Starring: Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Wendell Corey
Director: Don Hartman
Running Time: 87 mins
Holiday Affair is an American film about a woman who develops an unlikely bond with a man she met while Christmas shopping, and inadvertently got him fired.
Few things sound as sappy and generic as a Christmas romantic comedy, but Holiday Affair proves that the genre doesn’t always have to be predictable garbage.
With two splendid lead performances from Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh, wonderful, funny humour throughout, and a story with genuinely gripping emotional depth, Holiday Affair has all the ingredients of a thoroughly delightful festive watch, and although it may lag at moments, it impresses by taking a generic formula and giving it real life and passion.
We’ll start off with the story, which is probably the biggest surprise of the whole film for me. On the surface, there’s nothing exceptional about Holiday Affair: the story of a man and a woman who meet just as Christmas rolls around, and despite their differing situations come to develop a deep bond that could well lead to romance.
However, while it’s a fairly generic movie on the surface, there’s a very unique depth and intelligence to Holiday Affair’s story, which brings real, challenging emotional drama to a plot premise that’s usually entirely devoid of just that.
More than just a will-they-won’t-they love story, the film offers up an interesting and often even rather sobering look at what happens when romance blossoms, but in the wrong circumstances. Holiday Affair isn’t a prim, perfect love story, and it shows that real life sometimes gets in the way, as we see Mitchum struggle to see his love requited by Leigh, whose own relationship, personal history and economic situation all play a part in her emotions.
As a result, there’s so much more at play here than just cheesy romance, and I was really impressed by just how genuine and emotionally gripping Holiday Affair turned out to be. It’s heartfelt, sweet and pleasant – as all festive romances should be – but it doesn’t shy away from some of the more challenging realities of love in the real world, something that makes for a fully engrossing watch.
But don’t think for a moment that this is some sort of sombre, real world drama, because for all its genuine, down-to-earth emotional depth, there’s more than enough upbeat festive cheer to entertain as well.
A snowy New York City sets the scene perfectly, and with a story that revolves just as much around Christmas and presents as it does love and romance, the film feels like a festive classic right from the start. Couple that with its sweet and genuine heart, and it’s the perfect film to fill you with joy on a cold winter’s day.
What’s more, the film is properly funny too, balancing its comedy with the engrossing drama brilliantly throughout. Whenever there’s a moment to make you ponder, Holiday Affair comes up with something to make you chuckle just as well, consistently impressing with wonderful, charming charisma that makes it a properly fun watch too.
And finally, the performances are great here across the board. Janet Leigh is a delight in the lead role, and at such a young age (just 22 in this film), her performance is so mature, commanding a strong presence alongside Robert Mitchum, 10 years her senior.
The pair have delightful chemistry throughout, with Leigh’s hard-working young mother complementing the idealistic Mitchum brilliantly, and although neither quite manages to hammer home some of the screenplay’s deeper emotional themes – which leaves the film’s ultimate conclusion feeling a little unearned – the two central performances are just as infectiously enjoyable as the rest of the movie.
Overall, I really enjoyed Holiday Affair. A sweet, heartfelt festive classic that takes a painfully generic rom-com formula and gives it riveting depth and gripping, real-world emotion. Couple that with great humour, a cheery festive atmosphere and two delightful lead turns, and you have an effortlessly charming watch from beginning to end, which is why I’m giving Holiday Affair a 7.7.