Robert Mitchum plays a veteran working as a temporary salesman during the Christmas season in the toy department of a bustling New York City department store. Janet Leigh pushes her way through the crowd to purchase an expensive—around a thousand dollars in today’s money—train set. When she returns the next day for a refund, Mitchum pegs her for a comparison shopper. But upon learning she’s a war widow supporting an elementary-school aged son, instead of reporting her, he invites her to lunch.
This costs Mitchum his job, but that’s okay with him. He’s working his way to California, where he plans to build sailboats. The pair lunch on hot dogs in Central Park. Leigh takes a shine to Mitchum, and he spends the day helping her work. A revolving door mishap separates them, but Mitchum tracks down her address and turns up on her doorstep like Santa Claus, arms full of the items she’d comparison shopped.
This proves awkward, as Leigh’s entertaining her current suitor, a lawyer, played by Wendell Corey. Leigh’s been deflecting Corey’s marriage proposals by telling herself she’s not ready to move on from her dead husband. Mitchum strikes up a quick bond with Leigh’s son Timmy, who’s still mad the train set wasn’t for him, much to Corey’s chagrin.
You know Mitchum and Leigh will get together, but the film takes a pleasant route to this destination. A lesser script would have painted Corey as a villain. But here he’s an honest man eager to marry a widow supporting a kid and struggling to make ends meet. It’s hard to root against him. Ditching him for an unemployed vagabond seems crazy.
But Mitchum proves compelling, exuding his laconic charm. In one scene, Leigh visits him at his boardinghouse room. She enters, but declines to close the door, saying she doesn’t want to worry the land lady. “Let‘s worry her,” says Mitchum, closing the door. He sees her eyes flicker to the bed, which he then folds up into the closet. “But let’s not worry you.”
Indeed, it’s hard to root against any of the characters.
Timmy grates. He’s supposed to seem precocious but comes across as cloying. Before bowing out, Mitchum blows his nest egg on the train set Timmy wanted. When Timmy realizes this will leave Mitchum broke, he packs up the train, overflowing a box too big to wrap his arms around, and treks out to the department store, determined to return it. He’s bumped and jostled in the elevator by oblivious adults, and parts of the train fall out and break. By the time he reaches the toy department, he’s in tears. It’s a scene intended to break our hearts, but it only tried my patience. A speed-bump in an otherwise pleasant journey.