25 Days of Christmas: Holiday Affair (1949)
Originally published December 24th, 2012
Coming into the home stretch of 25 Days of Christmas 2012, and the final three movies cannot come sooner. I don’t hate Christmas movies; it’s just I lost a day and the whole slate of films ran away with me. Today’s film is another first-time viewing for me, the 1949 film Holiday Affair. I must admit I was surprised to read the cast list because I would have never fathomed Robert Mitchum as a romantic lead in a light film such as this. The movie’s plot is corny and goes where expected, but the acting makes up for the frivolous plot. Mitchum and Leigh have strong chemistry even if the film becomes sillier and fluffier with time. I’ve definitely seen worse Christmas films, and I recommend checking this out for a pleasant holiday evening.
War widow Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) is a comparison shopper searching for toys on Christmas. At a toy store she meets war vet/downtrodden shop clerk Steve Mason (Mitchum) who loses his job due to the Connie. As Connie and Steve become closer, it causes frustration with Connie’s long-time boyfriend Carl (Wendell Corey) who wants to marry her.
Holiday Affair was the film to help audiences see Robert Mitchum in a new light after his arrest and jail stint for marijuana possession the year before. The studio hoped to take Mitchum away from his bad-boy image, and I can’t say it worked. He’s great here as the dashing, perceptive drifter (I always laugh at the numerous times Mitchum played a homeless-esque character. That man is way too gorgeous for me to believe he didn’t know where he’d be spending the night), but he still has that hardened persona that’s evident in his film noirs. The film convincingly introduces logic behind that by alluding to a troubled past allowing him to connect with Connie’s little boy Timmy (Gordon Gebert). The relationships between the characters are written far better than the plot itself.
The plot is a standard boy meets girl, girl already has a boy storyline, and the movie doesn’t do anything to distance itself from it. It seems obvious that post-WWII the go-to narrative involved a traumatized war widow coping with the loss of a husband. Here, the plot blends that with male suitors competing over Connie. Steve makes several observations about how he and Carl and little Timmy are all competing for her time and attention when she just wants to keep the memory of her husband alive. Connie is continuously making up or feeling she has to pay, for the loss of her husband right down to taking offense when Steve tells her Timmy looks like her and not his father. By the end of the film Steve tells Connie she must live in the present and embrace spontaneity and fun; “Not every surprise is a letter from the War Department.”
The acting between the two leads is top-notch and they have strong chemistry. Leigh is great playing the girl next door/sweet mother. Her scenes with little Timmy are filled with wholesome fun, and when she’s placed next to Mitchum she’s not overly aggressive nor is she a waif. The two work well, with Mitchum not coming off too strong; he’s perceptive, but not obsessive; flirtatious but not advantageous. Added to the mix is Wendell Corey who plays Carl. I appreciate movies that actually make the characters, even the ones who aren’t meant to win, human. Corey’s Carl is a genuinely good man who loves Connie and Timmy as much as Steve. When Carl and Connie get into an argument they actually talk, and Carl tells her that she has to decide if Timmy is her son or their son. He wants to take on the role of a father figure to this boy, no questions asked. He may not have the looks or sexual magnetism of Mitchum, but he’s just as worthy of Connie’s hand. Gebert is cute as Timmy, but boy is the kid a downer. One of his first scenes has him spontaneously asking his mother “Does it hurt much to die.” Great way to set the tone for your character, kid.
Holiday Affair lacks the power of a It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a light romantic distraction to slow you down from the hustle and bustle of the holiday. The acting is great and the love story is sweet. Just don’t get wrapped up too much in the plot outside of the romance.
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Buy It With 3 Other Holiday Classics
4 Film Favorites: Classic Holiday Collection Vol. 2 (All Mine to Give / It Happened on 5th Avenue / Holiday Affair / Blossoms in the Dust)
I first saw this movie a couple of years ago on TCM and I’ve made a point to see it every year since. I think the movie’s sweet without being treacle-y. It’s perfectly cast and acted.
I don’t think Steve is hardened. He’s tough and he knows himself. He doesn’t turn in Connie in the beginning, nor does he get pissed when he loses his job because he didn’t. If he asked me to go to California with him so he could build boats, I would’ve kissed Wendell on the cheek and packed my bag. It wouldn’t have taken me a week to decide.
I haven’t seen a movie yet in which Wendell Corey got the girl. Casting Mitchum as his rival is cruel and unusual punishment.