Monday, January 04, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Holiday Affair (1949) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The Warner Archive has recently released three very special Christmas movies on Blu-ray.

I reviewed one of those films, IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947), a few days ago, and will be reviewing THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER in the near future.

The third film in the trio is the wonderful HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949), starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh.

Like IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE, HOLIDAY AFFAIR's reputation has grown recent years thanks in part to regular airings on Turner Classic Movies.  Hopefully this new Blu-ray release will further cement its reputation as a top holiday film.

The 22-year-old Leigh plays Connie Ennis, a war widow raising a young son, Timmy (Gordon Gebert), in New York City.

Connie is being patiently courted by Carl (Wendell Corey), an attorney, when a series of unexpected meetings with department store clerk Steve Mason (Mitchum) turn her life upside-down.

Steve falls in love with Connie and proposes to her, knowing full well that she's just accepted Carl's proposal.  Connie must decide between Carl, who offers predictability and security, or the rather unpredictable Steve, who will soon be leaving to work at a boat-building business he co-owns in Balboa, California.

There's much more to the plot, with Timmy and an electric train both playing key roles, but this is perhaps a film it's better for a first-time viewer to see without knowing too much and just let the beautifully scripted story unfurl "cold."  My husband describes the movie as going in unexpected directions and I think that's apt; you think it will zig and instead it zags!

The wonderful screenplay was by Isobel Lennart, based on a story by John D. Weaver.  I've seen a majority of Lennart's films and they always entertain, starting with her very first screenplay for THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1942).  I find HOLIDAY AFFAIR especially well-written.

One of the things I most appreciate is that there is conflict, but there are no villains.  All of the characters are good people with human flaws, with outstanding performances by everyone in the cast.

For instance, Carl is actually quite a nice man; he's simply not a man Connie loves passionately, as she did her late husband.  Even Steve acknowledges that Carl, his competition, is a nice guy.

For her part, Connie struggles with her emotions and perhaps shouldn't have accepted Carl, recognizing her feelings for him were not deeply romantic.  "Forever" is a long time to live with someone you simply like a lot, who can buy you a house in the suburbs.  

Steve perhaps might not always make the most sensible decisions, spending most of his cash to buy a child an expensive train or abruptly proposing to Connie at what might not be the most appropriate moment, but he's sincerely motivated by love in both cases.  

On the up side, Steve is a perceptive man who might be just what Connie needs to put some spark back in her life and help her stop fearing the future.  As he reminds her, "Every telegram is not from the war department."  That sentiment is borne out, twice over, at the end of the movie.

Little Gordon Gebert gives a charming, natural performance in a large role as Timmy.  I was fortunate to see him speak as a guest at the 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. He happily recalled his experiences as a child actor, describing Mitchum as "a pro...could really work with other people."

He also fondly recalled Leigh's friend Elizabeth Taylor visiting the set and marveling at her beauty.

As I recounted at the time of the festival, Gebert had good experiences and his parents carefully managed his money, which paid for his college education and his first home.  He became a professor of architecture in New York.

I want to note that this was one of six films Leigh appeared in in 1949. I've seen five of the six films and am particularly impressed with her work in both this and ACT OF VIOLENCE (1949), especially given her young age and that she had only been in movies for two years at that point. She's real, appealing, and nuanced in both roles.

The excellent HOLIDAY AFFAIR cast is rounded out with wonderful performances by Griff Barnett and Esther Dale as Connie's in-laws; Henry O'Neill as a department store owner; and Harry Morgan as a cop in a Christmas Day scene which is not only very funny, it also does a beautiful job carrying the plot forward.

The movie was directed by Don Hartman and filmed in black and white by Milton Krasner. The running time is a perfectly paced 87 minutes.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a lovely print with excellent sound. The disc also includes the trailer and the 1950 Lux Radio Theater production with Robert Mitchum and Laraine Day. I love that the Warner Archive included radio shows on each of its three Christmas Blu-ray releases.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold. 


Blogger Lee R said...

Holiday Affair is one of my LONG time favorites. I remember the first time seeing it in the early '70's on a local Baltimore channel on Sunday morning. The quality of the print of the film was lousy, it looked like your idea of an old film, filled with cuts and dirt across the frames. It was a mess but the movie was still beautiful.

You mentioned Griff Barnett as as the father in law. Ever since I first heard him in this movie his voice reminded me of someone I've heard before. For years I never could figure it out. I've been a long long time listener of old time radio and a few years back I was listening to my favorite funny radio show, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show and BINK!! it hit me, the "Rexall druggist" doing the advertising on the program was the voice I had heard and was trying to place. Griff Barnett was the Rexall announcer on the Phil Harris radio show. A long time mystery was finally figured out by me and it was quite a relief. Like finally finding something you've lost and then finding it. It was an exciting moment.

Good movie and a really nice review. Good also not to give too much away for first time viewers.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Lee, for sharing your endorsement of this film. I love hearing how you discovered it and that the quality of the movie came through despite the poor print. (And what fun about Griff Barnett, he really had a distinctive voice.)

I kind of envy people who still have this ahead to see for the very first time.

Best wishes,

11:12 PM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I love this movie! I <a href="'>reviewed it</a> last month myself, though I gave away a lot more than you did, so readers beware. I really love how many unexpected turns it takes, as you said, and yet they all make sense, they're not wholly out of left field.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for sharing your look at this movie, Rachel, I read and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's really a treat the way the movie never does quite what you expect yet, as you say, it all makes sense. It feels very fresh and "new" in that way, even though it's over 70 years old!

Best wishes,

11:04 AM  

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