While not the best of movies, this is an endearing film with warm characters and an interesting theme of welcoming unexpected surprises rather than settling for the safe. Isobel Lennart, who wrote the screenplay, also wrote the script for Fitzwilly, another warm-hearted Christmas movie on our watchlist.
Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh), a comparison shopper, buys a toy train from Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum), who suspects that she is a shopper who should be reported to management. A single mother whose husband died in World War II, Connie takes the train home to her son, Timmy, who sneaks a peak in the package and assumes the train is for him. A suitor, Carl Davis (Wendell Corey), arrives after dinner to help with the dishes and repeat the marriage proposal that Connie has been deferring for two years. When Connie returns the train to the department store, Steve is fired by failing to report her as a comparison shopper. Obviously attracted to each other, they spend two hours at the Central Park zoo with Steve describing his life and his ambition to move to California and design sailboats. A romantic rivalry with Carl arises, and Connie suddenly accepts Carl’s proposal, but finds herself repeatedly thrown back together with Steve. Carl realizes that Connie loves Steve and breaks off the engagement, but Steve instead of proposing to Connie tells her that he wants someone who will drop everything and come to him. She demurs, but in a sudden reversal on New Year’s Eve rushes with Timmy to join Steve on a New Year’s train ride to California to follow their dreams.
NEW YORK CONNECTION
The story is set thoroughly in New York City, with two key scenes in Central Park, including the seals at the zoo. (It also includes a squirrel, but not Rupert.) There are also several generic street and bus scenes capturing the hustle and bustle of Manhattan during the holidays.
The film begins at the height of the holiday shopping season in the toy department of a big store. There are scenes with decorating a Christmas tree, a Christmas dinner (interrupted by news that Steve has been arrested), and finally a New Year’s Eve party aboard a train.
Compared to some films, this has a small cast of character actors. Esther Dale, Connie’s mother-in-law, appears in two screwball classics: Easy Living and The Awful Truth. Harry Morgan, best known for television roles on Dragnet and M*A*S*H, has a delightful role as a police lieutenant.
I haven’t been able to identify any specific Astaire connections for this film.
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
Every character in the film (except the toy department floor walker) is sympathetic. And we don’t get overly annoyed by the child actor.