Merry Classic Film Talk: ‘Holiday Affair’ (1949)

Today we get into a festive spirit and reminisce about

Holiday Affair (1949)

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Directed by Don Hartman

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Wendell Corey

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* Published in participation with The Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by Pure Entertainment Preservation Society *

“Every surprise isn’t a telegram from the War Department.”

Synopsis

Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) is a young widow whose husband died in the Second World War. She raises her 6 ½-year-old son Timmy alone and works as a Comparison Buyer to make ends meet. It is the busy Christmas shopping season and she goes into Crawley’s Department store in search of a toy train set that she later purchases from salesman Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum). As Connie buy the train on a whim and for the exact amount plus tax, Steve suspects her but says nothing even when she comes back the next day to return it for a refund. Normally, anyone revealed to be a Comparison Buyer for a competing store must be reported to management. He ends up losing his job as a result, later bumping into Connie who is very apologetic. They spend the day together and he helps her make her purchases. Steve eventually makes it to Connie’s house where he meets her casual beau, Carl Davis (Wendell Corey). Though Connie and Steve’s initial relationship is innocent, Carl is very uneasy and jealous.

Meanwhile, Timmy is excited about Christmas despite being very disappointed that the train set was not for him. (Unbeknownst to Connie, he snuck a peek while she was not looking.) On Christmas morning, however, Timmy receives a train set from ‘Santa’. Connie deduces that it was Steve that bought it for the boy and goes out to look for him in order to reimburse him the money. However, Steve will have none of it and refuses the money, stating that his intention was to lift Timmy’s spirits and make it so that he will not lose faith in getting things for which you wish. The rest of the story revolves around the love triangle between Connie, Steve, and Carl, as well as Timmy’s appreciation of the situation.

Background & Thoughts

RKO Studios was considered a leading studio during the Golden Age of Hollywood although they were not at the height of MGM and Warner Bros. Nonetheless, they were far from being a member of Poverty Row. Their sets were not too fancy yet not too bare. They were often ‘just right’. More importantly, they boasted an impressive roll call of talent. Holiday Affair has all of these qualities and then some. Since it is a Christmas-oriented movie, it gains a special status that other non-holiday movies like it will never achieve. People are always on the lookout for quaint, uplifting movies during the holiday season and perhaps it is no surprise that this movie has become increasingly known in recent years. Much like It’s a Wonderful Life, this film performed poorly at the box-office and was considered insignificant at the time.

In addition to Holiday Affair being a film about Christmas, it also focuses on the themes of grief and reconstruction. The film was released four years post-war and people were undoubtedly still reeling from the effects of World War II. The fact that the two other lead characters were so affected by this event helps them come together. Steve spent five years of his life fighting the war effort, coming back a changed man after seeing many horrors along the way. He does not see life through the same eyes as before, preferring now to strive for what really makes him happy yet keeping a pleasant and generous demeanour. Connie has spent an equal amount of time mourning her husband who likely never got to meet their son. She desperately clings on to keeping his memory alive, mostly as a way to honour him and shelter Timmy. As Steve points out, Connie is ready to marry Carl because she subconsciously does not want to be unfaithful to her dead husband so she goes with a new one she does not really love. Indeed, Carl is a secure but boring choice. He can give her what she needs monetarily and can provide a stable upbringing for Timmy while Steve is more genuine in nature but without the financial means, at least not at the moment. I would be surprised if this film did not touch the hearts of war widows and displaced soldiers alike.

