Holiday Affair (1949)

“And I want a girl that’ll drop everything and run to me, no matter what the score is.”

Every Xmas, I tell myself that I will watch a few christmas-themed films, but I usually don’t. This year, however, I managed to catch Holiday Affair, a 1949 film starring lovely Janet Leigh and her somewhat unlikely co-star Robert Mitchum. This delightful film aired on Turner Classic Movies, with the host Robert Osborne explaining that the film was quite a departure for Mitchum. Howard Hughes (RKO pictures), apparently wanted Mitchum to clean up his act after a drug bust in 1948. The intro didn’t mention that Mitchum’s fellow bustee was Lila Leeds. As part of her ‘correction process,’ she made the film She Shoulda Said No (AKA Wild Weed)–a cheesy film, unsurprisingly, about the evils of Marijuana. Lila was finished in Hollywood but Mitchum emerged unscathed.

Holiday Affair is set in the Xmas season in New York and concerns a plucky young war widow named Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) who lives alone with her son, Timmy (Gordon Gebert). Connie is a ‘comparison shopper’ and works undercover buying products that are scrutinized by a competitor and then returned. While buying a toy train, Connie is served by Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) who sells her the train before she dashes home. This initial encounter should be trivial, but it isn’t, and Steve Mason seems to drink in every detail about Connie–even if she’s distracted and in a great hurry.

Connie appears to have a simple home life, but there are complicated undercurrents. She’s courted by staid, responsible lawyer, Carl Davis (Wendell Corey), but she can’t let go of the memory of her dead husband. Carl wants Connie to marry him, but Connie isn’t sure….

When Connie returns the train to the department store the following day, she runs into Steve Mason again. He spots her as an employee of ‘comparison shopper,’ and he’s fired when he doesn’t ‘out’ her to his hovering supervisor. Connie feels responsible, and soon the two are off to lunch and a friendship begins. This friendship, of course, threatens Carl but delights Timmy.

With Robert Mitchum vs. Wendell Corey, the film’s conclusion is obvious from the outset, but it’s all so delightfully done, perfectly timed and realized. Unlike some Xmas films, Timmy isn’t too angelic (one scene pushes the boundary), but he throws a few fits and tantrums along the way which help the reality factor.

Connie isn’t the great interest here. Instead it’s the two men, In each other’s company (usually on Connie’s territory) their every action and word carries a deeper meaning. Carl, who’s understandably threatened by Steve tries to stake out prior ownership, and this leaves him in an unflattering light. Sympathies for Carl erode during these scenes as we cheer for Steve the underdog, who has materially, a lot less to offer. Mitchum, naturally, steals the film. Steve Mason is an intriguing character, and for him poverty seems a choice and a definite moral value decision. It’s interesting to see how others make judgments about Steve based on his loner, non-materialistic behaviour. But by far the best (and funniest) scene in the film includes a police lieutenant (Harry Morgan) who tries to unravel the complicated relationships revealed right before him.

Anyway, if you want a decent Christmas film that you haven’t watched a million times, keep your eyes open for this one.

From director Don Hartman.

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