It's a heart-warming home-for-the holidays special! With murder:
Actually, it's one of the most depressing movies you'll ever see, and one of the strangest. Takes forever - or should I say fir-ever? (sorry) - to get around to what it's doing. We meet a soldier on leave; we learn his fiancee has dumped him; we see him find a hotel, meet a guy at a bar, follow the guy to a nightclub, drink some more, then meet a girl, then take her to church, where she breaks down and cries. Then they go to a diner to talk. Then she spills her story. Turns out she's the wife of a guy who was sent up for murder in a famous trial.
Then embark on a big, big flashback - it takes up most of the movie - where we see our hard-bitten bar-girl as she was before Tragedy and Heartbreak overtook her. Decent, pure, and sparsely lit:
Her problem? She loves a fella what makes her worry, he does. He's charming, but he's also something of a pampered wastrel with a bad temper. But even after he comes home after killing another guy, he can still melt her heart by flopping in bed and flashing the impish I'm-a-naughty-boy grin. Recognize him?
Yes, it's a young Kevin Costner:
No, it's not. It's one of cinema's greatest hoofers, a man better known for effortless charm and grace, a guy you could watch dance wit'out worryin' if you'd gone all fruity or sumptin'. Gene Kelly. It's not his only bad-guy role; he played a malevolent psycho in the most popular radio mystery series of the time, "Suspense" - so this wasn't completely against type. This was his 6th movie. His co-star, Dianna Durbin, had been a perky ingenue before, so her turn as a hard-case nightclub singer was a bit of a surprise as well.
It's been called early proto-noir, and maybe so; it has the look-and-feel of the noirs -
- but it lacks the damnation? You're soaking in it! that characterizes good noir. It's grim business, though. When we're done telling the backstory, with just a few minutes of movie left, we learn that Gene Kelly has escaped prison, and is coming after his wife. The soldier tags along, and gats bark. I give away no surprises to say that the bad guy ends up shot. The solider tells her as bluntly as he can - he's dead. Give him up.
Which leads to a remarkable ending. Picture this:
Now think how you'd score the scene, and imagine how you'd end the movie after the girl's seen her bad-guy husband shot on Christmas.
This is what we call "pulling out all the stops." It helps if you know that the couple met in a concert of this very piece of music. The scene would almost be nothing without the music, really - seen repeatedly, its artifice is more and more noticeable, although you'll probably catch the interesting lighting the first time. So how do you end a hopeless story that has the worst possible conclusion on Christmas? Like this. Here's an experiment. Watch this without the music. Then watch it again.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is how you end a movie so it seems so much more heartfelt and touching than it actually was.