This past weekend some very lucky people attended TCM’s screening of CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT and A CHRISTMAS CAROLE in select theaters. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend due to a previous engagement with a young man…i.e. my infant son’s nap time. Luckily, I happen to own a copy of CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT and so I was able to plan my own private screening! This 1945 film was directed by Peter Godfrey and stars Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet(!!), and the fabulous Barbara Stanwyck.
Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) is an injured war hero, shot down by the Germans and left adrift in a raft for eighteen days with only his friend Sinkewicz for company. Now recovering at an army hospital, he finds that the food being served is not living up to his raft bound hallucinations. In order to pass the time, his nurse reads to him from a popular magazine column called DIARY OF A HOUSEWIFE. The articles describe a bucolic lifestyle and mouthwatering meals, all written by Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck), a wife and mother living in the domestic bliss of Connecticut. To Jeff, these stories are welcome breaks in his day and the recipes described therein definitely pique his interest and his appetite. But there is still the best issue of the disappointing meals. He notices that Sinkewicz is getting all sorts of delicious foods, but why? Simple! It’s the Magoo. Basically, according to Sinkewicz, the nurses are more than happy to do all sorts of favors for men who are in love with them and if Jeff wants that juicy steak for dinner he better start laying it on thick. At first Jones objects but his stomach is stronger than his principles and soon he is wooing his nurse, a young Miss Mary Lee (Joyce Compton). The plan works a little too well. Jeff is getting the best food the hospital can provide, but now Mary wants to get married! In an effort to dissuade her, Jeff tells Mary that he has never had a home and that he doesn’t ever think of himself as getting married as a result. That gives Mary the idea that if she could send Jeff to a real home to spend his Christmas in, why then he would have to agree to get married! How could any man live in domestic bliss and STILL not want to get married?
Mary sets about writing to the publisher of the magazine she has been reading to Jeff, a Mr. Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet). It seems that Mr. Yardley owes Mary a bit of a favor as Mary was the one to nurse his daughter back to health during a bout of the measles. Mr. Yardley is preparing to spend Christmas alone, his daughter unable to leave her war work, and without any good food (due to diet restrictions from his doctor). Thankfully, his plans for solitude and turnip whip are cut short by the arrival of Mary’s letter. In it she asks if there is any way that Mr. Yardley could help Jeff spend Christmas with Elizabeth Lane, at her farm in Connecticut. Mr. Yardley is only too happy to oblige and immediately calls Elizabeth’s editor to arrange things. But Elizabeth’s editor is not as thrilled by this idea and attempts to change Mr. Yardley’s mind. Mr. Yardley will hear no objections, saying that the two things most important to him in his staff are to always tell the truth, and obey all his commands. So naturally, Elizabeth’s editor agrees but he has good reason to be hesitant. It seems that Elizabeth Lane does not live on a farm in Connecticut but in an apartment in the city. And she does not cook delicious meals, her Uncle Felix (S.Z. Sakall) does. The real Elizabeth can’t cook, can’t farm, and isn’t domestic in the least! She isn’t even married, though architect John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) is constantly proposing to her.
Elizabeth and her editor decide that the best plan of action is to have her go and speak to Mr. Yardley, and explain to him that there is no way that this can happen because her pretend baby has pretend whooping cough. Or maybe scarlet fever? Unfortunately, Mr. Yardley isn’t very good at listening and Elizabeth isn’t very good at making him. By the end of the conversation not only is Elizabeth still hosting Jeff at her farm, but now Mr. Yardley is going to be joining them! Elizabeth and her editor are resigned to defeat, and Elizabeth even agrees to marry John since she has nothing else to fall back on. John is thrilled and begins planning their wedding trip to his farm in…Connecticut.
