [15]

The director was Robert Siodmak who said the film had "a good plot (though the studio always wanted to change my psychological endings into physical ones, when the Hays office didn't intervene...) and interesting casting Gene Kelly in such a way as to suggest a sinister quality behind a rather superficial charm." [16]


Filming started November 15, 1943 and finished on February 12, 1944. [17]

Siodmark said Durbin "is a real actress. For five days she had to cry and for five days she cried and cried. But each day at 4 pm sharp and would cry no more. It was amazing. That is a real actress for you." [8]

Siodmak later said Durbin "was difficult: she wanted to play a new part but flinched from looking like a tramp: she always wanted to look like nice wholesome Deanna Durbin pretending to be a tramp. Still, the result was quite effective." [16]

Durbin said during filming "I'll be satisfied if they come out saying I gave a good performance." [8]

In February 1944, Universal signed Durbin to a new exclusive six-year contract. [18]


Durbin performs two musical numbers in Christmas Holiday: "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year" written for the film by Frank Loesser, and also the Irving Berlin ballad "Always". The film also features excerpts from Tristan und Isolde ("Liebestod") by Richard Wagner, "Silent Night, Holy Night" by Franz Xaver Gruber, and Latin chant for the Midnight Mass scene (which was footage of an actual Tridentine Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana). [2] [19]

Critical response


The film received mixed reviews. [20] In his review for The New York Times , Bosley Crowther called the story "the oldest sort of hat—the kind of dramatic farrago that was being played by faded stars ten years ago." [21] Crowther wrote that it was "really grotesque and outlandish what they've done to Miss Durbin in this film"—forced to play a role that is "a figment within a moody and hackneyed yarn." [21] Crowther criticized Mankiewicz' screenplay, which has "but the vaguest resemblance to the Somerset Maugham novel on which it is 'based'". [21] Although not blaming Durbin for the film's shortcomings, Crowther is severe in his criticism of her performance:

As the piteously wronged young lady, Miss Durbin does all that she can to suggest an emotional turmoil. But her efforts are painfully weak. Her speaking voice is girlish and empty of quality, and her gestures of shock and frustration are attitudinized. [21]

Crowther is no more charitable towards Gene Kelly, who "performs her no good husband in his breezy, attractive style, which is thoroughly confusing, considering the character that he is supposed to be." [21]


The film has received generally positive reviews from modern day critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 78% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 9 reviews. [22]

J. Hoberman of Tablet gave the film a glowing review saying "Christmas Holiday is one of the most Teutonic of Hollywood movies—a heritage borne out by its moody lighting, expressionist compositions, a soupçon of Krafft-Ebing, and long excerpts from Wagner's “Liebestod.”" [23]


Durbin later said in an interview with Films in Review that Christmas Holiday was her "only really good film". [24] Christmas Holiday is considered one of the bleakest films noir of the 1940s, and one of Siodmak's most personally realized films.


By July 1944 the film had made more than $2 million at the US box office, making it the highest-grossing film of Durbin's career so far. It was also Universal's most successful film of the year overtaking Arabian Nights which made $1.7 million. Universal said the average gross of a Durbin film was $1,250,000. [1]

"Oddly enough it did very well," said Siodmak. "I suppose everyone was so interested to see what Deanna Durbin would be like in a dramatic role. However she never tried again." [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert Siodmak</span> German-born American film director

Robert Siodmak was a German film director who also worked in the United States. He is best remembered as a thriller specialist and for a series of films noir he made in the 1940s, such as The Killers (1946).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Deanna Durbin</span> Canadian singer and actress (1921–2013)

Edna Mae Durbin, known professionally as Deanna Durbin, was a Canadian-born American actress and singer, who moved to the U.S. with her family in infancy. She appeared in musical films in the 1930s and 1940s. With the technical skill and vocal range of a legitimate lyric soprano, she performed many styles, especially operatic arias and semi-classical pieces, which is today called classical crossover.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joe Pasternak</span> American film producer

Joseph Herman Pasternak was a Hungarian-American film producer in Hollywood. Pasternak spent the Hollywood "Golden Age" of musicals at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, producing many successful musicals with female singing stars like Deanna Durbin, Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell, as well as swimmer/bathing beauty Esther Williams' films. He produced Judy Garland's final MGM film, Summer Stock, which was released in 1950, and some of Gene Kelly’s early breakthrough roles. Pasternak worked in the film industry for 45 years, from the later silent era until shortly past the end of the classical Hollywood cinema in the early 1960s.

