Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Holiday Affair': A Christmas Gem From 1949

By Lars Trodson

Finding a holiday movie that you like but haven’t seen before is akin to hearing a new Christmas song that’s worth hearing a second time. It’s a rare bird indeed. But I came across a little movie, from 1949, that I had never heard of before despite the fact that it stars my main man, Robert Mitchum.

The movie is called “Holiday Affair” and it has not only Mr. Mitchum, looking his post-war movie star best, but it also has Janet Leigh, in all her early MGM beauty, and this movie is a little treat. What’s nice about Christmas movies from the 1940s is that they’re not only sweet, but they also have a tinge of realism to go along with the syrup. There’s a hard won reality to these stories that almost always make them worthwhile.

I guess this little bit of pepper was deemed too much for modern movie audiences, because as time has gone on, each successive movie about the Christmas holiday has become so unbearably sweet as to be intolerable.

But anyway, here is “Holiday Affair”, which tells the story of single mom Connie Ennis (Leigh), whose husband was killed in the war (some of the pepper) and who is raising their son, Timmy, all by herself. Connie calls her son “Mr. Ennis” and he calls her “Mrs. Ennis” and this at first seems like a sweet affectation until Steve Mason (Mitchum) accuses Connie of trying too hard to keep her dead husband alive and not leaving any room in her heart for anybody else.

Connie and Steve do meet cute. He works in the toy department of a large New York department store. When Connie buys an expensive train set -- she’s a comparative shopper for another store -- and then returns it the next day, Steve gets fired for giving her money back. In the meantime, little Timmy (Gordon Gebert) catches a glimpse of the train when it was brought home, and he thinks it’s for him.

When he finds out it isn’t, and it’s returned to the store, the story begins to unfold.

There are little touches that make this movie more than just a cute little holiday tale. There’s a great scene during which Mitchum, having gone to Connie’s apartment because he thinks she’s single, bumps into Connie’s boyfriend, Carl (played by Wendell Corey). The two embarrassed men stand in front of the fireplace trading small talk, and it’s a gem.

Later, when Connie tries to persuade herself that Carl is the right one for her, she asks him to marry her. “This is a great night,” he says. “We’re going to sit on the sofa and neck.”

“Is that what married people do?” asks Connie.

“Uh- huh. (Pause) And ...” says Carl with a sly smile on his face.

Later, when Connie wants to return some money to Steve Mason, she goes up to the rooming house he’s staying at. “That’s his room,” says the landlady pointing to the door. “And leave the door open!”

When inside the room, Mitchum closes the door. Janet says, “But the landlady said --"

“Let’s worry her,” says Mitchum, and then he pushes his portable bed back into the wall and looks at her with a twinkle in his eye and says, “Let’s not worry you!”

“Holiday Affair” was directed by Don Hartman, who worked on some of the Hope and Crosby movies, and you can see his deft touch with some physical slapstick. It’s filled with all the great supporting characters that you expect from movies made in the 1940s.

If you’re looking for a little holiday cheer and some old-fashioned black and white romance, with two gorgeous movie stars looking their best, this modest little gem is just for you.