I’d never heard of Holiday Affair until my husband rented the DVD from Netflix. I’m sure most others haven’t either, except for dedicated TCM viewers (It’s an RKO release) or hardcore Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum fans. It’s a little movie. It was a disappointment at the box office, and it doesn’t have the hook that makes a movie a cult fave, yet it’s a reliable and entertaining programmer that whiles away the time pleasantly, and its predictable ending doesn’t marr the proceedings.
Janet Leigh stars as Connie Ennis, the worst secret comparison shopper I’ve ever seen captured on film. Connie works hard, but not well at her job to support her son Timmy. She’s a war widow who’s almost alone with him. Wendell Corey as Carl Davis has been wooing her patiently for two years, and he’d like to become spouse to Connie and father to Timmy. Connie can’t quite get over her husband, and Carl is too nice to push her.
And then Robert Mitchum’s Steve Mason enters the film. He’s a toy salesman, and he spots Connie for the fake she is. She buys an extremely extravagant toy train set from him without any questions, and she has the exact change including tax in hand. When she goes back to the store the next day to return the set, he’s made her and he’s obligated to report her, but doesn’t out of kindness. He ends up fired and tags along with Connie for the day and romantic complications ensue.
Janet Leigh embodies Connie with nervous energy. She’s in denial about living in the past, and Steve is the catalyst that stirs her up. She’s believable in not being able to help herself around Steve, she somehow keeps getting entangled with him, but she does not understand the obvious until the very end. She somehow dresses fantastically on her small budget.
Carl is suitably nice. He’s not too handsome, but not too plain. He’s just too understanding. There’s a scene that underscores how too comfortable he and Connie are. He calls her from bed underneath a pretty, shiny comforter. That instance reminded me of that scene in Sleepless in Seattle when Bill Pullman lies in bed with Meg Ryan. He’s got her and his tissues. They’re dropped any romantic pretensions of coupledom. They just are. Carl and Connie don’t have any big romance either, but Carl does present emotional and financial stability.
Gordon Gebert’s Timmy doesn’t want change. He’s been the verbalized man of the house, and his mother constantly compares him to his father. A husband wouldn’t be replacing not only his father, but also him. The sciptwriters and actor show how intelligent Timmy is without making him sickeningly precocious while making him seem like a real kid, sweet at times and manipulative at others. Timmy understands that Carl is a good man, but he prefers Steve.
Steve fought in the war and took up a conventional life when he returned. He meets Connie when he’s preparing for another life change. He wants to build boats, and he’s going to follow his dream. Maybe his enthusiasm rubs off on Connie, who tells him a lot about herself in one afternoon. He teaches Timmy to dream, too. Connie’s trained Timmy not to dream because she doesn’t want him disappointed, but Timmy can’t help himself, and Steve calls her to task for not fulfilling any of Timmy’s dreams ever. Steve’s the kind encouraging paternal figure Timmy’s been needing. Mitchum’s scenes with Timmy work because Mitchum talks to Timmy like a person.
There’s a lot of humor in this romantic Christmas comedy where no one is the bad guy. All the male characters are much more self aware and straightforward than confused Connie. They say and do what they mean. There’s a funny scene where Steve and Carl accidentally meet. Connie hasn’t informed either of the other, and their introduction is awkward. Connie abandons them at one point, and they don’t come to blows; their talk goes from competitive to begrudgingly mutually respectful. TCM has that scene available for viewing here.
Like a lot of Christmas movies, Holiday Affair actually ends on New Year’s Eve. Connie finally makes a decision about her lovelife that may not surprise any viewer, but feels deserved for all the characters, and leaves us on an up note–an important trait for any holiday film.