<i>Lady on a Train</i> 1945 film by Charles David

Lady on a Train is a 1945 American light-hearted comedy crime film noir directed by Charles David and starring Deanna Durbin, Ralph Bellamy, and David Bruce.

<i>Cant Help Singing</i> 1944 film by Lewis R. Foster, Frank Ryan

Can't Help Singing is a 1944 American musical western film directed by Frank Ryan and starring Deanna Durbin, Robert Paige, and Akim Tamiroff. Based on a story by John D. Klorer and Leo Townsend, the film is about a senator's daughter who follows her boyfriend West in the days of the California gold rush. Durbin's only Technicolor film, Can't Help Singing was produced by Felix Jackson and scored by Jerome Kern with lyrics by E. Y. Harburg.

<i>Cobra Woman</i> 1944 film by Robert Siodmak

Cobra Woman is a 1944 American South Seas adventure film from Universal Pictures, directed by Robert Siodmak that stars Maria Montez, Jon Hall, and Sabu. Shot in Technicolor, this film is typical of Montez's career at Universal, and, although mostly forgotten today by the general public, is venerated by film buffs as a camp classic for its legendary phallic snake-dance and Montez's words: "Geev me that Cobra jewl (sic)".

<i>Princess ORourke</i> 1943 film by Norman Krasna

Princess O'Rourke is a 1943 American romantic comedy film directed and written by Norman Krasna, and starring Olivia de Havilland, Robert Cummings and Charles Coburn. Krasna won the 1944 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

<i>Mad About Music</i> 1938 film by Norman Taurog, Bruce Manning, Joe Pasternak

Mad About Music is a 1938 American musical film directed by Norman Taurog and starring Deanna Durbin, Herbert Marshall, and Gail Patrick. Based on a story by Marcella Burke and Frederick Kohner, the film is about a girl at an exclusive boarding school who invents an exciting father. When her schoolmates doubt his existence, she has to produce him. Mad About Music received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Music, and Best Original Story.

<i>It Started with Eve</i> 1941 film by Norman Krasna, Henry Koster, Joe Pasternak

It Started with Eve is a 1941 American musical romantic comedy film directed by Henry Koster and starring Deanna Durbin, Robert Cummings, and Charles Laughton. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Music Score. The film is considered by some critics to be Durbin's best film, and the last in which she worked with the producer and director who groomed her for stardom. It Started with Eve was remade in 1964 as I'd Rather Be Rich.

<i>Ill Be Yours</i> 1947 film by William A. Seiter

I'll Be Yours is a 1947 American musical comedy film directed by William A. Seiter and starring Deanna Durbin. Based on the play A jó tündér by Ferenc Molnár, the film is about a small-town girl who tells a fib to a wealthy businessman, which then creates complications. The play had earlier been adapted for the 1935 film The Good Fairy by Preston Sturges.

<i>First Love</i> (1939 film) 1939 American musical film by Henry Koster

First Love is a 1939 American musical film directed by Henry Koster and starring Deanna Durbin. Based on the fairy tale Cinderella, the film is about an orphan who is sent to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle after graduating from boarding school. Her life is made difficult by her snobby cousin who arranges that she stay home while the rest of the family attends a major social ball. With the help of her uncle, she makes it to the ball, where she meets and falls in love with her cousin's boyfriend. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Music.

<i>Nice Girl?</i> 1941 film

Nice Girl? is a 1941 American musical comedy film directed by William A. Seiter and starring Deanna Durbin, Franchot Tone, Walter Brennan, Robert Stack, and Robert Benchley. Based on the play Nice Girl? by Phyllis Duganne, the film is about a young girl who finds herself attracted to one of her father's business partners who comes to town to give her father a scholarship for his dietary studies.

<i>Between Us Girls</i> 1942 film

Between Us Girls is a 1942 American drama film directed by Henry Koster and starring Diana Barrymore, Kay Francis, Robert Cummings, John Boles, Andy Devine, and Scotty Beckett.

<i>The Amazing Mrs. Holliday</i> 1943 film by Jean Renoir, Bruce Manning

The Amazing Mrs. Holliday is a 1943 American comedy drama film produced and directed by Bruce Manning and starring Deanna Durbin, Edmond O'Brien, and Barry Fitzgerald.

"Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year" is the title of a 1943 traditional pop composition by Frank Loesser, written for and introduced in the 1944 movie Christmas Holiday, the song was largely overlooked for some ten years before being rediscovered in the mid-1950s to become a pop and jazz standard much recorded by vocalists and instrumentalists.

