When I acquired this still from BLACK WIDOW (1954), I was interested in doing something on New York in the movies. (Last week’s still from HOLIDAY AFFAIR, with its studio-created Central Park, was acquired for the same planned project.) While BLACK WIDOW does indeed make ample use of its Broadway/Greenwich Village settings, recreated on 20th Century Fox soundstages but punctuated with some fresh location footage, the aspect that piqued my interest while watching it on TCM-HD this past Thursday night was the fact that it was an early attempt to adapt some rather static subject matter to the then-new widescreen dimensions of Cinemascope which had only been introduced a year earlier with the release of THE ROBE on Sept. 16, 1953. Between that release and the opening of BLACK WIDOW on October 28, 1954, Fox had released 15 other Cinemascope films, while other studios had released 13. Still, few of these films were quite as stagebound as BLACK WIDOW. 90% of the action in the film involves people talking in Manhattan apartments of varying sizes, all with lots more square footage than the average apartment seeker is likely to find today.
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET Lite. That may be a convenient way to sum up HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949) with Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh, a Christmas-themed Hollywood movie that was obviously inspired by the success of the earlier film. It has a New York department store setting (at least part of the time) and a lawyer in love with a beautiful widow who has a precocious young child. There’s even a kindly old man (the department store head in an unlikely turn of behavior) who functions as a Santa Claus figure and a scowling floorwalker at the store who functions as a villain in the way some of the department store personnel in the earlier film did. However, the real hero is not the lawyer, but a newly-unemployed drifter who rather boldly enters the life of the widow and child and diverts their affections from the lawyer. While the adorable little tyke (a boy here, not a girl as in MIRACLE) plays a huge part in the action, the film is really about the interplay between the mother, Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh), and the two grown men who basically jockey for her affections, lawyer Carl Davis and the drifter, Steve Mason. Mason is played by Robert Mitchum and Davis is played by Wendell Corey, so it’s an unfair competition right from the start, only because Mitchum had so much more natural charm than Corey. But the movie doesn’t try to stack the deck in Mitchum’s favor. Quite the contrary. The character of Carl Davis is a nice guy and he’s genuinely gentle, tender and affectionate with Connie. He clearly loves her and would make a good husband, arguably more so than the dashing but impetuous Mason.