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Like It's a Wonderful Life (1946), another Christmas favorite released through RKO Studios, Holiday Affair (1949) was a box-office failure that went on to become a hit through repeated television airings. Though Holiday Affair has hardly achieved the cult status of the other film, it continues to charm audiences with its tale of a war widow (Janet Leigh) torn between her button-down fiance (Wendell Corey) and a free spirit (Robert Mitchum).
Mitchum may have seemed odd casting at the time for a whimsical family story. The tabloids were still abuzz with his 1948 arrest and prison sentence for possession of marijuana. But RKO's owner, aviation tycoon Howard Hughes, had faith in him and refused to drop him from contract. In fact, just before filming started on Holiday Affair, RKO paid $400,000 to acquire sole ownership of Mitchum's contract from independent producer David O. Selznick, who had shared the contract with RKO.
Like many who worked with Mitchum, co-star Janet Leigh was quick to discover that his devil-may-care image masked a dedicated actor who put a lot more into his craft than most people suspected. Mitchum loved to play practical jokes on her, but they always had a purpose. During a tense dinner scene, he and co-star Wendell Corey each slipped a hand onto her knee under the table. She started fidgeting in response, which turned out to be the perfect reaction for the scene. Later, when she and Mitchum shared their first kiss, he really kissed her, again getting just the right reaction for the scene.
Leigh wasn't as happy about her relationship with Hughes, who had arranged to borrow her from MGM for a series of pictures starting with Holiday Affair. But that didn't prevent a very strange encounter when he summoned her for a private meeting toward the end of production. Hughes presented her with a private eye's report on her activities, claiming her current boyfriend, Arthur Loew, Jr., had ordered the investigation out of jealousy. Leigh saw through the ruse at once - all of the people she was linked to in the report were members of Loew's family. Clearly Hughes had ordered the investigation himself. She informed him that their future meetings would be strictly business if he wanted her to keep making films at RKO.
Director/Producer: Don Hartman
Screenplay: Isobel Lennart, John D. Weaver (story Christmas Gift)
Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner
Editor: Harry Marker
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert S. D'Agostino
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Robert Mitchum (Steve Mason), Janet Leigh (Connie Ennis), Wendell Corey (Carl Davis), Gordon Gebert (Timmy Ennis), Griff Barnett (Mr. Ennis)
BW-87m. Close captioning.
by Frank Miller