You know why I think movie fans have a soft spot for the 1945 romantic comedy Christmas in Connecticut? Because we all want to live in that lovely country home! So what if it’s only a set? As 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon likes to say: “I want to go to there!”
Christmas in Connecticut is no It’s a Wonderful Life, but I still enjoy watching this war time Warner Brothers’ comedy every holiday season—it’s fast-paced fun, and filled with a great cast of stars and character actors.
|If all the world's a sound stage, I'd like it to look like the set of 'Christmas in Connecticut!'|
A rescued navy hero, Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) wishes to have Christmas with all the trimmings at home. Not just any home, but the country Connecticut cottage of Martha Stewart-esque writer Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) and her family. This also inspires Lane’s boss, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet), that he invites himself along, too. One problem…okay, several: Lane lives in a NYC apartment, is single, has no children, and can’t cook!
|Dennis Morgan as the navy hero with food and romance on his mind.|
Lane’s sort-of boyfriend, John Sloan, is an architect and offers his awesome abode to carry out the charade of Lane as queen of country living. Sloan also uses this opportunity to propose marriage. They bring Lane’s Uncle Felix, who has been feeding her all the recipes for her column, to do the actual cooking.
Well, when soldier Jones meets lifestyle queen Lane, sparks fly and they fall immediately in love. The rest of Christmas in Connecticut is a comedy of errors with Lane and her team trying to pull off the “perfect family” Christmas, with Jones and Yardley wanting to see Lane pull out all “the hostess with the mostess” moves. What ensues is farfetched, frothy fun.
|Barbara Stanwyck as the city girl who writes about country living and cooking.|
What I really love about Christmas in Connecticut is watching Barbara Stanwyck as no-nonsense but high-spirited Elizabeth Lane. Stanwyck later became renowned for all the tough cookies she played in film noirs and westerns, especially later on The Big Valley. However, in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Stanwyck played well in every genre. I watched Barbara and Henry Fonda in the classic The Lady Eve for the first time recently—and it confirmed what I already knew from Connecticut—that Stanwyck was skilled at comedy.
|Writer Lane finds herself falling in love with hero Jones, in 'Christmas.'|
Barbara rarely looked better than in Christmas in Connecticut. Unlike some movie divas, Stanwyck, while golden era glamorous, looked like a real person: simple make up, hair that actually moved, and clothes by Edith Head that looked like they didn’t belong to a drag queen.
I never thought much about Dennis Morgan until I saw him in1943’s The Hard Way this year on TCM. Morgan put a bit of an edge to his usual charm and it played well. In Connecticut, as the navy hero on the mend, Morgan is a charmer, all twinkling eyes and dimpled grin. Not hard to see why he was a wartime favorite!
To see Sydney Greenstreet, one of WB’s great movie villains, in a comedy, always throws me off. I always expect to see Stanwyck go into tough grrrl mode and butt heads with ominous Greenstreet. Here, Greenstreet’s got game as the increasingly confused magazine mogul Yardley.
|S.Z. Sakall shows Barbara how to do the "flippety-flop" to show off her skills!|
A special shout-out to S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as Uncle Felix. Sakall was one of Warners’ great character actors and he really steals the show here. Sakall is such fun as the Hungarian chef who can barely keep up with the pretense taking place. What I find touching about watching Sakall is that he’s so endearingly funny, yet in real life, he was a European refugee from Hitler’s regime. Sakall lost three sisters, his niece, and his wife’s brother and sister to the concentration camps. Talk about a trouper.
|Dennis Morgan at the height of his boyish appeal as hero Jefferson Jones|
The rest of the cast is stellar: Reginald Gardiner as dull boyfriend Sloane, Una O’Conner as the touchy housekeeper, Joyce Compton as southern comforting nurse Mary Lee, and funny characters right down to the bit parts. Watch Christmas in Connecticut, nostalgic, yet poking knowing fun at the attempts to create a “perfect” Christmas.
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|If all the world's a stage, why can't I get better lighting, like these two great stars? See top of this shot!|