Sunday, December 17, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Movies #4: Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Happy Holidays everyone! To celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, I've decided to complete a daily review series of 12 Christmas movies leading up to the big 12/25. To qualify, the movies have to be tied to Christmas in some way and also something I've never seen before. I'll be going in chronological order. So, without further ado, if you got chestnuts, roast 'em - and enjoy my 12 Days of Christmas Movies!

Christmas in Connecticut
Dir. Peter Godfrey

In 1944, the government declared actress Barbara Stanwyck as the highest-paid woman in America, earning $400,000 (roughly $5.5 million today). She had a long, diverse career in over 80 films typically playing self-reliant, cool-talking ladies, and she was one of the most magnetic actresses of the classic Hollywood era. Fresh off her Oscar-nominated role as a ruthless femme fatale in Double Indemnity (one of the all-time great film noirs), with the romantic comedy Christmas in Connecticut she pulls a 180 and lightens it up for this festive and fun romp. Even while WWII was at its fiercest, and her husband was fighting in the Air Corps, she was still able to be delightful on screen.

Stanwyck plays Liz Lane, a columnist for "Smart Housekeeping," where she details her domestic triumphs as a mother, wife, and accomplished cook on her farm in picturesque Connecticut. Ms. Lane is an inspiration to millions of readers - including one Jeff Jones (Dennis Morgan), a wartime hero who literally licks his lips at the thought of the meals found in Lane's column. As a promotional stunt, Lane's bullish publisher, Mr. Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet), wants Jones to spend the holidays at Lane's farm. The problem? That whole "Martha Stewart" persona is make-believe! Lane is actually a single city girl living in a cramped apartment with no working knowledge of domestic life! What ensues is essentially an elaborate charade, using her friend's house and "borrowing" the neighbors' children, to keep Mr. Yardley unaware of her situation so as not to lose her job.

Morgan (left), is better at this "baby" thing than Stanwyk (right)
What I love about watching these old Hollywood movies is the snappy dialogue and great character actors. Considering the heavily-censored time period there are a surprising amount of sexually charged jokes here; at one point Jeff helps Liz bathe a baby and says "They're awfully cute in the tub" to which Liz, goggling at her potential Marine boy toy, replies "Yes, aren't they?" Another happens when they're out in a barn alone, looking for a lost cow. Jeff innocently pats the cow and says "Nice, firm rump" and Liz straightens up for a hot second, not realizing he meant the cow.

The rest of the cast seems to be having fun as well. The rotund and menacing Sydney Greenstreet "lets his hair down" here in an atypically comedic role (he's best known as playing tough guys and gangsters in movies like The Maltese Falcon). He's the classic greedy rich fat cat publisher; when Liz's "baby" needs medical help, he responds "I don't want anything to happen to that baby! It will ruin my circulation." I also loved S.Z. Sakal (Casablanca), who plays Liz's cheeky European chef Felix. He has some funny lost-in-translation moments, such as when he asks what "catastrophe" means:
Sam: It's from the Greek. It means "a misfortune, a cataclysm, or a serious calamity."
Felix: Is it good?
Sam: No sir. That's bad.
S.Z. Sakal (right), dialing up the 'quirk'
What took me aback the most regarding Christmas in Connecticut, however, is how progressive it feels for the time period. The ultimate message of the film is that it's OK for a woman not to be comfortable in the kitchen, and that people should embrace who they are instead of putting on a false identity. You have to remember, this is before most people even had a television, when the traditional nuclear family was regularly broadcasted into people's homes on sitcoms like Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best. But Stanwyck is definitely waving her feminist flag high here, just check out this quote:
Suppose you listen to me for a change? ... I said listen to me! I'm tired of being pushed around. Tired of being told what to do. Tired of writing your god-darned articles. Tired of dancing to everybody else's tune. Tired of being told whom to marry. In short... I'm tired!

Considered "nice" but not a classic at the time of its release, Christmas in Connecticut is now considered a holiday staple (even being remade in 1992 by Arnold Schwarzenegger). It's a very festive movie, with a horse-drawn sleigh ride, Christmas decorations out the wazoo, and that kind of chunky snowfall you'll only see in the movies. For a film that's 72 years old, it feels surprisingly modern.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Trailer (Warning - This trailer literally gives away the ending!):

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