Welcome to today’s show, my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast formally known as iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
Today’s movie is Holiday Affair (1949). This movie is quite a departure for Film Noir favorite and all-around tough guy, Robert Mitchum. Mitchum’s character along with that of Janet Leigh’s and Wendel Corey’s are in a love triangle. Leigh’s characters child is well played by Gordon Gebert.
Set during the Christmas season and directed by Don Hartman, this film has a respectable rating of 7.2 on iMDB.com. Rottentomatoes.com has it at 69 percent audience approval. I mean, I know it is cornball and predictable but is better than that.
The New York Times said on November 24, 1949:
An amiable little romance in which a boy meets a girl at Christmas-time, and the sentiments are quite as artificial and conveniently sprinkled as the snow is provided—for those who like such things…Light-weight in story and treatment, it is one of those tinsel-trimmed affairs which will likely depend for popularity upon the glamour potential of its stars. These include Robert Mitchum, the sleepy-eyed young man with a drawl, who plays an uncomplicated fellow with a yen to go away and build boats, and Janet Leigh, who plays a war-widow with a wistful devotion to her child—as patent a pair of fated opposites as ever merged in a Hollywood romance.
Ouch. The film was poorly received when released and lost about $300,000. So, let’s see if we like it a little better.
There are three returning actors for today’s film. They are Robert Mitchum who played the role of unfulfilled dreamer Steve Mason. Mitchum was first covered in the intense Film Noir Out of the Past (1947), Episode 54.
Janet Leigh was cast as Connie Ennis, a war widow, and devoted mother. Leigh was first covered in Episode 16, the utterly horrible, so good Night of the Lepus (1972).
Wendell Corey played the role of boyfriend Carl Davis. Corey was born in 1914 in Massachusetts. Corey began acting and worked in the Federal Theater Project during the Great Depression. He made his Broadway debut in 1942. Corey was discovered by Hal B. Wallis in 1946 and signed a contract with Paramount.
His first film was Desert Fury (1947). Other films include I Walk Alone (1947), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), Holiday Affair (1949), The File on Thelma Jordon (1950), The Great Missouri Raid (1951), Carbine Williams (1952), Hell’s Half Acre (1954), Rear Window (1954), The Bold and the Brave (1956), The Killer Is Loose (1956), The Rainmaker (1956), The Light in the Forest (1958), and The Astro-Zombies (1968). There are a lot of good Film Noirs in that list. He worked on television until switching to politics. Corey died in 1968 at the early age of 54.
Gordon Gebert played the young Timmy Ennis. Gebert was born in 1941 in Iowa. His first acting experience was in 1946 and in 1948, the family moved to Los Angles. Gebert was in a play at the Pasadena Playhouse and was spotted by a talent scout.
His movies include Come to the Stable (1949), Holiday Affair (1949), The Flame and the Arrow (1950), The House on Telegraph Hill (1951), Night Into Morning (1951), Flying Leathernecks (1951), Tommy, the boy that drove much of the story in the great Film Noir The Narrow Margin (1952), and playing the young Audie Murphy in the autobiography To Hell and Back (1955).
Gebert graduated from high school before attending UCLA, then USC, and finally MIT. He never returned to acting. He eventually ended with a Master’s degree from Princeton. He found work as a professor of architecture at New York’s City College.
James Griffith was uncredited as the department store Floorwalker. This was a job that I don’t think they have anymore. Basically, you snoop around and keep the sales clerks in line. Griffith played such a sleazy one, I decided to write this small character out.
Griffith was born in 1916 in Los Angles. Griffith studied music and worked in the entertainment field. To make a living he began working at Douglas Aircraft. He joined the Marine Corp in 1941 and served through World War II until 1947.
