This may not be the greatest classic Old Hollywood Christmas Movie out there. But we humbly submit it’s still pretty damned good and entertaining and it's still our personal favorite. Sorry, Miracle on 34th Street.
Holiday Affair is tops at VCH, and we'll tell you why.
We can actually sum it up pretty easily: Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh.
They’re both powerhouse performers and their combined charisma and onscreen chemistry allows them to transform what might otherwise have been a fairly forgettable Christmas-related love story into something more enduring.
Robert Mitchum is one of the coolest cats to have ever worked in Hollywood. His friend and RKO studio boss Howard Hughes thought the wholesome part in Holiday Affair would help rehabilitate Mitchum with audiences after his notorious bust for marijuana possession.
It was worth a shot. Instead, when released in 1949, it was a box office flop that cost the studio $300,000.
What's wrong with people, we ask?
Still, even though the movie may have tanked, Mitchum's career didn't. Maybe Howard Hughes knew what he was about after all.
One tagline used for movie posters ran: “It Happens in December, But It’s Hotter Than July” which may have overstated the sultriness of the love story just a teeny tiny bit, and raised expectations too high when it was released.
Hey, it’s a gem of a little movie for 1949, and Mitchum and Leigh's chemistry is undeniable, but it’s no Last Tango in Paris.
But thanks to Turner Classic Movies, the movie’s had a second lease on life and is now considered a bonafide classic Christmas flick.
Why We Love It
Bob Mitchum was always a total badass. That was his charm. Like Rhett Butler, he didn’t give a damn, and that translated into the seriously edgy, dangerous quality he radiated on film. (Our favorite Mitchum performances, off the top of our head: Out of the Past, Night of the Hunter, The Enemy Below, Thunder Road, and Cape Fear.)
Mitchum had a certain hard edge common to some other leading men of his day, like Sean Connery and Lee Marvin.
Marvin was a legit WWII Marine infantry combat veteran, and not at all the kind of guy you'd want to mess with.
Say hello to Lee Marvin and his little friend
Unlike some modern cinematic heroes, (cough, Tom Cruise), you had no trouble believing that when the cameras stopped rolling, Bob or Sean or Lee could, if needed, kick some serious ass in the real world.
They weren’t dependent on special effects, green screens, or lifts in their shoes to impose their will. They were the real deal, and we get that when we watch them perform. Hard to beat that quality for some real cinéma vérité.
And then there is Janet Leigh.
Pre-Hitchcock's Psycho—by about a decade. She was sexy here. Very.
Yes, her chemistry with Mitchum is real. Mitchum also manages to play the good guy who bonds with the kid (a stellar performance from a precocious Gordon Gebert as little Timmy) in every scene in a way that seems effortless and real. That’s acting folks. He makes it look easy…but it’s not.
Enough about Mitchum's real on reel tough guy bonafides and Janet Leigh's vulnerable, play hard-to-get, but still adorable love interest vibe.
The final result is a perfectly executed feel-good love story set at Christmas time that reminds us what it means to have loved deeply and lost, and to have the courage to move on.