Well, here it is only eight days until Christmas and we have what may very well be my last Christmas themed post of the season. I have one or two more that I would like to be able to watch and blog about before the big day, but that will be contingent on whether or not the presents get wrapped, the house gets cleaned, and the car gets packed for our road trip next week. So, if I can post another Christmas movie I will but if I can’t we are ending with one that I really enjoy! I stumbled across this movie a few years ago, initially attracted because Robert Mitchum was in a Christmas movie! From 1949 and directed by Don Hartman, it’s HOLIDAY AFFAIR!
Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) is working at his job in the Crowley Department Store toy department, entertaining young children with the latest model train under the disapproving watch of the floor walkers. He is approached by Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh), who asks to purchase said train without asking any questions. Steve is slightly suspicious and he has good reason to be. Connie takes her newly purchased train and along with her other bundles, hurries off to the nearest phone booth. Connie works as a comparison shopper for one of Crowley’s competitors and she has bought the train as part of her assignment. After giving her report over the phone, Connie heads back home where she is greeted by her six-year-old son Timmy (Gordon Gebert) aka Mr. Ennis. Timmy is the man of the house, a role he had to take on after his father was killed during World War II. He and Connie live alone in a small apartment, calling each other “Mr. Ennis” and “Mrs. Ennis”. Connie unloads her packages and sends Timmy off to wash up while she gets dinner ready. Timmy can’t contain himself and sneaks a peek, and finding the train set assumes it is for him. He is so excited for his Christmas present, until Connie (who doesn’t know that he has looked) tells him that there will be no train set under the tree this year.
That night Timmy and Connie are joined by Carl Davis (Wendell Corey), a lawyer and a suitor of Connie’s. While Timmy gets ready for bed, Connie and Carl wash the dishes. It is over the dirty dishes and bubbles that Carl proposes to Connie. She doesn’t give him an immediate answer and Carl leaves asking her to think it over. Connie tells Timmy that Carl has proposed and, not surprisingly, Timmy is less than thrilled about the entire situation. As she is leaving his room, Timmy tells Connie that if she marries Carl “she won’t be Mrs. Ennis anymore”. The next day Connie goes back to Crowley’s to return the train set and who should appear to wait on her but Steve. He lets Connie know that he is aware of who she really is and who she is working for. He is supposed to call the store detective and report her but, after hearing Connie’s story and learning that she is the only income for her small family, decides against it and lets Connie go with a warning not to return to Crowley’s and a full refund. This does not go unnoticed by the floor walkers and Steve loses his job. Connie feels terrible for causing Steve to become unemployed so close to Christmas and Steve asks her to join him for lunch as a way to make it up to him.
Steve takes Connie to eat in Central Park, keeping company with the seals, and the two share stories of their lives. Connie is impressed with Steve’s plans to design sailboats with a friend in California and Steve is eager to hear about Timmy and Connie’s life. The two have a very pleasant time talking and lose track of time, causing Connie to be late going back to work doing more comparison shopping. Steve offers to help her make her deadline and the two head off together. A few hours later, now loaded down with packages, they rush to catch the bus but are separated in the holiday crowd. Connie returns to her apartment with only half of her purchases to find Carl and Timmy trimming the Christmas tree together. Connie begins to tell them about her day when there is a knock at the door. It’s Steve! He managed to track her down through various tactics and is now here to return her packages. Carl is suspicious of Steve, but he remains polite. Timmy is thrilled by Steve and takes an immediate liking to him. But Timmy is still upset about the loss of the train and it causes him to fight with Carl, in front of Connie and Steve. Connie begins to send Timmy to his room but when Carl picks up the angry little boy, Connie yells at him to take his hands off her son. Frustrated and hurt Carl leaves the apartment and Connie sends Timmy to bed with no supper. She apologizes to Steve for the scene he just witnessed. Steve surprises her by suggesting that Connie is partly to blame because she is constantly trying to turn Timmy into a miniature version of her late husband. Connie angrily asks Steve to show himself out and goes off to wash the dishes. Steve stops by to say good-bye to Timmy, who then tells him all about the train. Steve encourages Timmy to always aim higher than his dreams and, perhaps taking his own advice, passionately kisses Connie before leaving the apartment. Carl returns and Connie, prompted by Steve’s kiss, decides to accept his proposal.
