It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas: HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949)

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?

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas: REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940)

About halfway through watching REMEMBER THE NIGHT on TCM I had a momentary pause.  “How?” I wondered, “How have I never seen a movie THIS good?”  Now that Thanksgiving is past I am finally allowing myself to start watching Christmas movies and thankfully, TCM is there with a great one!  My first movie of the holiday season is a fantastic film written by Preston Sturges and directed by Mitchell Leisen, REMEMBER THE NIGHT from 1940.

Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) is a girl with a penchant for taking things that she can’t afford.  One day in New York City, Lee walks off with an expensive bracelet.  The theft is immediately noticed and when Lee goes to a local pawn shop, she is trapped inside by the owner who has heard about the bracelet going missing and recognizes it immediately.  This isn’t Lee’s first run in with the law, in fact it is her third offense.  That means possible jail time and what with it being almost Christmas, the more offenses mean the more likely a conviction.  At least that is what the District Attorney (Paul Guilfoyle) is betting on.  He calls up prosecutor John Sargent (Fred MacMurray), who happens to be getting read to travel back home to Indiana for Christmas.  John, much to his dismay, is assigned the case and heads off to court to bring the state’s case against Lee.  He isn’t too thrilled, because not only is his trip being delayed but juries are notoriously lax at Christmastime.  It won’t be so easy for him to get a conviction.

In the courtroom Lee’s attorney is putting on a Broadway show, explaining to the entranced jury that Lee was not responsible for her actions.  Why the poor girl was hypnotized into an acute state of schizophrenia by the beauty of the jewels on her wrist!  Rather than objecting to this dog and pony show, John sits quietly biding his time.  When the defense rests John steps forward and requests that he be granted a continuance, as his only expert witness who could address the defense’s claims of psychiatric disorder is out of town until after Christmas.  As the defense has rested and the prosecution can’t offer a case without their expert, the judge has not alternative but to adjourn the case until January.  Lee is less than thrilled with the continuance, as she will now be remanded to the jail until her court date unless she can post $5000 bail.  On her way out she throws a sarcastic “I hope YOU have a ‘Merry Christmas'” to John, who asks his clerk to get Fat Mike the bondsman.  Fat Mike appears and John asks him to get him a $5000 bond for “a friend”.  Fat Mike is all wink wink, nudge nudge, no charge, and “she’s out”.

John returns to his apartment and continues packing for his trip home.  Soon there is a knock on the door, and Fat Mike drops off an indignant Lee.  After a bit of confusion, it is finally cleared up that John is just as surprised as Lee and that he did NOT ask Fat Mike to bring her up to his apartment at all, and she is welcome to leave any time she likes.  So naturally, Lee says that she will stay.  When John tells her that he is getting ready to leave for a trip home and actually could she please go, Lee wonders where John intends for her to go?  John offers to square her bill at the hotel she was staying at, but the price is a bit too steep for him.  As their discussion isn’t getting them anywhere, John offers to take Lee to a dinner club to get something to eat.

Over drinks and dinner, Lee and John discuss life and life philosophies.  It seems that Lee has been taking things for as long as she can remember.  She tells John that everyone believes in right and wrong, but right and wrong mean different things to different people.  For example, if John was broke and starving to death he would steal a loaf of bread to eat.  But if Lee was broke and starving to death, she would get a six course dinner in the restaurant across the street and then say she lost her purse.  While they sit together talking, who should stop to talk with John but the very judge who is presiding over Lee’s trial!  Shocked by John’s dinner companion, he hurries away with his wife.  As the meal draws to a close and the two prepare to part ways until the trial reconvenes, Lee asks John for one more dance.  They move across the dance floor to the tune of “My Indiana Home”, and discover that they are both Hoosiers from towns just fifty miles apart.  John offers to take Lee home for Christmas, asking how long it has been since she was home.  Lee, it turns out, has never been back ever since she ran away.  She has only heard from her mother once, a letter she received telling her that her father had died.  She isn’t even sure if her mother is still alive, though she hopes so.

The two set off on their Christmas road trip and soon hit a speed bump, literally.  Part of the road is under construction and they have to take a detour down a country road.  Completely turned around and lost, the two weary travelers decide it best to sleep in the car overnight and start again in the morning.  They are awakened by the sounds of cows mooing, and not that far off.  In fact, the cars are all around them and even in the car with them!  John offers to milk the cows for their breakfast, but is interrupted by a rifle in his face.  The landowner has discovered them, and mistaken them for trespassers.  Placing them under citizen’s arrest, the man leads Lee and John to the local courthouse to stand trial.  John tries to use his skills as a lawyer to explain the situation, but the judge is unwilling to listen and be pushed around by New Yorkers!  Lee, sensing that this is getting them nowhere, creates a distraction by setting fire to a wastebasket.  While the judge and the landowner race about put out said fire, Lee and John hurry off to their car to make a quick escape.