The big day dawns, and Elizabeth and John arrive at his farm. The plan is that they will be married in the morning and play host/hostess extraordinaire to Mr. Yardley and Jeff in the afternoon. Uncle Felix has also come to stay during the holiday and will be providing the food for the coming charade. The farm is perfect and John has thought of everything, including a baby provided by a neighbor who needs a babysitter during the day. He has also provided a judge in the living room to perform the wedding ceremony. Everything seems to be in order and Elizabeth prepares to become Mrs. Sloan. But the nuptials are interrupted by the arrival of Jeff. He is terribly excited to meet Elizabeth and see her in her daily routine, one which he has read so much about (and knows better than she does). So while he and Elizabeth go off to bathe the baby, who may or may not be a boy named Robert, John sets about entertaining the newly arrived Mr. Yardley. That night, while John and Mr. Yardley chat, Elizabeth trims the Christmas tree accompanied by Jeff’s piano playing. She finds herself attracted to this attractive young man, and he seems taken with her as well. But he can’t do a thing as she is a married woman, or at least she will be once John can get the judge to finish the ceremony.
As the days go by, and Christmas draws closer, Elizabeth and Jeff grow closer and closer. It also becomes harder and harder to keep up the ruse, and Elizabeth begins to wonder if things wouldn’t be better if she just came clean to Jeff and Mr. Yardley. But John reminds her that if the truth is revealed both she and her editor would surely lose their jobs, so Elizabeth resigns herself to continuing on. One morning a neighbor woman comes to drop off her baby for the day. She will be late in returning to collect the child as this is her overtime day. John tries again to sneak in a wedding ceremony but to no avail. Uncle Felix, never a big fan of John and sensing the attraction between Elizabeth and Jeff, is running interference even going so far as to pretend that the baby has swallowed his watch. Later that night everyone, except Uncle Felix, goes to a holiday/war bond drive dance in town. Elizabeth and Jeff dance together, their mutual attraction becoming more and more obvious even to the point where Mr. Yardley is becoming concerned. The two slip off to talk and eventually find themselves in a horse drawn sleigh. While they sit there talking the horse gets it into his head to go for a walk and does just that, taking Elizabeth and Jeff with him. Rather than being alarmed by this situation the two are quite happy to continue sitting there and talk, that is until the police pull them over and arrest them for theft. Despite their attempts at explaining things Jeff and Elizabeth are taken off to jail. Meanwhile, back at the farm, Uncle Felix is watching the baby while waiting for his mother to come and collect him. Soon Uncle Felix is snoring in front of the fire, and so he doesn’t see when the neighbor woman returns from work and goes upstairs to retrieve her son. The only person who does see is Mr. Yardley, who has just returned from the dance and believes that this woman is in fact kidnapping Elizabeth’s child! The next morning when Elizabeth and Jeff return from their night in jail, they find the house filled with strange men. It seems that Mr. Yardley has not only called the police to report a kidnapping, but he has notified the newspapers too! And just when it seems that things can’t get any more complicated, the neighbor woman shows up again with HER baby.
CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT is definitely a lighter movie for the holidays. I would say it is a sillier Barbara Stanwyck than we often get to see but she does a great job as usual. Barbara Stanwyck is not only fantastic at drama, but she also has real comedic talents. Some of her facial expressions and gestures in this movie are just hysterical, and she gets a good chunk of the laughs. I love Sydney Greenstreet and it is fun to see him in a role that is more or less the “straight man” to everyone else. S.Z. Sakall definitely steals the scene a few times and Reginald Gardiner is so funny as the long suffering suitor. The funniest parts are when he keeps trying to marry Elizabeth and everyone, including Elizabeth, are coming up with reasons to postpone it. This is also a lesser known holiday movie, though perhaps not quite as unknown as REMEMBER THE NIGHT, but definitely one that should be in your classic film rotation during the holidays. An easy and enjoyable movie, perfect for the Christmas season. Hopefully, there will be another chance to catch this in theaters some time and I will be able to take advantage of it! Until then, I will just watch my DVD copy and wait for TCM to air it on December 21st at 2PM and again on December 24th at 10PM.