Dear Readers, What follows is extremely biased. I am sorry. Full Disclosure: I have had a teeny crush on Gene Kelly for as long as I can remember. Apparently I saw Singin’ in the Rain too many times as a kid. In my opinion, Gene Kelly is pretty close to perfect, he’s athletic, he has brown hair, he smiles as much as I do, and he’s an Irish Democrat!
If that weren’t enough, he was in The Committee for the First Amendment a Hollywood Group publicly speaking against the HUAC hearings.
Plus, he’s good with animals & children, has cool friends, enjoys cartoons, rainy days, Vespas, dancing, and he has a super place in Paris– be still, my beating heart! Okay, so that last sentence is just three or four movie roles and rolled into one impossibly perfect guy.
My point is when you want a great guy, call Gene Kelly. Okay, I admit, he can play a womanizing rascal. He was Joey Evans in Pal Joey on Broadway, but he always plays a good guy, even when he’s not so good.
So naturally, I expect he plays a charming husband in Christmas Holiday with Deanna Durbin. I am pretty sure the graphic designer, thought the same thing. Check out the DVD cover.
Of course, we were completely wrong.
Christmas Holiday, based on W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, is a dark story about a soldier Charlie Mason (Dean Harens), stuck in New Orleans during Christmas. While there, he meets Jackie (aka Abigail), a nightclub entertainer (Pre/Post Hays Code translation: Prostitute) at La Maison de Fête (Deanna Durbin). Her husband Robert (Gene Kelly) is a convicted murderer.
As it turns out, Robert has a few “problems”.
So let’s examine this unusually creepy performance by Mr. Kelly. The story is primarily told in flashbacks, as Jackie/Abigail tells her story to Charlie.
ABIGAIL. He was so gay, so charming. So different.
Then we meet Robert, right after the murder. Abigail is worried, Robert comes in and does not give her a straight response about his whereabouts, even worse, he gives her excuses in a sickening baby-voice that makes Lou Costello sound like an academic.
ROBERT. I do keep terrible hours, don’t I? But you see, a) There was a fellow I couldn’t meet until about 1 o’clock in a restaurant. b) I didn’t know how late it was or I would have postponed meeting him until tomorrow. c) I couldn’t get a taxi and I had to wait about an hour for a streetcar. d) I’ve got a wife who never gets really angry if I stay out late. So I keep on taking advantage of her trusting nature. And e) I’ll never, never do it again.
Murder is just the culmination of Robert’s many “issues”.
Look at Robert and Abigail’s first encounter. Observe his physical aggression. Watch his right arm.
Normally a gentleman notices and allows passage. But he holds his position, she crashes into him, rather than allowing her passage, he blocks her.
She looks to his side politely, but he maintains his position.
As a matter of fact, he does not move until other people say, “excuse me”.
This simple physicality exhibits Robert’s predatory nature. As a dancer, Kelly knows how to tell a story with his entire body.
Let’s look at their first date. While Abigail looks around and enjoys the music, Robert is locked onto Abigail. And like a perfect sociopath, he tells her exactly what he thinks she wants to hear:
ROBERT. Listen, Abigail.
ABIGAIL. I’m listening.
ROBERT. You know what that tune is?
ROBERT. The first song we heard together. Romantic, ain’t I? Let’s dance.
When he says, “Romantic, ain’t I?” he just sounds so phony, like he is spewing out a well-rehearsed act.
ABIGAIL. What’s the matter with the way you are?
ROBERT. If you think I’m going to tell you, you’re wrong. You haven’t caught on to a very important thing. I’m doing my best to get you to like me.
Later we see them on another date, and Robert asks:
ROBERT. Which do you like better, the person I pretend to be or…
ABIGAIL. The person you are.
ROBERT. You’re making a big mistake.
Okay, if that is not a clear warning sign, let’s look at his finances.
Sorry, but if you are going to marry someone it is a realistic step you should take. Here is a red flag, the fact that he can’t hold down a job:
ROBERT. I get fired quite a bit.
ABIGAIL. No, I didn’t know.
ROBERT. You don’t know much about me anyhow.
ABIGAIL. I think I do.
ROBERT. I’m warning you. You don’t.
Gosh, how many times must he hint there is something secret brimming under the surface?
Or the gambling problem that he is supposedly swearing off:
ROBERT. I guess I do get a little too excited over something that I doesn’t mean anything to me anymore.
Or the way his friend (a sleazy journalist/pimp/gambler) describes him to Abigail:
SIMON. I don’t think I know anybody who can explain things more clearly to a beautiful woman than Robert.
Maybe she would notice something weird about his relationship with his mother (Gale Sondergaard). Like the fact that Mother proposes for Robert!
MOTHER. Tell me, Are you in love with my son?
MOTHER. This may seem a little silly to you. Very often it seems silly to me. But ours is an old fashioned family. And I’m an old fashioned woman and well Robert wouldn’t think of marrying without my consent. He has it now.
ABIGAIL. You mean he wants to marry me?
MOTHER. With all his heart…and mine.
Or maybe she would get suspicious with Mother’s warning:
MOTHER. Just one last thing. I want to be completely honest with you. There are certain traits in Robert that you may not… They’re nothing really evil, believe me. He just sometimes forgets his sense of responsibility, that’s all. And that’s why I’m so glad that you’re the kind of person you are. Between us we will make him strong.
You’d think she would read the signs, but no! All Abigail sees is a cute and charming guy with an expensive home in New Orleans! We’ve all been there! That’s how you end up in relationships with psychotic people! Read the signs! Do not jump in head first! Do not marry the guy! Run, Abigail, Run!
No matter, how much I yell at the screen, people in movies never hear me.
Abigail’s poor marriage reminds me of game I used to play in Junior High with my friends “You Want, You’ll Take, You Get!” Basically it’s your heart’s desire, what you’ll settle for, and what the universe gives you.
ABIGAIL. When it was all over, a psychoanalyst said that Robert’s relations with his mother were pathological. All I know is that Robert was the only thing in the world that she cared about. He wasn’t just her son. He was… He was her everything.
But of course, pretending those little stains on his suit aren’t blood is still better than what happens when the little charmer comes home for the holidays (i.e. Escapes from prison) and discovers his wife is a “nightclub entertainer!”
Despite its holiday title and musical stars, this is not a jolly film. Yes, we do get two lovely musical numbers from Deanna Durbin, but I still hesitate to call this a musical.
Gene Kelly plays charming characters. In Christmas Holiday, he is a creep. Kelly excels in a surprisingly vicious and violent role. There is a tendency to view musical theater performers as less skilled than dramatic actors. Musical theater style performance is more demanding than a straight drama. Musical theater performers consistently perform on-key, at tempo and convey stories with their entire instrument.
It is a pity that he was not cast in more dramatic roles, he certainly would have had the appreciation he richly merited.
If you are a Gene Kelly fan, this is a performance you don’t want to miss!
You can see the movie online here!
Apparently this is not his only foray in the underworld. He also starred in the 1950 film The Black Hand, of course in that film he is taking down the mafia so again he is a good guy.