<i>For the Love of Mary</i> 1948 film by Frederick de Cordova

For the Love of Mary is a 1948 American romantic comedy film directed by Frederick de Cordova and starring Deanna Durbin, Edmond O'Brien, Don Taylor, and Jeffrey Lynn. Written by Oscar Brodney, the film is about a young woman who takes a job at the White House as a switchboard operator and soon receives help with her love life from Supreme Court justices and the President of the United States. For the Love of Mary was the last film by Deanna Durbin, who withdrew from the entertainment business the following year to live a private life in France.

Felix Jackson was a German-born American screenwriter and film and television producer.

<i>Hers to Hold</i> 1943 film by Frank Ryan

Hers to Hold is a 1943 American romantic musical comedy film and is the third film in Three Smart Girls trilogy. In Hers to Hold, Deanna Durbin reprises her role as Penny Craig, who is the only sister remaining at home.

<i>Because of Him</i> 1946 film by Richard Wallace

Because of Him is a 1946 American romantic comedy film directed by Richard Wallace and starring Deanna Durbin, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone.

<i>Christmas Holiday</i> (novel) 1939 novel

Christmas Holiday is a novel by the British writer Somerset Maugham, first published in 1939 by Heinemann. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War a naïve young Englishman travels to Paris to broaden his mind. There he meets a White Russian émigré Lydia, now working as a prostitute. She tells him both of the death of her father during the Russian Revolution and her subsequent marriage in Paris to a man who then murdered his own friend. Despite knowing of his guilt she secretly sends money to him on the prison island in French Guiana because she loves him.


  1. 1 2 Kennedy, Paul P (30 July 1944). "NOTES ON A 'FIRST LADY': Ireland's Geraldine Fitzgerald Talks of Her Role as Mrs. Wilson -- Other Items on the Ginema Scene". New York Times. p. X3.
  2. 1 2 3 "Christmas Holiday (1944)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times . 2012. Archived from the original on February 10, 2012. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  3. Erickson, Hal (2012). "Christmas Holiday Review Summary". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times . Archived from the original on February 7, 2012. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  4. BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Somerset Maugham's "Christmas Holiday' On the Nature of Good and Evil Raymond Gram Swing's New Book By CHARLES PROBE. New York Times 20 Oct 1939: 27.
  5. Best Sellers of the Week New York Times 23 Oct 1939: 23.
  6. 22 Books Top 100,000 Sales Mark in Year Chicago Daily Tribune 3 Jan 1940: 18.
  7. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 12 Mar 1943: 12.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Deanna Durbin Grows Up; She'll Wed Killer in Next: Youthful Star Begins Adapting Herself to Role Durbin Joins Adult Ranks Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 16 Jan 1944: C1.
  9. 1 2 3 American Film Institute (1999). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1941-1950, Volume 2 . University of California Press. pp.  425-26. ISBN   0520215214.
  10. DRAMA AND FILM: WHILE THE FILMS REEL BY New Deanna Durbin Brought to Screen Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 1 Aug 1943: C2.
  11. THE WARNERS VS. THE SCREEN ACTORS' GUILD: The Controversy That Halted Filming of 'Hollywood Canteen' -- Other Matters By FRED STANLEY HOLLYWOOD. New York Times 2 Jan 1944: 3X.
  12. Meryman, Richard (1978). Mank : the wit, world, and life of Herman Mankiewicz. Morrow. p. 282.
  13. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 4 Oct 1943: 25.
  14. DRAMA AND FILM: Los Angeles Times 6 Oct 1943: 15.
  15. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 29 Nov 1943: 23.
  16. 1 2 3 Encounter with Siodmak Taylor, Russell. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 28, Iss. 3, (Summer 1959): 180.
  17. A PLAN MARKED 'D' FOR DURBIN New York Times 18 June 1944: X2.
  18. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Irene Manning, Dennis Morgan Cast for 'Henrietta VIII' -- Two Films Open Today Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times 4 Feb 1944: 13.
  19. "Soundtracks for Christmas Holiday". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  20. Durbin 'Art' Challenged Lusk, Norbert. Los Angeles Times4 July 1944: 10.
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 Crowther, Bosley (29 June 1944). "' Christmas Holiday,' Presenting Deanna Durbin in Serious and Emotional Role, Supported by Gene Kelly". The New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  22. "Christmas Holiday (1944)". Rotten Tomatoes . Fandango . Retrieved September 27, 2022.
  23. "Sunday Streamers: Film Reviews". Tablet. January 28, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2022.
  24. Everson, William K. (1976). "The career of Deanna Durbin". Films in Review vol. 27 no. 9. p. 526.