In her Smart Housekeeping column, Elizabeth Lane provides festive recipes and homemaking hints. But Elizabeth’s got a secret: she needs a recipe to boil water. Elizabeth has no cooking skills, no Connecticut farm, no adoring hubby and no baby-makes-three as depicted in her column. She better get them. Because Elizabeth’s boss has invited himself and a recently returned war hero to her home for Christmas.
Laughs, romance, holiday cheer: that’s the recipe Barbara Stanwyck and a stellar company of Warner Bros. players follow in this amiable farce that was a huge hit with 1945 audiences and has become a perennial seasonal favorite. Have a very merry Christmas In Connecticut.
eyelights: its progressive take on African-American characters.
eyesores: its contrived plot. its contrived humour. its contrived romance. its heavy-handed performances. its shmaltzy quality.
“What a Christmas! Ho, ho, what a Christmas!”
Elizabeth is an extremely popular newspaper food writer who lives on a Connecticut farm, and is married with a kid. Jeff is a fan who’s returned from the war, and his enamoured nurse, hoping to win him over, pulls strings to get him to spend a few days at Elizabeth’s farm for the holidays.
But get this: Elizabeth has been fabricating her public persona – she’s actually single and lives in New York City. Not only that, but she doesn’t even know how to cook, and all her recipes come from her cook, Felix. The scandal that will result if the truth comes out will end her career.
…and that of her editor, who’s in on the charade.
Desperate, seeing no hope for the future, she finally gives in and accepts her friend’s marriage proposal. But, get this: he has a Connecticut farm. And so, with his help, she proceeds to stage the family life that she fabricated for her readers long enough to host Jeff and please her publisher.
But get this: Not only will Jeff show up, but so will the publisher, who is alone for the holidays. And, being honest to a fault, should he find out the truth about Elizabeth, all Hell will break loose. And so she and John plan to wed right before he arrives – and borrow a baby for the day.
Everything is in place.
But guess what? Elizabeth and Jeff and will fall in love, leaving John scrambling to keep the wedding on track. And Felix, who’s been forced to join them to do the cooking, doesn’t get along with John’s housemaid, creating tensions. And that’s before the baby is “kidnapped” by a stranger!
It’s the perfect screwball comedy set-up!
But 1945’s ‘Christmas in Connecticut’ is a contrived mess: Not only are all the pieces made to line up unnaturally, but the romance feels staged and the humour is forced. It’s as dishonest a film as Elizabeth’s public persona is fake. And, as it carries on, it wears out our sympathy.
- Can we respect Jeff after he’s faked his affection for the nurse so that he can get decent food?
- Can we believe that the nurse so happens to have brought the publisher’s grandchild back to health?
- Can we respect Elizabeth for allowing the publisher to walk all over her? Doesn’t she have a spine?
- Can we believe that John and Elizabeth had initially forgotten he had a farm in Connecticut?
- Can we respect Elizabeth after she gives in and agrees to marry John because she has no reason not to?
- Can we believe that officially marrying John will help conceal Elizabeth’s charade?
- Can we respect Elizabeth for betraying John after all this time?
- Can we believe that the nurse would send Jeff to Elizabeth, but not go as well?
And so on and so on and so on…
Even the performance are too broad to appreciate: Watching Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan gaze at each other with near-reverence would have been stomach-churning, if not for the telegraphed performances of the other actors. They didn’t lend any credibility to the sentiments or moments.
I think the worst of them for me was S.Z. Sakall as Felix, whose delivery and accent was so over-the-top that it was grating. Perhaps he was supposed to be the buffoon but it was too much. Meanwhile, Reginald Gardiner wasn’t terrible as John, but he came off as a poor man’s William Powell.
Really, the picture’s only truly redeeming value is in its two portrayals of African-Americans: The first finds a beautiful, courteous delivery woman dropping something off to Elizabeth’s apartment. The second finds an eloquent waiter with a formidable grasp of the English language.
What was great about those moments is that they weren’t especially showy – it didn’t give the impression that the filmmakers were trying to be progressive. The characters, who both break all the stereotypes of the period, just happened to be part of the natural landscape. That‘s cool.
But, beyond that, ‘Christmas in Connecticut’ is a mediocre film that doesn’t succeed at much. Though one is always willing to allow a touch of sentimentality during the holiday season, one at least wants it to feel genuine. Here, not only does it feel contrived, it was done in a half-hearted fashion.
It’s not the good kind of schmaltz.
Date of viewing: December 19, 2016