Christmas morning dawns and Timmy leaps into bed to cover his mother with kisses. He keeps thanking her over and over again, saying that she has giving him the best Christmas present and she really had him fooled. Confused, Connie goes out into the living room and finds Timmy playing with the electric train that she had returned the day before. The package was sitting in the hall outside their apartment, with a card on it to Timmy from Santa. She can’t think where it came from until Timmy reveals that he told Steve about his wish for a train for Christmas. Realizing that Steve has given her son the train, Connie decides to go and confront Steve. She finds him in Central Park, almost completely broke. Steve refuses her offer of money, saying that he wants Timmy to have the train so that he will believe in the possibility of dreams coming true. Connie asks what he will do now and Steve reveals that he is going to travel to California to design boats, once he has money for a ticket that is. Connie presents Steve with a loud necktie as a Christmas present (something Timmy encouraged her to do) which he is thrilled by. Taking off his old tie, Steve offers it to a passing bum who accepts it gleefully. A few moments later a little girl on roller skates (because she didn’t get ice skates for Christmas) with a balloon on her hat approaches Steve and presents him with a salt and pepper shaker, a present from the man he gave a necktie too. Connie reveals to Steve that she and Carl are going to be married, prompting Steve to talk again about Connie’s need to let go of the past and embrace the future. Annoyed by Steve’s lecture, Connie leaves the park and returns to her home where Timmy and her in-laws are waiting.
Connie’s in-laws have heard from Timmy that his mother is to be married, and they assume it must be to this Mr. Steve Mason they have heard so much about from Timmy. Connie denies this, and tells them that she is to be married to Carl which doesn’t thrill them nearly as much. Speaking of Carl, he soon joins the Christmas party and is greeted by everyone, including Timmy who has apologized for his bad behavior the other night. Another unexpected guest soon comes to the door, but it is not anyone they could have expected. This is a city detective looking for the Connie Ennis who just met with Steve Mason in Central Park. It seems that morning a man was mugged in Central Park, robbed of money and a set of silver salt and pepper shakers, and tied up with a necktie. Not only was Steve found with the salt and pepper shaker on his person, but it was his necktie that was used to tie the poor man up! Connie, Carl, and Timmy head down to the police station to alibi Steve. Connie backs up Steve’s story, little girl with roller skates and a balloon on her head and all, and the police release him. Timmy asks Connie if they can invite Steve back to their home for Christmas dinner. Though resistant at first, Connie finally relents and so it is that they all gather around to share a Christmas feast. After dinner is finished, Connie’s father-in-law starts the speeches by thanking his wife for their many wonderful years together. Carl then gets up to thank them all for welcoming him into their family and he hopes that next year he will finally be able to have the wife and son he has longed for. After some prodding, Steve stands up to give his Christmas speech. He says what he was always going to say, thank you and goodbye, but he adds something else. He is in love with Connie and when a man is in love with a woman he should say something. And he doesn’t think that Connie should marry Carl, rather he thinks she should marry him.
I really do love Robert Mitchum. I have always had a soft spot for him, which I think started with HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON. He is a “bad boy” but not in the conventional sense. By that I mean, he definitely has a devil-may-care attitude but it doesn’t come with a lack of respect or concern. He is so completely sure of himself that he doesn’t care about what other people think simply because he knows who he is and what he wants and he doesn’t need validation from anyone. Robert Mitchum so rarely got roles in anything like a romantic comedy, let alone a holiday movie, so I can only imagine that he jumped at the chance to play a different character. From what I have read it seems that Don Hartman, the director, really encouraged ad-libbing and freedom in the actors during this film. In fact per Gordon Gebert, one of the main scenes between Timmy and Steve was almost completely ad-libbed. I think that is part of what makes this film so enjoyable. You really see Mitchum having fun in his role, and it seems like there is a lot of Robert Mitchum in Steve Mason.
Janet Leigh is lovely in one of her first major roles and Gordon Gebert is adorable as her son. Wendell Corey is great as Carl, and this is one of the first times that while you are rooting for Steve (Robert Mitchum, I mean COME ON!) there is still something redeeming in Carl. Honestly, you know that he is truly a good person and really cares for Connie. But again, Robert Mitchum…nothing else needs to be said. I am so glad that this movie has become more well-known over the last few years, thanks in part to an increase in airings on TCM. It is definitely one that should be seen and enjoyed during the holiday season. Because…Robert Mitchum at Christmas. Does it get better than that?