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Holiday Affair

Dullsville

Holiday Affair (1949)

     I am down to one of the last of the holiday films on my DVR, which I figured should be reviewed before we officially exit the holiday season. Unfortunately, I do not have many good things to say about Holiday Affair. A story involving a love triangle and the son belonging to a young widow (maybe it is more of a love square), this film has too much crammed into its plot to be very enjoyable.

      Janet Leigh is Connie, the single mother of a boy whose father died in the war. She works as a comparison shopper — a pursuit rather frowned upon by competing companies. She essentially buys a product, compares it to what her company sells, then returns it. Robert Mitchum‘s Steve works in a toy department where Connie purchases and expensive train set. Her son mistakes the item as an Xmas gift for himself and is devastated to learn otherwise. Connie returns the toy the next day, and Steve is fired for not reporting her despite knowing she is a comparison shopper. So, naturally, the man tracks down the woman and buys her lunch. After a day of shopping, the two are separated in a crowd but Steve has half her belongings. When he shows up at her door, Connie is flustered in front of boyfriend Carl (Wendell Corey) trying to explain the man.

     The boy takes a liking to Steve, who leaves the expensive train set at the front door on Xmas morning. When Connie goes to find Steve to pay him for the gift, she locates him in the park where he is hanging out while in between living establishments. He will not take the money. Later that day, the police call because Steve has been arrested and Connie is the only person to clear up the confusion. She, with Carl and her son, go to the station and free Steve from charges resulting in a misunderstanding of events that occurred earlier at the park.

     By now Connie has agreed to marry her boyfriend, which she has debated for some time, even though Steve put the moves on her … and offers his own proposal in front of the fiance and the parents of Connie’s dead husband. So Steve now plans to move to California for a job whenever he has train fare. Next, the boy decides his train is no longer any fun since Steve has essentially been barred from their lives. He wanders to the department store from which it came to return it, worrying his mother sick about where he has gone. A long, convoluted sequence later the boy has the money and Connie sets off to give it to Steve. Still with me? Steve pretty much says he’s not going to try for Connie’s affection any more, even though Carl has freed her. Do not fret, however, Connie will grab her son and manage to meet Steve on the train as he’s on his way west.

     Now do you see what I mean about this being too complicated of a plot to really enjoy? Stories should be simple, especially love stories. There may be complicating factors, but the basic action should be easy to explain. Holiday Affair had enough drama for multiple films and not enough romance for one.

     I realize that despite considering myself a Leigh fan, I have maybe only seen her in Psycho and Bye, Bye Birdie. I found her rather dull both acting and beauty-wise. Mitchum, on the other hand, had not done romantic movies like this before. He was known for his hardened criminal roles, and I will forever associate him with his Night of the Hunter role, much to his detriment. Mitchum was apparently assigned this part to improve his image after some marijuana-related charges sent him to jail (more on that from Angela at The Hollywood Revue). I would not say the man is great as a romantic. He sort of lacks any gleam of charm, at least in this role. To sum up, forget Holiday Affair.

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Secret Ceremony

Dullsville

Secret Ceremony (1968)

     I almost wanted to give this movie a “What the F—?” rating because I think I might be traumatized for life after this one. I’ve categorized Secret Ceremony as both drama and horror because frankly I could not figure out if this was supposed to be frightening or just a creepy drama. At first I regretted reading the Dish Network synopsis that described the movie as “a London hooker looks like a girl’s late mother and the girl looks like the hookers late daughter.” I wondered if I would have been able to disseminate what was happening without that hint, but truly, I would not have known Elizabeth Taylor was meant to portray a prostitute without it. The movie is also less about Mia Farrow‘s resemblance to Taylor’s daughter who drowned at age six than Taylor being a dead ringer for Farrow’s mother.

     After Farrow’s Cenci lures Taylor’s Leonora back to her shuttered mansion where she lives all alone, Farrow quickly becomes convinced that Taylor is her mother. Finding herself in luxury, Taylor too quickly decides to go along with the ruse, feigning an English accent and talking as though she had been there all along.

A loony Mia Farrow considers what she would look like with the face of her dead mother, who happens to be a doppelgänger to Elizabeth Taylor's character.

     Farrow is unrelentingly creepy with her pale skin and black wig making for many chilling shots. She behaves as a child despite (as we later learn) being 22. She reenacts portions of her former and possibly sane life in private, including a disturbing conversation with an empty chair dating back to when her step-father groped her at age 16. That step-father, played by Robert Mitchum, reappears in incestuous pursuit of Cenci and convinces her to give up her virginity. She then plays pregnant leading Leonora to instantly go along with the ruse. The girl does eventually snap free of her lunacy after a second role in the sand with her step-father and rejects Leonora. The film ends in “tragedy” but the characters are so unrelatable that I could not have cared less. The conclusion is not necessarily predictable but not original either.

     Taylor does give a fantastic performance but the character is such a far cry from normalcy it does not really shake me. Secret Ceremony (the title for which totally escapes me) came in the middle of her career after a couple Oscar wins and the star’s establishment as an international glamor icon. Farrow, who was 23 but similar to her character easily played a adolescent, was in only her third role, with Cenci coming before the also creepy Rosemary and Sarah in the previously reviewed See No Evil.

     I did some searching online to try to find an explanation for this dreadful nightmare of a movie, but did not come up with much besides the reviews being mixed, with positive remarks referencing Taylor’s performance. If anyone can shed some light on this and perhaps settle the angst I have suffered, please do.

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