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With: Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Wendell Corey, Gordon Gebert, Griff Barnett, Esther Dale, Henry O'Neill, Harry Morgan, Larry J. Blake, Helen Brown
Written by: Isobel Lennart, based on a story by John D. Weaver
Directed by: Don Hartman
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 87
Date: 12/24/1949

Holiday Affair (1949)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Tie Game

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though it's not widely known, Don Hartman's Holiday Affair (1949) is one the best grown-up Christmas movies ever made. The adorable Janet Leigh had one of her earliest roles as Connie Ennis, a professional comparison shopper with a young son, Timmy (Gordon Gebert, in an amazing child performance). She's a widow, whose husband died in WWII. She has a boyfriend, Carl (Wendell Corey), who has waited a long time for her to be ready to marry again, but she's never sure. She has some unresolved issues. She tells Timmy never to wish for anything he can't reasonably have. She calls her son "Mr. Ennis" and tells him how much he looks like his father; he, in turn, calls her "Mrs. Ennis." Meanwhile, Connie forces Carl to wear an apron when he helps do the dishes.

While doing her job, she's a little too obvious when buying an expensive toy train, and the sales clerk, Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) catches her when she returns it the next day. One of them will lose their job, and Steve decides to take the bullet and lets her go. Newly unemployed, he asks her to lunch, and helps her with her work. Meanwhile, Timmy sees the train and thinks it's his Christmas present. Steve buys the train for Timmy and leaves it under the Christmas tree, which requires Connie to seek him out to try to return his money. Fate throws them together several more times, until it's clear that Steve has gotten under her skin. She even gives him a loud tie that was meant to be Carl's, and which is also a symbol for the gifts she used to give her late husband.

The movie burrows deep into the psychology of its characters. Steve is excellent at reading Connie and not shy about telling her. He comes across as a man who knows what he wants (his dream is to build boats), but unafraid of saying, "Baby, I don't care," and walking away. He's just about everything that any woman wants. Meanwhile, Carl is perfectly nice -- not at all like those romantic triangle movie cuckolds -- but that's his problem. He never challenges Connie; he never establishes himself as a center for her world. When she impulsively barks, "stay away from my child," Carl's response is to sulkily grab his coat and leave. And Connie, despite her hangups, is perfectly sympathetic. She's exhausted, overwhelmed, and afraid to long for something.

Director Hartman is probably best known for writing some of the Hope/Crosby "Road" movies. He only directed five movies of his own, including this one. He decorates the movie with holiday cheer, but keeps it in the background. This isn't a movie about the true meaning of Christmas, but rather about lost, lonely people finding one another and trying to do the right thing. It's not afraid of human emotions, and elevates them over plot twists, but it also keeps a positive spin on things, always grasping for hope. Since most Christmas movies are heavy on the schmaltz, Holiday Affair is a perfect low-key alternative for movie buffs that love the holidays.

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