After the war, Griffith worked for bandleader Spike Lee and then made his film debut in Blonde Ice (1948). Griffith quickly learned that there was more work in playing a bad guy. His better-known roles include Fighting Man of the Plains (1949), Alaska Patrol (1949), Stage to Tucson (1950), Indian Territory (1950), Double Deal (1950), Jesse James vs. the Daltons (1954), The Law vs. Billy the Kid (1954), Masterson of Kansas (1954), and Day of Triumph (1954). He moved into television in the 1950s and worked until the mid-1980s. He wrote scripts and two pretty good ones are Shalako (1968) and Catlow (1971). Griffith died in 1993 at the age of 77.
The credits roll with a model train traveling through a snowy landscape. A toy salesman Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) is selling model trains in a large department store. It is Christmas time and there is a large crowd of young boys watching the trains. A harried shopper Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) pushes through the crowd and buys a train with the exact amount of cash ready in advance. Steve eyes her with suspicion as the floorwalker (James Griffith) watches them both. Floorwalkers were senior sales people that supervised the sales staff. In movies, they are always sneaky and vindictive.
Connie jumps in a phone booth and calls her boss. She is holding a large box containing the train set. Connie is a comparison shopper. Something in this movie that they have to keep a secret. Now I think they do it in the open. That is, when it’s not a Craig’s List scam. Connie plans on taking the train home for the night and bringing it into her office in the morning.
When Connie gets home to her boarding house, carrying the train and another package, her six-year-old son Timmy (Gordon Gebert) is waiting at the top of the stairs. As it is near Christmas, Timmy asks if the packages are for him. Connie says maybe one. She has diminished his expectation for a big Christmas. Connie reminds Timmy of his father that was killed in World War II.
As soon as he gets a chance, Timmy slips in the bedroom and opens the big box, exposing the train that he presumes is for him. A little later, Connie beau, Carl Davis (Wendell Corey) comes over. Carl is a lawyer, real solid, and has been dating Connie for two years. Timmy finds out that the train really is not for him. Carl is pretty good with Timmy also. Carl asks Connie to marry him while they are washing dishes. She asks for more time. Carl accepts it like a good punk. After Carl is gone, Connie dumps the marriage idea on a six-year-old and solicits his opinion. Connie is looking mostly at the material side of things.
The next day Connie returns the train to Steve at the store. He knows she is a comparison shopper. Steve tells Connie that he knows what she does and he is supposed to turn her in. When Steve finds out she is a war widow, he lets her return the train. As soon as she leaves, the floorwalker calls Steve over.
In a bit, he Steve shows up where Connie is continuing to comparison shop. He has been fired for letting her return the train and not turning her in. Steve gives Connie tips on how to shop without being detected. Connie feels bad and agrees to go to lunch with Steve.
Steve takes her to the seal enclosure in the zoo. They eat hotdogs and Steve tells her that the seals are happy because they don’t have to be bank presidents. Steve has a dream of building sailboats. After the war, he tried the cooperate route before throwing it all away to work on a ship. He says he is sending money to a friend in California and one-day plans to go into the boat building business with him.
Connie has to go back to work shopping and Steve spends day helping. Loaded with packages, Steve loses Connie when she gets on the bus.
Connie goes home where Carl and Timmy are decorating the Christmas tree. Connie fails to mention Steve as the three get ready to go out for dinner. Carl asks for a proposal from Connie. The buzzer rings and Steve is at the door with the packages. Carl is a little suspicious. They have a little conversation about global climate change as a result of atomic bombs. Steve makes himself at home.
Timmy comes out and Steve talks to him and thinks he is like his mother. Connie only wants him to be like his father. Timmy gets snotty with Carl and Connie orders him to his room. Carl echoes her words. Carl picks up Timmy to carry him to the room and Connie says “get your hands off my boy.” That should be it. Game over. Carl does have the spine to walk out. Steve is the greatest psychologist ever. Steve leaves saying he is not coming back and that she and Timmy only want things to stay the way they are.
Steve goes to talk to Timmy (odd). Timmy asks Steve how his mother got him fired. Steve tells the story of the train and Timmy again see that he is not getting the thing he wants the most. Steve teaches him to aim for the moon and says he should aim higher than what he wants.
Steve walks into the kitchen and gives Connie a big old kiss. As far as Janet Leigh knew, it was supposed to be a simple kiss but Mitchum gave her a great smooch. Leigh said later that the look of shock was real.
