' Cinema Romantico: Holiday Affair

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Affair

Two years after starring in the brilliant, black-hearted "Out of the Past" and one year after getting busted for marijuana possession, Robert Mitchum, he of the biography titled "Baby, I Don't Care", who gladly stood outside every single circle Hollywood ever had, starred in 1949's "Holiday Affair", a Christmas-time romance about two men simultaneously wooing a WWII widow that might as well come topped with real Vermont maple syrup. Mitchum. He was always up to something.

He is Steve Mason, a salesman at Crowley's, a New York City department store, who has a kinda, sorta Meet Cute with Janet Leigh's Connie Ennis, who buys an elaborate train set not as a present for her son Timmy (Gordon Gebert) but because she is a competitive shopper for a rival department store. She returns the train set the next day and even though Steve calls her obvious bluff, well, the guy's just to dawg-gone good hearted and writes her a refund slip and his manager, displaying no yuletide spirit whatsoever, promptly fires him.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Connie is involved in a brass tacks romance with Carl (Wendell Corey), who we suspect immediately as not being worthy of Ms. Leigh when we hear him lightly scolding her for not properly uncoiling the lights that will go on the Christmas tree. Seriously, guy? He's wanted to marry for her for quite awhile and she's alway rebuffed these proposals, perhaps because she's still in love with her deceased husband, until now, until Steve Mason enters the picture and begins - not in so many words - courting her.

In some ways "Holiday Affair" seems a precursor to "Jerry Maguire" in that the kid, the gee-whiz, aw-shucks, golly-willickers Timmy, is the one who sort of brings Steve and Connie together in the first place. He can sense Carl isn't the right man for his mom and that Steve is and even though Steve's doting on this kid he barely even knows seems slightly suspect to a 2010 viewer (really, if a guy who's basically homeless just showed up at your apartment and started insinuating his way into your kid's life what would you think? If "Holiday Affair" were remade today it would be a horror movie with Ray Liotta as Steve) Connie begins to sense it too, even if she doesn't readily admit it, and, heck, even Carl begins to sense it.

It might sound strange to say but the most convincing relationship in the film is between the two suitors.  Carl is suspicious of Steve and vice versa but there is also a respect there and an understanding that Connie actually deserves what she wants.  Imagine that.  The first time the two men meet it is delightfully uncomfortable but without having to resort to any hijinks or lowbrow insults.  Instead the two men stand side by side in an extended single take that is the movie's highlight. 

-"I'm from California."
-"Is that so?"
-"It never rains."
-"I was in California one June."
-"Is that so?"
-"Rained all the time."

"Holiday Affair" is a fairly routine entry in the rom com category but it also goes to show how even the routine rom coms of yore could manage better dialogue and byplay than most rom coms of today.

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