Christmas in Connecticut
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Christmas in Connecticut (1945) (DVD)
Barbara Stanwyck stars as a famous expert on marriage, cooking and homemaking who is asked by her publisher to host a national hero for Christmas dinner at her famous Connecticut home. It should be simple, but she must scramble to keep the secret that she's single, can't cook and doesn't own a home. With a lot of help, meticulous planning and split-second timing, the urban sophisticate may succeed . . . but the unforeseen happens when she falls in love with her guest in this classic romantic comedy.]]>
- Vintage Oscar-winning short: "Star in the Night"
- Theatrical trailer
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Elizabeth is a successful, highly admired working woman, and a minor celebrity (like a Martha Stewart). She is unmarried and childless (pursuing a career first), she knows nothing about child-rearing or housekeeping (and has no interest to learn), and can't cook -- these things alone would make her an anti-heroine for those times (the opposite of what a woman was idealized to be), and very much in line with modern women today, many who could care less about these antiquated, assigned gender duties. Then everyone offers their opinion on her life, and is telling her what to do, whom to marry, and what to decide (something that many women sadly still experience). For a while, she puts up with it to protect her friend and job, but eventually and triumphantly, she tells them all to go fly a kite and decides to follow her own path, unafraid. Contrary to the Cinderella-styled plots of those times, she doesn't marry the rich guy/prince on a white horse who saves her. Instead, she walks away from the "prince" archetype guy and she decides to marry an average Joe, whom SHE pursued (while the man was the one being chased by her). Then her salary gets doubled, so she will likely be the primary breadwinner in the household. In my opinion, she is EXTREMELY modern! Wonderful movie that made me smile all the way through.
This works well until the publisher, the imperious Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet), is sold on the idea of sending a war hero, a sailor (Dennis Morgan) who survived 18 days on a life raft, to her farm to have a real family Christmas., This setup is handled really well as a kind of dramatic prologue that opens this holiday film improbably underwater in a submarine. Yardley's family won't be coming up this year from Florida so he decides to spend his holiday at Lane's perfect Connecticut farm as well. This creates a potentially job-losing dilemma for Lane. With the help of architect and lukewarm suitor John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) who happens to have a Connecticut farmhouse he's been renovating. and Felix with his chef's talents she hopes to fool both the sailor and Yardley. The resulting comedy of errors builds on itself getting ever more complicated and outrageous yet without really seeming impossible.
The wonderful cast makes the film really sparkle. Barbara Stanwyck usually played serious leads in films like Double Indemnity and this rare comic outing shows she had the knack for comedy. Sydney Greenstreet played nothing but villains in films like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca and it's a delight to see him lighten up. here. His role is tricky because though he is really kind-hearted, he hides it under a gruff exterior and being a very powerful man can still be dangerous if crossed. S.Z. Sakall, a Hungarian comic actor who had fled the Nazis, had made a splash as Carl, the head waiter in Casablanca and was about to begin playing a long line of befuddled European uncle-types in many films. His Felix is his first role of this type and in this film he's also a kind of magical character who helps things right themselves in the end.
Dennis Morgan as the sailor has a tricky role because he's such a normal All-American guy type, but he manages to exude warmth and adds a believability to the romance in the film. A singer, he gets a nice scene at the piano while Stanwyck decorates an enormous Christmas Tree. Reginald Gardiner wants to marry Stanwyck but it seems he really wants a trophy wife. When he kisses her he immediately begins to discuss plumbing (when Morgan kisses her, harps play). Gardiner gives a cabbie a dime for a tip on a dollar fare while Morgan gives a delivery boy a dollar tip on a dollar delivery. The two could not be more different. Una O'Connor, a veteran of many classic films is great as Norah, Sloan's cook who doesn't appreciate Felix putting paprika in her Irish stew.
It's all good fun and Warner Brothers went all out with a great set perfect for the era, when renovating old farmhouses into rustic showplaces was a very hip thing. They even open things up outdoors for a town dance and sleighride scene. The script is light and breezy and always funny. In the end even the fat man says, "What a Christmas!".
EXTRA NOTE: Barbara Stanwyck made an earlier Christmas movie with Fred MacMurray in 1940 titled Remember the Night. It is a quiet film that works its Christmas magic on you subtly and is very worthwhile. It's rare (I had to buy the DVD because no one was streaming it. Maybe someone is now or it might be on TV).
And even though the pace lags a bit during the cow-in-the-barn scene, Sydney Greenstreet and "Cuddles" Sakall are always on-hand to pick things up again. I was relieved when the action finally moved out of the farmhouse and to the village hall for the Christmas-night dance scene, which is wonderful. NOTE: check out the "doesy-doe" scene, where Reginald Gardiner locks arms with Barbara Stanwyck in a broadly comic way---Barbara looks as if she was really caught off guard and cracks up as she continues the dance. Fun all around.
The subsequent sleighride and police scenes also bog down a bit, but ultimately everything is tied together neatly at the end---or is it? Did I miss something? When Sydney G discovers the ruse, he ends up offering Stanwyck a raise, until she finally gets up the nerve to tell him off. Do we ever really find out what fate awaits her and her career? Or does it really matter, now that she and the always charming Dennis Morgan are united? And before you know it, Sydney is guffawing over the whole affair, and our sparkling cinematic Christmas gift comes to an end.
The entire cast is first-rate and plays their roles to the hilt, but always controlled by the sure hand of director Godfrey. Sydney Greenstreet and "Cuddles" pretty much steal the show--- but let's not overlook the brilliant performance of Reginald Gardiner, upon whose important role much of the film's timing and comic business depends.
AS A BONUS--Warner's DVD also includes the Academy-Award-winning Christmas short (21 min.) "Star in the Night", directed by a young Don Siegel. WARNING---- you'll know from the first 30 seconds of this modern-day parable where it's going.....but ignore that and enjoy a lovely war-time tribute to the wonder of the Christmas story. J. Carroll Naish, always the true pro, will move you to tears in the final scene.
Just let it happen.