Though it’s never been in the top tier of Christmas movies, Holiday Affair, directed by Don Hartman, is what you might call a nice little movie. It’s actually somewhat ambitious in its willingness to take a look at post-war America, addressing some of the issues facing veterans and war widows, even though it ultimately can’t avoid being rather simplistic and “adorable.” (After all, it is a Christmas movie.) A modest romantic comedy, Holiday Affair focuses on a war widow (pretty Janet Leigh) and her resistance to change, her trying to play things safe. Leigh, the epitome of America’s girl next door, is raising her six-year-old boy (Gordon Gebert) while working as a comparison shopper. She is also keeping company with Wendell Corey (as a good-guy lawyer). But along comes Robert Mitchum, which can’t bode well for Corey’s future in Leigh’s life. Mitchum is a war veteran with big dreams of building boats in California. (The movie is set in New York City.) He’s earning money for his trip west, working as a sales clerk. The movie sides with Mitchum because he is a risk taker, the person unafraid to follow a dream, while Leigh can’t quite let herself go. Corey is Leigh’s unexciting, practical choice; Mitchum would signify her ability to take a chance. Corey is unthreatening; Mitchum is sexual. In terms of Hollywood romance (and getting what you want for Christmas), it’s not much of a contest.
The three stars really put this one over, imbuing it with honesty and intimate feeling. The result is an often good movie, if you can overlook the requisite cuteness and dime-store psychology. Despite the initial suggestions that it might dig a little deeper than the usual feel-good romp, Holiday Affair finally can’t rise above its movie-ish obviousness. And yet it’s nonetheless an absorbing triangle, thanks to the appealing Leigh’s naturalness in facing her dilemma. (The character seems similar to Maureen O’Hara’s emotionally clenched single-mother in 1947′s Miracle on 34th Street.) Mitchum is his easygoing self, so relaxed and attractive, while Corey is three-dimensional enough to make you feel bad for him when he inevitably loses Leigh to Mitchum. Even little Gebert is a surprisingly unspoiled performer. Director Hartman admirably uses leisurely long takes, giving the film an authentically lived-in atmosphere. Its plot may be drawn out with a few false endings, but Holiday Affair is a pleasing addition to the crush of holiday movies, something to discover when you can’t quite face another two hours with White Christmas.