Holiday Affair, 1949, RKO Radio Pictures. Starring Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Wendell Corey. Directed by Don Hartman. B&W, 87 minutes.
Don’t be fooled. It would be fair to expect a film noir mystery from Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh, seeped in mood and angst. But this one is a holiday love story, a charming light romantic comedy.
It’s Christmastime, and the stores are filled with shoppers, including the toy department at Crowley’s, where Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) is working. He just sold a toy train to Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh), whom he correctly suspects is a comparison shopper for the competition.
Connie takes the train set home with her, planning to bring it in to work the next day. She’s a war widow with a young son, Timmy (Gordon Gebert), who’s as curious as any boy his age, especially when his mom comes home bearing packages, including, she admits, at least one gift for him. While she isn’t looking, he takes a peek, and sees the train set.
Delighted at the prospect of receiving this wonderful toy for Christmas, then deflated when he’s told it’s not for him, Timmy is sullen that night, especially when he learns his mother may marry her current beau, Carl Davis (Wendell Corey).
The next day when returning the train set, Connie is dealing with Steve again, who graciously tells her while he knew what she was up to the moment he waited on her, he won’t turn her in to store security, which would be the certain end of her job. Instead, he’s the one who ends up losing his job, and convinces Connie to have lunch with him as compensation for his loss.
From there the stage is set for the competing affections of two men, a little boy who develops a strong preference for one of them, and yes, the return of the train set to their lives.
This film did poorly when it was first released, perhaps in part because audiences expected something different from Mitchum. The New York Times said “it is one of those tinsel-trimmed affairs which will likely depend for popularity upon the glamour potential of its stars.” But over time, and with the help of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), it has gained in popularity in the decades following it release.
The New York Times may have been right. It is the talents of Mitchum and Leigh that make this story pleasant watching today, in particular, Mitchum’s quality of the worthy loner played against Leigh’s wholesome demeanor.
TCM has reported Mitchum was compelled to star in the film by his studio to clean up his image after his arrest for marijuana possession. Apparently, it wasn’t necessary for his fans, who remained loyal despite his legal troubles and the relative failure of this movie.
Leigh, who was fairly new to films at the time, recalled in a later interview that Mitchum was “an extremely good actor…so easy and cool, he never looked like he was acting. Working with him, he brought out that quality in you.” He also was quite a tease, she said, and he and Corey had a lot of fun with their naïve young co-star, including one scene in which Steve is to give Connie a light kiss, but instead Mitchum kissed her “in a way you would never do on a first date.” Director Hartman liked both the kiss and her reaction, and kept the scene in the movie.
Holiday Affair is enjoyable fare, something to watch while enjoying a cup of hot cider and a blazing fire.