John and Lee finally arrive at Lee’s mother’s farm.  Nervous, Lee asks John to go with her to the door which he agrees to readily.  Lee knocks on the door and is greeted by a man, who turns out to be her mother’s new husband.  He calls to his wife to come to the door and now it is Lee’s mother (Georgia Caine) who appears.  But if John was expecting to see a warm mother-daughter reunion, he is to be disappointed.  Lee’s mother is a cold and disapproving woman, who instead of welcoming home her lost daughter, berates her and extolls all her shortcomings and faults.  She tells Lee to leave, that no one wants her here and that she has always been a disappointment to her family.  Outside, Lee breaks down and begs John not to leave her here with these people.  John agrees and offers to take her home with him, to spend Christmas with his family.

Finally, they arrive at John’s home and are greeted by his mother (Beluah Bondi), his Aunt Emma (Elizabeth Patterson), and their simple minded field hand, Willie (Sterling Holloway).  Lee is surprised to find that she is welcomed with open hearts and arms, and treated like one of the family.  She even gets presents from the family for Christmas!  John, fearing that his mother might get the wrong idea about why he brought Lee with him, tells her all about Lee’s troubled past and her current prosecution.  While things are platonic between John and Lee, his mother has no concerns and even comes to care for Lee as a daughter.  But during the New Year’s dance, things between the two become more romantic and John’s mother begins to worry.  On the night before they are to leave she comes to Lee’s room.  John loves Lee, this is clear to her, but as fond as she has become of Lee she is afraid that entering into a relationship with her will damage John’s career and reputation.  John has worked so hard to get where he is today, and she doesn’t’ want anything to ruin that.  Lee agrees to stop things from going any further with John, even though she loves him deeply.  It is because of her love, and his mother’s plea, that Lee insists on returning to New York to stand trial even as John offers to leave her in Canada instead.

Back in the courtroom the judge is convinced, having seen the two of them together at dinner, that John will try to throw they case in favor of Lee.  But as they start, John seems to be going at Lee harder than ever.  He is hounding her on the witness stand, challenging her testimony, and demanding answers like a man on a mission.  But his mission is not to convict Lee, but to garner sympathy for her from the jury.  If he appears too hard on her the jury will surely vote in her favor, if only out of compassion.   But Lee senses what he is doing, and fearing for his career and reputation, begs the judge to accept her plea of guilty!

This is such an underrated and under appreciated film.  I am so glad that I got a chance to see it on TCM, not just by myself but along with the members of #TCMParty on Twitter.  If you aren’t familiar, #TCMParty is basically a viewing party via Twitter so that classic film fans can all watch the same film and tweet about it.  Many of us were seeing REMEMBER THE NIGHT for the first time that night, and we were all stunned at how good this film is.  The Preston Sturges script is so witty and smart, so funny and so touching.  This was the last film that Sturges made as strictly a screenwriter.  Tired of watching directors change his scripts during filming, including this one, Sturges made the move to writer/director/producer and thank God he did.  But the story of REMEMBER THE NIGHT is so good, so well though out, and so well written it makes the movie truly special.  I don’t think anyone could write a story like Preston Sturges.  This film goes from comedy, to pathos, to drama, to romance, and back again.  And it does it in a way that makes perfect sense to the story and to the characters.  The acting is top notch too.  This is the first of what would be four collaborations between Stanwyck and MacMurray, and even this early on in the partnership you can really see the chemistry.  You believe they are in love and not movie love but real, honest, make you popovers in the morning love.  Also, can we just take a moment here to talk about how fantastic Barbara Stanwyck is?  There is a scene in which Lee has just been left in her new room by Aunt Sara, after receiving a nightgown to sleep in.  Barbara Stanwyck has no lines, but just does everything on her face and in her eyes.  In that moment you know exactly what Lee is thinking and feeling, and without one word ever being said.  All in all, I really loved this movie.  So much so, I ordered it from TCM after the viewing because I wanted to add it to my collection to watch during Christmas time for years to come.  If you get the chance to see this movie, do it!  It is a fantastic movie any time of the year, but I am so glad that it was my first Christmas movie of the season!

Coming Attractions for December and January

Hi everyone!

Just a quick post of some of the things you can look forward to over the next month or two!

Now that it is after Thanksgiving, I can finally break out the Christmas movies!  Hopefully I will be able to have a bunch to post about, but I will definitely try for at least two or three.  I’m thinking of CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT, IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE, and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  Of course these may change, but if there are any Christmas films you think I should blog about leave me a comment below!

In January I am taking part in my first blogathons ever!  The first one is January 22-25 and is hosted by SilverScreenings and ASmallPressLife!  It is celebrating the lovely Miriam Hopkins and I will be contributing a post about TROUBLE IN PARADISE.

The second blogathon will take place on January 31st and is hosted by Backlots!  The topic is Dueling Divas and I will be posting about sisters, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine.

So there are some coming attractions for the next two months!  Thanks to everyone for making me feel so welcome to the classic film blogosphere, and to all of you who come and read these posts!  I am having a lot of fun and I can’t wait to blog more!