I leave town tomorrow to visit my parents for Christmas—and for a brief break from the virtual world. And so, clichéd though this may seem, I thought my last post before Christmas should be one on a Christmas movie. No, it isn’t It’s a Wonderful Life. This one’s relatively little known, but is a sweet, lovely little gem of a movie—perfect for that warm and fuzzy feeling. And yes, it stars Robert Mitchum (which, for me, is reason enough to watch). Merry Christmas, all!
Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) is a widow, mother to six-year old Timmy (Gordon Gebert). She works as a comparison shopper, and just before Christmas, buys a toy train at a department store called Crowley’s. The sales clerk, Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) is suspicious, since she doesn’t want to know any details about the train, doesn’t want it wrapped or delivered, and has the exact payment ready to be handed over.
Connie takes the train home, and Timmy sneaks a peek. He’s fascinated by the train, so being told that it isn’t for him comes as a big blow. Later the same evening, Connie’s boyfriend Carl Davis (Wendell Corey) stops by. Connie’s been dating him two years now, and he proposes to her—but Connie says she needs time to think.
Later that night, Connie tells Timmy that she may marry Carl, but Timmy isn’t too happy: he doesn’t want things to change.
The next day, after having shown the train to her boss, Connie goes to Crowley’s to return it. Steve Mason is ready to report her to the store detective, but when he discovers she’s widowed and the sole breadwinner for Timmy and herself, he writes a refund slip for her instead. Unfortunately for Steve, the floorwalker notices. The next thing Steve knows, he’s out of a job. On his way out of Crowley’s, Steve runs into Connie and mentions that he’s been fired. She’s suitably contrite, and when he suggests she have lunch with him, she agrees.
Steve takes Connie out to lunch—hotdogs in Central Park. They have a long and friendly chat, with Steve telling her his dream is to build boats. He’s partners in a boatyard down in California, and he’s saving up to go down there sometime soon. In the meantime, every time he saves up $100, he sends them to his partner.
When Connie tells Steve she needs to get back to work—shopping—he offers to accompany her. He helps carry most of her purchases, but they lose each other in the crowds spilling out of the stores. Connie ends up coming home alone, to where Timmy and Carl are decorating the Christmas tree.
Shortly after, Steve turns up with the rest of Connie’s purchases, and while Connie goes off to get him a drink, he and Carl indulge in a long, uncomfortable silence, punctuated by even more uncomfortable small talk. Connie also introduces Steve to Timmy, and the two hit it off instantly. A chance remark, though, creates a flare-up between Carl and Timmy, with Connie banishing Timmy to his room, and Carl leaving.
Steve has a chat with Connie and is candid enough to tell her that he might fall in love with her. Connie is taken aback (Why?! Dumb woman; if I had Robert Mitchum looking at me like that, I’d have been turning cartwheels!), but lets Steve go say goodbye to Timmy. Steve and Timmy have a long and cosy chat, in the course of which it emerges that Timmy really loved that train.
Soon after, Connie goes out to dinner with Carl, and tells him she’s ready to marry him. The sooner the better: on New Year’s Day, actually. Carl’s delighted, of course, and Connie is happy that she’ll have a safe, secure life.
Christmas comes around, and bright and early that morning, Timmy finds his dream gift waiting for him on the doorstep.
When Connie discovers Steve’s given Timmy the train, she’s in a quandary. Timmy adores it so, she can’t bring herself to return it; and she knows Steve—now jobless too—can’t afford such an expensive toy. Connie decides to give him the money for the train, and when Timmy insists that Steve be given a Christmas present too, she takes a tie she’d planned on giving Carl.
Connie finds Steve at Central Park, but Steve refuses the money. He does accept the tie, though. He gives his own tie to a passing hobo, and puts on the one Connie’s given.
Shortly after, a little girl comes by and hands Steve a little present. It’s from the guy to whom Steve gave the tie—and it’s fancy: a pair of silver salt and pepper shakers.
Connie and Steve bid farewell, and Connie returns home. Her in-laws have come over, and Timmy’s told them all about Steve—whom he obviously idolises—but Connie sets them right on one count: it’s Carl she’s marrying, not Steve. Carl arrives, and soon after, so do the police, with the news that Steve’s been arrested for robbery, and has said that Mrs Ennis may be able to sort things out…
But will Mrs Ennis be able to sort out her own life? Will she be able to see what’s staring her in the face? It’s predictable, of course, but Holiday Affair is such a warm movie, one doesn’t really mind.
What I liked about this film:
Steve. He’s a warm, gentle man, witty, sensitive, and good to orphan squirrels and little kids! Perhaps a little too good to be true, but who’s complaining?! And Mitchum plays him perfectly. Watch for the scenes with Timmy, especially: very sweet, and a far cry from Mitchum’s character in films like The Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear.
The tone of the movie. It’s a simple tale. Though there’s a bit of comedy, and some little-kid-in-trouble unhappiness, the main story is of Steve’s love for Connie, and her inability to admit what she really wants from life. Like Heaven Knows, Mr Allison and The Sundowners, this is a film to be savoured for its dialogues and the interactions between its main characters, not for any mind-blowing plot twists.
What I didn’t like:
It’s a trifle too sugary: everybody in the film (except for Steve’s boss) seems to brim over with the milk of human kindness. But that’s something I can live with, especially for Yuletide viewing!