Anyway, with Steve’s kiss, Connie was hooked through the gills. I know I said that last episode but it fits again. Steve says Merry Christmas and leaves.
Connie meets Carl for dinner. He apologized to her. What??? Timmy called earlier in the day and apologized to Carl. Connie says she will marry him on New Year’s Day.
Christmas day arrives and Timmy is super excited. Mostly about the train set he found outside of the door. Connie doesn’t know where the train came from. The note says that the train came from Santa. Timmy says the only one he told was Steve.
Carl calls and Connie tells him about the present. Connie tells Timmy that the train came from Steve. Connie gets ready to heads out to see Steve at his hotel. Timmy convinces her to take Carl’s necktie present for Steve. Steve has checked out but she realizes he is at the seal enclosure. Steve says the train is a personal matter and he won’t accept money. Steve feeds a squirrel and Connie gives him the tie. Steve gives his old tie to a bum. Steve tells Connie that she needs to take a chance. A young girl brings a present from the bum for Steve. It is expensive salt and pepper shakers. Steve says he is going to California to build boats.
When Connie gets back her in-laws are there with Timmy. They have a good relationship with their son’s widow. Timmy has led his grandparents to believe that Connie is marrying Steve. She says no it’s Carl. Carl shows up and everything is fine. Everybody interrogates Connie.
The buzzer rings and a police detective is at the door. Steve has been arrested. Connie, Carl, and Timmy go to the station. The police lieutenant (Harry Morgan) says a man was hit on the head, tied up with a tie, and robbed of money and a salt and pepper shaker. They found Steve hiding in the woods with the two shakers. The police say Steve was homeless, unemployed, and about to leave town.
Connie laughs at the story. Carl lawyers for Steve. Steve didn’t have the money. He was in the woods feeding the squirrel. The police lieutenant tells that Steve is broke and couldn’t afford the train set. Timmy hears and understands. Finally, they let Steve go free. They take Steve back to the boarding house for Christmas dinner.
The dinner is going fine. Grandpa makes a speech and then Carl makes one too. They ask Steve to make a speech. He tries not to. But he says Carl is a fine fellow and Connie should marry Steve instead. Steve says things keep bringing him back into Connie’s life. Connie asks Steve to leave.
After Christmas, Timmy takes the train back to the department store by himself. One of the cars is broken on the elevator. The floorwalker refuses to take the broken train back. Timmy flees until he hears the name of the store owner. He goes up to the head office and the secretary lets him in to see the boss. Timmy shows the broken train to the boss. Timmy breaks down and tells the truth. He gets the money back. The toy store owner brings Timmy home in a limo.
Timmy wants the money given to Steve and Connie remembers the address after only hearing it once. Carl notices. She tries to send Carl to do the refund. Carl runs the entire case down for Connie and it is clear that he is out. He finally breaks up with her. After the breakup, Connie goes to see Steve. She tells him the wedding to Carl is off.
Steve says that the real problem with Connie is that she is still in love with her dead husband. He says she plays it safe and he wants a girl that will drop everything and run to him. Connie leaves and Carl is still outside.
On New Year’s Eve, Steve sends a telegram saying which train he will be on. Connie is getting ready to go to a party sans Carl. Timmy says his mother will be alone when he moves outs. She grabs Timmy and they head to the train station.
On the train, Steve gets a message saying Connie and Timmy are on the train. They meet and the three of them hug. The train switches back to the model in the store with a building saying Balboa, California.
Robert Mitchum was well known for playing tough guys and was a kind of tough guy in his early years. He was a big Film Noir star when he was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1948. After he was convicted, he severed 50-days on a prison farm. To rehabilitate his images, that cast him is this light-hearted film. The public didn’t react as badly to the conviction as the studio believe they would. In fact, when the movie did poorly at the box office, they changed the poster to make a seem like a standard Mitchum film.
World-Famous Short Summary – If Robert Mitchum is the competition, give up.
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Beware the moors