Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas 2017: December 9

Holiday Affair (1949)

Robert Mitchum's greatest legacy as an actor is his villainous roles. Mitchum's name is synonymous with roles like Max Cady and Reverend Powell, psychopaths driven by deviant sexual desires to to prey on women and children. Of course, Mitchum played many heroic roles, in westerns, film noirs, and movies like “The Story of G.I. Joe.” Yet, even during the main years of his career, there's no Mitchum movie quite like “Holiday Affair,” a light-hearted romantic comedy set around Christmas. Rumor has it, Mitchum was given the role following his arrest for marijuana possession. Though a flop in 1949, Turner Classic Movies' seasonal airing of the film has granted it some more attention.

Connie Ennis is a single mom and a widower. She supports herself with a job as a comparison shopper, working for one store but buying items from another. It doesn't pay much but Connie and her son Timmy still have a degree of happiness. Connie also being courted by Carl, a successful professional man who wants to marry her. While buying an expensive toy train set, Connie catches the eye of Steve Mason, a clerk at a New York department store. Connie and Steve strike up a strange friendship, primarily because she blames herself for him getting fired. As Christmas approaches, the two men begin to compete for the woman's heart.

So how does Robert Mitchum fare as a romantic lead? One of those reason Mitchum's villainous roles are so compelling is because he was an incredibly charismatic performer. This evident in “Holiday Affair.” Steve Mason is a somewhat charming guy. When chatting with a squirrel or gifting a tie to a homeless man, he seems like a nice enough fellow. He has Mitchum's other roles can't help but cast an ominous shadow over the film. When he's playing with Timmy, it's impossible not to think of “Night of the Hunger.” When he sneaks up behind Connie and kisses her forcibly, “Cape Fear” comes to mind. This is no fault of the filmmakers or Mitchum. The parallels are just unavoidable.

As a Janet Leigh vehicle, “Holiday Affair” is a little less unintentionally creepy. As a widow struggling to provide for her child, Leigh is likable. She's vulnerable but never lets her character seem too weak. That she's usually resisting the romantic advances of one man or another emphasizes that strength of sorts. It also helps a lot that Leigh has fine chemistry with her co-stars. Perhaps most important is her interaction with Gordon Gebert, who plays her son, Timmy. Gebert is a genuinely adorable kid. The way he sneaks peaks at the gifts his mother brings home seem authentic and cute. He's not just a cutesy kid, since he actually tries to help his mom and Mason out at one point, advancing the plot.

Honestly, the cast is probably what keeps “Holiday Affair” afloat. As a romantic film, it's got some problems. Connie is pulled between two guys and neither seem great for her. Carl is emotionally manipulative and not great with kids. Steve Mason is a lot nicer, looser, and funnier. But he also has boundary issues, continuing to pursue the girl even after she reveals she has a fiance. This peaks during a supremely awkward Christmas party with her parents, where he announces his feelings for the girl in front of everyone. Luckily, the comedy aspects work a little better. When Mason ends up in a court house, the judge's reaction to the absurd details of the case got a chuckle out of me. There's also a mildly funny scene involving an over-sized pair of pajamas.

“Holiday Affair” has been overlooked throughout the years and that's about right. I just finished the movie a half-hour ago and the details are already starting to drift from my mind. The central idea behind the film, of casting Robert Mitchum against type, ends up backfire, at least from a modern perspective. (Considering at least one poster made the movie look more like a anoir than anything else, maybe it's just not a modern problem.) However, the movie's cast is solid, there's one or two funny bits, and the kid is cute. And, hey, the Christmas atmosphere is strong too, which I also appreciate. The film is apparently well regarded enough to receive a television remake in 1996. Fluffy and forgettable, but totally serviceable on those terms, “Holiday Affair” is worth your time. [7/10]

Darkwing Duck: It's a Wonderful Leaf

“Darkwing Duck” – Disney's mash-up of “Ducktales” and “The Shadow” – is a fondly remembered bit of nineties nostaglia. This probably has more to do with its insanely catchy theme song and infectious catch phrase – “Let's get dangerous!” – more than anything else. The few times I've revisited the shot, I've found that it holds up better than expected. Despite being set in a world populated with humanoid ducks and mammals, Christmas is still celebrated in the city of St. Canard. “It's a Wonderful Leaf” concerns Bushroot, a supervillain that can control plant life. After a bad experience at a shopping mall, the bad guy begins a war against the holiday, using Christmas trees as his soldiers. Naturally, Darkwing Duck has to step in and save the day.

“Darkwing Duck” still works primarily because of its excellent voice cast. Jim Cummings' scratchy voice brings a nice manic energy to Darkwing and his civilian identity. His delivery of the hero's alliterative proclamations are especially amusing. The late great Christine Cavanaugh – who also voiced Chuckie Finster, Babe, Dexter, and Bunnie Rabbot – voices his mischievous daughter, Gosalyn, who mostly gets to react sarcastically to her dad's crimefighting antics. Naturally, she learns a lesson about charity before the episode is up. Dom DeLuise-soundalike Tino Insana plays Bushwick as a surprisingly sympathetic bad guy, who mostly begins his crime spree to being rejected by society.

It's a good thing that the voice cast is so strong because “It's a Wonderful Leaf” is not the show's most inspired half-hour. There's a few solid gags. Darkwing gets his beak stuck to a cold fire hydrant and, during a sleigh-assisted chase scene, has a gift box dropped on his head. Otherwise, the humor is not especially strong. The dialogue is full of puns, many of which are groaners. A bully character gets repeatedly dunked on, in a way that almost feels mean-spirited. A flying sled gag goes on for way too long. So this is obviously a program intended for young kids but it still made me laugh a few times, so I'll call it about even. [6/10]

No comments: