Wednesday 12 February 2014

Movie Review: Holiday Affair (1949)

A spry Christmas romantic comedy with a sharp streak of humour, Holiday Affair is a perfect little film, capturing the complexities of love with an elegant touch.

It's Christmas time in New York, and Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) is a department store comparison shopper assigned to surreptitiously check out competitors' prices and quality. A war widow deeply committed to her six year old son Timmy (Gordon Gebert) and the memory of her deceased husband, Connie is friends with lawyer Carl Davis (Wendell Corey), who wants to marry her.

Attempting to check the price of an expensive toy train, Connie's cover is blown by store clerk Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum). He is both intrigued and smitten, and refuses to report her to his bosses, and so gets fired for his troubles. With Carl pressuring Connie into marriage despite Timmy's protestations, she discovers a new spark through Steve's honest approach to life, while Steve establishes a strong bond with Timmy.

Edgy dialogue, a mean streak of comedy and memorable characters distinguish Holiday Affair. The John D. Weaver script, directed by Don Hartman, actively seeks out awkward moments, and uses them to great advantage. Carl and Steve meeting for the first time and sizing each other up with small talk in Connie's apartment is a hilariously uncomfortable scene, and the film's love of irreverent humour is sustained through to the climax, a New Year's Eve drunk interfering with a cleverly filmed lovers' meeting on a train.

Connie is an unusually well-rounded character for a romantic comedy, struggling to overcome the loss of her husband, and transposing onto little Timmy everything she yearns for in a life companion. Connie lovingly calls Timmy Mr. Ennis and he has learned to call her Mrs. Ennis, in an example of a seemingly playful gesture saddled with emotional baggage.

The absence of a villain or any sort of unsavoury character is another bonus in Holiday Affair. Carl and Steve are both good men, and they both want to make Connie happy. But they each define her happiness quite differently, Carl offering domestic stability and an accommodation of her emotional state, while Steve wants Connie to shake off her past and regain a lust for life. The conflict for Connie is not just about choosing a man, but rather choosing a life, as the film effortlessly ratchets up the stakes.

Janet Leigh has rarely been better, portraying Connie as a survivor buffeted by life but possessing the strength to stand up to both Carl and Steve as she sorts through her choices. Robert Mitchum finds the romantic application of his no nonsense persona, Steve living life on his own terms as only Mitchum can define them (including having his meals in the company of a loud seal at the park), but with enough caring to try to both rescue and win Connie's heart.

At 87 minutes Holiday Affair delivers impeccable entertainment, the magical Christmas spirit skillfully deployed to create a classic for the ages.

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