Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Young Janet Leigh & Robert Mitchum in ‘Holiday Affair’ 1949

Janet Leigh, romanced by Robert Mitchum & Wendell Corey, 1949's "Holiday Affair."

Holiday Affair was originally envisioned with bigger stars, but economical RKO settled on up and comers Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum, and that made the film open for more naturalism and less of a star vehicle. As a widowed mother, Leigh's suitors are Mitchum and Wendell Corey, who seem more suited to film noir, but work well here. This 1949 Affair was filmed in B&W at low-glam RKO. Leigh is still in her early honey brown phase, before she went platinum blonde. All of this adds to the realism of the post-war romantic tale.

Janet Leigh is a war widow with two suitors, Robert Mitchum and Wendell Corey,
in "Holiday Affair." She's also a mother with a young son, played by Gordon Gebert.

Off-camera, Mitchum had just survived a potential career-busting pot bust and jail sentence. Lucky for Mitch, of the two bosses who shared his contract, David Selznick and Howard Hughes, the latter was an eccentric who took chances, and he bought Bob’s contract from Selznick. Speaking of Hughes, Janet Leigh found herself in the same position as many young starlets who caught Howard’s obsessive eye. But she firmly put him in her place, as she was a Metro star, and just loaned out to Hughes’ RKO. Still, Leigh was loaned out to Hughes-run (into the ground!) RKO three times—was this MGM’s way of punishing Janet?

Though Robert Mitchum's image might suggest he's stealing the presents,
he's actually very appealing as free spirit Steve in "Holiday Affair."

Robert Mitchum’s bemused, droll attitude is actually a good fit for light romantic comedy. He’s a straight shooter as Steve in Holiday Affair, offering realistic takes on life and love. Mitchum’s free spirit calls ‘em like he sees ‘em and makes no bones about his attraction to Janet Leigh’s Connie. Her war widow, while appealing and kind, is stuck in the past with her lost soldier husband. Wendell Corey’s Carl is the kindly current suitor for the preoccupied young mother. The stars make a good trio in this triangle. Realistically, both men are decent, and there’s no last minute turning one of them into a bad guy. And Connie, while frustrating in her vacillation, has a lot on her young shoulders as a widow and working mother.

While it's amusing to see film noir faves Wendell Corey & Robert Mitchum as nice guys competing for good girl Janet Leigh, the guys are good in "Holiday Affair."

What’s interesting about this movie is that the story is very fanciful in its set up and storytelling, yet realistic in its dialogue about love and loss, in post-war life. The opening and closing use a miniature train set that morphs into and out of real life. Some of the situations would indeed be considered corny and cringe-worthy by today’s standards. But instead of sledge hammering the plot points with sentimentality, they are handled deftly, a rarity for the era. The three stars play with their typical down to earth manner: Janet Leigh looks quite naturally pretty in her early career, plus regular guys Robert Mitchum and Wendell Corey play with their trademark diffidence. All of this is filmed modestly at RKO. Imagine Holiday Affair at MGM with, for instance, June Allyson, Van Johnson, and Robert Walker. The glamour and sentimental goo would have been slathered on super thick!

Janet Leigh was just 22 when "Holiday Affair" was released for the holidays in '49. 

Janet Leigh brings her warmth and natural appeal to Holiday Affair, a solid actress from the get-go, just three years after being discovered by retired screen legend Norma Shearer. The former Metro star saw Janet’s photo at a ski lodge in early 1946 and recommended her to MGM. By the end of the year, Janet made her acting debut on a radio Christmas Eve broadcast the same year. The following year, Leigh made her film debut as Van Johnson’s love interest in The Romance of Rosy Ridge. The rest, as they say, was history.

Janet Leigh & Gordon Gebert's scenes as mother & son are warmly believable
in 1949's "Holiday Affair."

Robert Mitchum came up in Hollywood the typical way—“extra” work and bit parts. But in just three short years, he scored with The Story of G.I. Joe and got his only Oscar nomination. And like Leigh, his nom was in the supporting category, except Mitchum’s was at the beginning of his career, and hers in mid-career. Wendell Corey also became a star right after the war, making his film debut in 1947’s Desert Fury. Corey was more of a character actor than star, but often added wry humor to his roles, such as Jimmy Stewart’s pal in Rear Window.

The scenes with Leigh and Gordon Gebert, who plays her son Timmy, are pretty adorable but in a realistic way. Gebert certainly isn’t shy in his scenes and he acted until early adulthood. From there, he went to college, and then had a career teaching architecture.

Gordon Gebert was quite the scene-stealer as Timmy in 1949's "Holiday Affair."

Director Don Hartman had been a screenwriter at Paramount for many Bob Hope and several Danny Kaye vehicles. After directing, he became an executive producer at Paramount and then an independent producer, his last was The Matchmaker, before his death at 57 in 1958. Hartman’s humorous touch shows in this comedy-drama.

Holiday Affair has a number of charming scenes that transcend its clichés. The straightforward telling makes this film feels like a scrapbook of another era and not just a too-glamorous old movie. Enjoy this film on its own terms and you will find this a most happy affair.

Train set lovers will just love 1949's "Holiday Affair!"



  1. Thank you for covering this unsung classic. It should be added that the CHEMISTRY between Leigh and MItchum is off the charts! Which grounds the entire story in plausible romantic possibility.

    1. Hi Toby, I'm surprised that Janet and Bob weren't reteamed, especially later, when her films became more adult. Cheers, Rick

  2. For some reason, I've never managed to see this movie all the way through, just bits and pieces when it used to play on TCM, which I no longer get. I need to send away for a copy. Mitchum is my Number One actor from the Golden Age. Nice review, Rick! Happy holidays!!

    1. I like Mitchum a lot too, whether as the hero or the villain. And he's very charming in this one. Happy Holidays to you, too. Rick

  3. Hi Rick - though I didn't grow up watching this movie, I caught it a few Christmases ago and I was absolutely charmed. Now I look for it every year. More and more, I am warming up to Janet Leigh, who I always only knew from Psycho and as Tony Curtis's ex-wife wife and Jamie Lee's mom. She is lovely here. And Robert Mitchum is GREAT; I love his performance here. Wendell Corey is one of my unsung favorite actors--two of my all-time favorite films are Harriet Craig and The Big Knife, both of which he is absolutely sensational in!

    1. Hi Chris, I've come to think that Janet Leigh was one of the most empathetic and natural actresses of the post-war era. Check out my review of her latter day effort in "The House on Greenapple Road." Which is available free on YouTube. Very good in "Manchurian Candidate" too. Robert Mtichum gets to show his charming side here, as he did in "The Sundowners." Love Wendell Corey's wry persona. And yes to the two films of his you mention. Also, the kid is quite good in this movie, too! Cheers, Rick

  4. I really enjoyed your post, Rick. I love Holiday Affair -- it's one of my favorite Christmas movies -- and you certainly did it justice. I had no idea that Janet Leigh was so young! It's amazing to think that she was just 22 -- she was really good. And I like how you pointed out that the movie doesn't make either of the men into a bad guy; we all (I assume) are rooting for Mitchum and feel a little sorry for Wendell Corey. I agree about the scenes with Leigh and Gebert -- I couldn't stand him in The Narrow Margin, but I love him in this!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Karen! Yes, it's pretty amazing that Janet was so young and was just in her 3rd year of movies, with no prior training... Cheers, and Happy Holidays! Rick

  5. It's my new favourite Christmas film. I discovered it a few years ago and just fell in love with it. Great review Rick!