Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Wonderful World of TCM: Holiday Affair redux AND a bonusaa

Yes, it's finally time once again for me to revisit The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind (ka-ching! Hey, wait...). Rare is the time these days I get a chance to sit and watch an entire film as it unfolds on Turner Classic Movies, but I made a special effort to plunk myself down in a chair at Cultureshark Tower when the network screened Holiday Affair (1949) last weekend.

I've written about this movie before, so let me see if I can add anything new this time. Somehow "Holiday Affair" has become one of my favorites. It's a relatively unassuming and underappreciated Christmas classic, but I feel incomplete if I don't at least see a good chunk of it each season. In that older post I talked about how the the courtroom scene stood out for me, with Harry Morgan's sardonic judge trying to walk away with the whole movie. This time, it's a cool scene with star Robert Mitchum and second banana/hapless soon-to-be ex-boyfriend Wendell Corey trying to make chitchat while they wait for Janet Leigh to come back in the room. They exchange banalities about the weather while trying to hide their mutual suspicion from each other...or maybe not. Mitchum's reactions in this scene are particularly priceless. Just the way he cocks an eyebrow and gives an offhand "Is that so?" cracks me up. Mitchum plays Steve Mason as a guy who knows he is going to take Janet Leigh from Corey, who knows that Corey knows it, and is just doing the bare minimum to maintain the pretense of NOT knowing it..but is amused by the whole thing.

Another highlight comes when Mitch drops the pretense and, after being invited to join the widow Leigh and her little boy, her current boyfriend, and her former in-laws for Christmas dinner, makes a speech about Janet should marry HIM instead of the lame lawyer sitting 3 feet away. Sure, they ask him to say a few words, but I think the table is expecting something more along the lines of "God rest ye merry gentlemen." Bob says, "Well, you asked for it," but goes ahead and says what's on his mind, pointing out how it's probably better to do that than to go around behind Corey's back. Of course this speech only makes Mitchum's no-BS character only cooler and Corey's Carl Davis all the more hapless.

I quoted him last time, but the line stands out 5 years later, so let me again tell you what poor Carl Davis has to say to Janet Leigh's gorgeous young widow: "You look like a tired beautiful girl instead of just a beautiful girl." Pardon me while I regurgitate my egg nog. There's a reason I haven't put any spoiler tags in here when mentioning that Mitchum is gonna take Leigh away.

I watched Ben Mankiewiecz's intro and learned that this box office disappointment opened on Christmas Eve. Really? These days, any Christmas movie that thinks it has a chance to make any money opens by Thanksgiving and tries to milk the season for as long as it can. It's not for nothing that I'm talking about this movie today instead of December 26.

If you want to see this TCM perennial again or for the first time and don't have the DVD, TCM is playing it again Christmas Eve at 4:15. Tell 'em Cultureshark sent you. And tell 'em he appreciates that B-Mank gives it its props and that the channel runs it every year. Oh, and also, "Holiday Affair" is currently available On Demand on my cable system in the TCM section.

Speaking of On Demand, TCM's corner of that universe has changed a bit in recent months. In its CONcast incarnation, it used to offer a group of movies for about a month at a time. Now it seems like the offerings are rotated much more frequently and a broader range of titles are offered. Last week I saw the 1936 RKO football picture "The Big Game," and I recommend it as a fun early sports movie, except it's already gone from the On Demand lineup.

Phillip Huston and Bruce Cabot star as college football players, and there are cameos by a host of real-life gridiron stars, including Jay Berwanger, the first ever Heisman winner. Apart from the frequent comic relief provided by Andy Devine's overage player named "Pop" (because he has a wife and kids, see), the movie is a fairly tough look at some serious issues affecting the game in those days: Gambling, exploitation of amateurs by money-making universities, unethical operations in athletic departments...Gee, it's a good thing we don't have to worry about any of those things anymore, huh? There is a remarkable speech one player gives about wanting to get HIS since the system is using all of them that could fit right in during a modern-day football flick.

"The Big Game" isn't the best old-time college football movie--that of course is "Horsefeathers"--but I never see it discussed in conversations about sports films, and it deserves a look. I don't remember seeing it run on TCM, actually, which made catching it On Demand a real delight. Check it out if it returns or if it shows up on the network proper.

No comments: