Holiday Affair (1949): Robert Mitchum Spreads Holiday Cheer

Last week when I reviewed Remember the Night, I wished there were more Noir flavored Christmas tales to enjoy. That got me digging around, and while I couldn’t turn up a copy of Christmas Holiday as someone had suggested, I did luck out when I caught today’s film on TCM. Imagine if you will Miracle on 34th Street as a noir film. The setting is moved from Macy’s to the fictitious Crowley’s, the little girl who doesn’t believe in Santa is replaced by a precocious but cynical boy, and in the end, there is (Spoiler Alert) no Santa, but there is Robert Mitchum. While not as expressly Noir as last week‘s selection, Holiday Affair strikes a nice balance between hard hitting drama and maudlin Christmas sentimentality. Call it Film Gris. Though no matter what kind of film you call it, it delivers a truly unique holiday viewing experience.

When Connie (Janet Leigh), a comparison shopper (essentially a spy from a rival department store) tries to pull the wool over store clerk Steve Mason’s (Robert Mitchum) eyes, he sees right through her, but he lets her go on her way without informing store security. This leads to Steve finding himself out of a job right before Christmas. It also leads Steve to find himself having lunch with Connie Ennis in the park and helping her with the rest of her day’s work. The pair hit it off, but when Steve returns a load of packages to Connie’s apartment, he meets up with her fiancé Carl (Wendell Corey) and her son Timmy (Gordon Gebert). Unfortunately for Carl, Timmy doesn’t like him nearly as well as Mr. Mason, and that soon drives a wedge between Connie and her soon-to-be husband. Through a series of events that involve a toy train that Steve, though unemployed, gives to Timmy for Christmas, the film unfolds a series of events that thrust Steve and Connie together time and time again until they can no longer deny circumstance.

Robert Mitchum, best known for bad guys in films like Cape Fear and Night of the Hunter, cuts the same kind of brooding, dangerous look in Holiday Affair, but he’s not physically dangerous. Instead he’s a bit smug, ready with a biting comment, and cleverer than anyone would want to give him credit for being. So essentially, he’s Robert Mitchum, but this was his idea of taking a light role. Mitchum had only recently been arrested for possession of marijuana, and he agreed to do this picture as sort of an image makeover. Box office receipts proved that audiences didn’t want nice(ish) guy Mitchum, and the very next year he was back to his old tricks in Where Danger Lives (1950). While it would be eleven more years before Janet Leigh took the world’s most memorable shower, anytime I see her my mind goes to that role, but Connie Ellis was quiet the interesting character. Torn between her nebbish fiancée and Mitchum’s Steve Mason who seems intent on psychologically breaking her down, Leigh imbues Carol with a strong enough will that she seems less tragically torn than what she’s supposed to be, a widowed woman trying to give her son the best life she can provide.

The most dangerous actor in the film was Gordon Gebert who plays young Timmy. At first I found him as shrill and annoying as that kid in House by the Cemetery, but over the film’s running time I warmed to him though much of that has to do with how great his story arc is. Wendell Corey, who appeared in everything from Rear Window to The Astro Zombies, is entirely overshadowed by the cute kid and the two lead actors, but he gives a solid performance. It was hard for me to not to feel bad for the guy. For the moment that Mitchum arrives on the scene, Corey’s fiancé is completely cuckold. Corey’s character was even a lawyer and he couldn’t compete with a guy who was jobless, homeless, and hoped to be able to build boats someday. It’s no wonder that when M*A*S*H’s Harry Morgan shows up a cop trying to clear up one of many silly misunderstandings (this one involving seals, girls on ice wearing roller-skates, a hobo, and a salt shaker full of diamonds) he suggests that Corey buy Mitchum a bus ticket out of town.

Director Don Hartman, who was better known for writing several of the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby ‘Road’ movies, only directed five films, but as far as late ‘40’s studio pictures go, Holiday Affair is a good looking film (shot by All About Eve lensman Milton Krasner).  It also features several interesting exterior shots, and I especially liked the reoccurring scenes featuring the seals (dare I say "Christmas Seals") in Central Park. Overall, Holiday Affair doesn't impress because of its looks, but rather its unconventional mix of romance, drama, and comedy set against a Christmas backdrop. It’s an interesting story with a sweet finish that will have you forgetting about piles of mail stacking up on a Judge’s desk or any old cane propped up in the corner. While Holiday Affair is a film about a romance during Christmas, it is also about the giving and receiving that comes with the holidays, and one of the best gifts that I’ll get this year was the chance to see this little remembered Holiday classic.

Bugg Rating

I couldn't find a trailer, but I did run across 1955 Lux theater TV version of the tale, but it doesn't have as much charm as the Leigh/Mitchum version. 

1 comment:

  1. I caught just a part of this and it looked like it would be good. Wish I had known it was on.


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