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

I love Christmas movies that are simple in nature with good characters and a nice story. They make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, sometimes even bringing a tear to your eye. After all, this is the one universal time of year where wishes for peace, prosperity, and reconciliations are both abundant and seemingly attainable. Even though real life is often much different, these films allow us to keep dreaming and hoping for good things to happen. Join me as I explore the magic in some of these vintage seasonal Classics.

 

Today we get into a festive spirit and reminisce about

Holiday Affair (1949)

Directed by Don Hartman

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Wendell Corey

 

Connie and Steve at Crowley’s Department Store, Toy Section

Connie Ennis (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 (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 (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.


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

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.

The post-war life of a single mother raising a small child

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.

Carl and Steve meeting for the first time

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 assured that you will be in good company for the duration of the film.

Publicity Shots

Little Timmy. An expensive train set costing $79.50 plus tax in 1949 dollars!