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There are some particularly interesting moments in the film. For instance, Carl and Steve exchange a bit of chit-chat when they first meet to break the obvious awkward tension between them. At first, Carl offers Steve a drink to which he approvingly replies, “Hey, this fella’s got it upstairs”. Then they both note that they do not get the snows they used to when they were kids. Carl blames this on acid rain from a nuclear bomb, perhaps referring to the atomic bomb. Even though that seems to be a mix of outlandishness and humorous, this could very well have been a concern back then. Or maybe this is a way to show how out-of-touch Carl is in understanding those whose lives were directly affected by the war. (It is assumed that Carl himself did not serve.) Steve’s body language would suggest that his complimentary remark from moments earlier no longer has value. Also, there is a slightly embarrassing confrontation that occurs between Connie and Carl when Timmy misbehaves. I am slightly taken aback that this domestic quarrel would take place right in front of Steve but I suppose it was important to show Timmy’s level of discomfort with Carl as well as Connie’s reservations with respect to Carl’s behaviour as an assuming father figure. Still, it is uncomfortable to watch.

This is a cute and realistic story without a great deal of glamour but with a lot of heart and good intentions. All the performances are solid though I would argue that Corey plays his part a bit dry. The chemistry between Mitchum and Leigh is natural and subtle, never getting to the point of vulgarity. Though they have not known each other for long, they have much to share about and a mutual respect of one another that is admirable. As always, these movies tend to end too quickly for my taste but rest assure that you will be in good company for the duration of the film.

Holiday Cheesecake! 🙂

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19 thoughts on “Merry Classic Film Talk: ‘Holiday Affair’ (1949)

    1. It certainly is, Maddy! 😀 I really liked Janet and Mitch together as well; no offence of course to the wonderful Wendell Corey who seemed to have a penchant for losing the ladies in his films! I’m glad this film makes you happy at this time of the year. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great review of a delightful film. Steve and Carl sparring is fun to watch. Highlights for me include Harry Morgan in the hilariously-scripted and wonderfully performed courtroom scene. The wry smiles the judge and cops make when they realize Connie gave Steve a tie meant for Carl!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Gary! Oh I love it each and everytime I see Harry (or Henry?) Morgan in a film. He really had a lot of memorable parts that weren’t very big in size but that had a lot of “oomph”.
      Can you believe how bold Steve was to just ask Connie straight out to marry him, in front of everyone? It’s a good thing he didn’t take being turned down too hard. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, interesting scene. And the parents shared a touching toast that my wife always likes. Pops talks about mama hiding his things so that she can find them and prove he can’t live without her – which he can’t, he says. So nice!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I like how you touched on the aftermath of war in ordinary people’s lives. I love that this movie isn’t glitzy and the characters aren’t fabulously wealthy – just regular folks trying to do the best they can.

    As Maddy said, Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum have wonderful chemistry. This really is a terrific film.

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  3. I’m looking forward to seeing this again. It’s been many years, since I last had the opportunity. I’m already a fan of both lead actors Mitchum can handle anything with ease. The more I see of Janet Leigh, I’m so impressed with her versatility also. A great, insightful review, as always Erica.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s good to see you here, Robert! 🤗
      I hope that this year you can find the opportunity to rewatch this film. It’s a very touching and heartfelt story that manages to remain simple and close to home.
      Mitchum was one of the greatest, wasn’t he? Much like Duke Wayne, he always seemed to be “himself” yet always attained a level of believability in his roles. As for Janet, she was beautiful and talented. Have you seen ‘Jet Pilot’? She was actually quite lovely as a brunette.

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  4. Your thoughtful review should entice many to check out Holiday Affair. There are a lot of truths in Isobel Lennert’s screenplay; about relationships and parenting, and life. If viewers are open to it they will find much more in this charmer than they will be expecting.

    – Caftan Woman

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks, Paddy. You always have the nicest things to say. ❤
      I really like how you worded your thoughts and agree completely. In fact, I saw a lot of my own childhood in this film and thought it was very true-to-life.
      This film seems to be getting a bit more attention in the classic film community so I hope it will continue to live on. 😊

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  5. I’ve always loved the scene where Janet Leigh’s character tells her in-laws that she has chosen to marry Carl. Her mother in laws visible reaction, and the way she answers back “Carl?!?!” is priceless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is just as you described: a lovely, quiet little film. I like it because it has a relaxed pace and is very no-frills. Timmy sure does steal the show, doesn’t he? 🙂

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