Holiday Affair (1949)
Another day, another obscure Christmas film reviewed by yours truly! Is this as disappointing a stocking stuffer as It Happened on 5th Avenue? Well, let's just say it's no gaudy necktie, but it's far from the latest, shiny new Apple product. 1949's Holiday Affair is a sweet, but rather odd little movie. It stars a very young Janet Leigh (still in her not-quite blonde ingenue days) and Robert Mitchum as her leading man.
Mitchum was easily one of the most unlikely stars Hollywood has ever known. Handsome, but in the weirdest way possible, with those droopy eyes, intimidating physique (imagine if young Bill Murray hit the gym) and deliberately detached air, Mitchum was never going to be the conventional leading man who always saved the day and got the girl in the end. What do you expect from a guy who actually did time in a chain gang? He was just too feral, worldly and indifferent for all that heroic crap. Already a box office draw thanks to the film noir classic Out of the Past, Mitchum raised a quite a spot of controversy when he was busted for marijuana possession. He was cast in Holiday Affair to soften his image, however briefly. Holiday Affair didn't exactly set the world on fire, but it hardly mattered, for Mitchum became an even bigger star, in spite of (or maybe because of) the scandal. Were it not for TCM showing it every year, Holiday Affair would languish in obscurity (where It Happened on 5th Avenue belongs).
Connie Ennis (Leigh) is a lovely widow who supports her precocious (aren't they always?) young son Timmy (Gordon Gebert) by working as a comparison shopper. She purchases an electric train from department store employee Steve Mason (Mitchum), fully intent on returning it the next day. Steve sees right through her ruse, but sells her the train anyway. Sure enough, Connie returns the train, and Steve calls her out, but when Connie confesses her plight, he takes pity and gives her the refund, breaking store protocol and getting handed the pink slip. As a result, a ping-pong game of sympathy and reciprocation of favors begins between the two, who are constantly crossing paths. This flusters both Connie and her lawyer fiancée Carl Davis (Wendell Corey), but little Timmy grows to love optimistic and outspoken Steve. Carl is a remarkably good sport about all this, trying not to dwell too much on Steve's attention to Connie and Timmy, and the fact that Connie has only recently agreed to marry him, after two years of dating. Connie knows Carl is a nice man and she'll be safe with him… but "nice" and "safe" aren't the ingredients for movie romance. You know it, I know it, and Steve certainly lets Connie know it. Will Connie be able to choose between the two men? Will Steve be the one waiting under the mistletoe?
Are all of the other reindeer a bunch of jerks?
Holiday Affair is guilty of utilizing one of my most despised tropes: the Disposable Love Interest. Sometimes this type of character works, but there are two possible outcomes to the Disposable Love Interest that always irritate me: he/she will either be revealed as a horrible person (if they aren't shown to be one before), or they will be wonderful people who handle their inevitable rejection so well, you realize they were much too good for our protagonist. Carl falls into the latter category. The truth is, he's actually a real swell guy. He truly loves Connie, cares about Timmy's welfare, and is the poster boy for goodness and stability. Really, his biggest flaw is that he isn't Robert Mitchum. When Carl figures out that Connie loves Steve, he lets her go in the kindest, most mature way possible. In a way, this is a weakness in the movie, because I found myself wondering what Carl ever saw in Connie to begin with (besides, you know, looking like Janet Leigh). Corey plays the unbelievably thankless, Ralph Bellamy-esque role with strength, grace and realism.
Mitchum is also good as Steve, bringing his unique brand of gravity and masculinity to a complete fantasy of a character. Steve is impossibly generous, wise, and has an answer for everything. He also gets away with lecturing Connie about clinging to her late husband's memory and not living life to the fullest. Even if that were true, what business is it of his? Dude, she's a young widow whose husband has been dead for less than 5 years, why not let her mourn as she sees fit? Were he played by anyone but Mitchum, Steve would have been utterly insufferable. Still, I wonder how the story would have played out if Mitchum had been the only man, as opposed to the "other man"?
Poor Leigh's role is every bit the unchallenging ingenue, but she has presence and charm, and she would sink her teeth into more interesting adult roles later on in her career. Gebert is way too precious and whiny as Timmy (dear Lord, they actually named him Timmy), but that's how Hollywood tends to write kids, so it's not fair to blame him.
Holiday Affair will never join the ranks of A Christmas Carol or Miracle on 34th Street, but it's an inoffensive trifle of a film, so give it a shot, if only for the rare opportunity to see Mitchum in full-blown romantic mode.