After her husband is killed in World War II, Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) supports herself and her son Timmy (Gordon Gebet) by working as a comparison shopper. When she is sent to Crowley’s to pick up an expensive train set, salesman Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) suspects she might be a comparison shopper, but doesn’t report her like he’s supposed to. When she takes the train set home with her at the end of the day, little Timmy peeks inside the box and assumes it’s a Christmas present for him and is disappointed when his mother explains it isn’t for him. That night, Connie’s lawyer boyfriend Carl (Wendell Corey) drops by and as he and Connie are cleaning up, he asks her to marry him. They’ve been dating for a while, but Connie isn’t sure if she’s ready to move on yet and Timmy isn’t too thrilled about the idea of her getting re-married to Carl.
The next day, Connie goes back to the store to return the train set and Steve tells her that he ought to report her to security. Afraid of losing her job, she tells Steve about how her husband died in the war and that she’s only trying to take care of her son. Steve has a heart and decides not to turn her in and refunds her money, but he loses his job because of it. Now that he has the afternoon off, Steve tags along with Connie for an afternoon of comparison shopping and hot dogs in the park. Later, Connie and Steve get separated in a crowd while Steve was carrying some of her packages. He drops by her apartment to return the packages at the same time Carl is visiting. Immediately, there’s a lot of tension between Carl and Steve and when Timmy meets Steve, it’s clear Timmy prefers Steve over Carl. However, when Steve suggests that she’s trying to make Timmy into her dead husband, Connie gets so mad that she decides she wants to marry Carl after all. But before Steve leaves, he goes to say goodbye to Timmy and finds out just how badly he wanted that train set.
On Christmas morning, Timmy wakes up early and when he goes to bring the milk in, he finds a mysterious package by the door from Santa: the train set he wanted. Timmy is thrilled, but Connie isn’t sure if it came from Steve or Carl. She quickly finds out it’s really from Steve and, unwilling to accept such an expensive present, she tries to find him to pay him back for it. She eventually finds Steve in the park, now homeless, but he refuses to take money for it. After Steve exchanges gifts with some other people in the park, he winds up with a pair of salt and pepper shakers. But when Steve gets accused of mugging a guy and taking his money and salt and pepper shakers, Connie, Carl, and Timmy go down to the police station and talk to the police lieutenant (Harry Morgan) to clear his name. After Steve is released, Timmy insists that Steve join them for Christmas dinner. They all have dinner with Connie’s in-laws and after Connie’s father in law makes a toast to his wife, Steve is inspired to declare his love for Connie. Connie asks Steve to leave and plans to go ahead with her marriage to Carl, but as a few days pass, Carl realizes that Connie really loves Steve. By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, Steve is all set to go to California for work, but Connie and Timmy join him on the train at the last minute to start a new life together.
I saw Holiday Affair for the first time a couple of years ago and it quickly became one of my Christmastime favorites. Simply put, it’s very sweet, heartwarming, and thoroughly charming. I enjoyed getting to see Robert Mitchum in a totally different type of role for him. At the time, he was best known for being in film noir and crime movies. But after he got busted for possession of marijuana and spent some time in jail, Howard Hughes, who was then the head of RKO, forced him into doing a wholesome movie to repair his image. Because something like a 43 day jail sentence is totally a surefire way to destroy a tough guy image! Mitchum’s image came out unscathed, even if Holiday Affair wasn’t a smashing success when it was first released. Maybe its lackluster success had something to do with the fact that one of the posters they used to promote it makes it look like a film noir, not a heartwarming comedy:
Seriously, if I didn’t know better, I’d think Janet Leigh was a femme fatale up to no good and Robert Mitchum is either there to catch her red-handed or be her partner in crime. Perhaps it’s a movie about some big heist planned for the holiday season. The last thing I get from that poster is a hard-working widowed mother and a kind-hearted drifter. The poster at the beginning of this post is a far better representation of Holiday Affair.