The week before Christmas seems like the most dangerous time of year for couples, if Hollywood films are anything to go by. Holiday Affair is one of a long line of movies that make the case against getting engaged or otherwise further entangled with one’s paramour. Here, what begins as a story about the expected engagement between a widow and her boyfriend of two years quickly unfolds into a sticky love triangle. The film offers a few bold moments, but the charm is not in the affair so much as it is in the relationship between the woman and her son.
Janet Leigh and the chirpy and expressive young Gordon Gebert play Connie and Timmy Ennis. Left without a husband and father after the war, the two have been keeping happy company with Carl (Wendell Corey), a lawyer who represents everything respectable, sane, and safe in the world. Connie isn’t in a rush to get married though, and not at all because Carl proposes over a round of dishwashing. He begins to think that maybe it has less to do with him and more to do with her reluctance to move on from the past.
Change is not an easy thing, after all, except when it comes in the form of Robert Mitchum. He plays Steve, a salesman in the toy section of a large department store who is soon fired on her account. That doesn’t stop the two from chatting or taking friendly walks in the park, however. He even visits her flat, albeit to deliver something, and instantly takes to Timmy.
There’s never really a spark to light the fire though. It’s easy to see why she doesn’t want to marry Carl, who she probably never liked as more than a genuinely good friend, but Connie, a sensible price comparison shopper with a young child to raise also doesn’t seem like a woman who’s ready to go all in for a drifter with nothing to lose. She hasn’t suffocated terribly in her role as a wife and mother nor has she been denied adventure in life, not that any of this is a prerequisite for falling for anyone. But while it’s understandable for her to want a man with a natural rapport with her son, Steve is forward, to say the least, and insistent in ways that are at best unseemly and at worst illegal. Audacity has its appeal, but Connie probably just misses her husband.
What is more believable and what ends up making this film a pleasant watch is her interactions with her son. Leigh and Gebert are natural and affectionate together, and you instantly believe that there’s something sacred and untouchable about the relationship between their characters. The film has little Christmas spirit** about it, except for the holiday setting, but the two create magic on their own.
**Let’s also acknowledge the horrific poster design, which has Janet Leigh wrapped in what appears to be cling film like some Barbie ready to be plucked off the shelf for Robert Mitchum’s enjoyment.
Prod: Don Hartman
Dir: Don Hartman
Writer: Isobel Lennart
Cast: Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum, Wendell Corey, Gordon Gebert, Griff Barnett, Esther Dale, Henry O’Neill, Harry Morgan
Time: 87 min
Country: United States