Christmas in Connecticut: Stanwyck as Domestic Goddess

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT 1Barbara Stanwyck was the greatest movie actress. Period. Maybe not the greatest film actress, or cinema star (though you could make an argument for her in each case), but when it comes to plain old movies, the medium of the masses, she can’t be beat. Stanwyck is right up there with Davis, Crawford, and Garbo. Like those great screen actresses, her resumé of fine performances is held in the highest esteem. Davis, Crawford and Garbo were actresses of great emotion, close-ups and drama. Stanwyck was the perfect middle-range actress. Most people don’t live their lives at the highest pitch offered by the great ladies. We live it in that middle range, and that is why Stanwyck seems so real, so “one of us.”

There is another thing about Stanwyck that sets her apart from–and for me, above–those great ladies: she is funny! Davis, on film, didn’t have a funny bone in her body; Crawford could do it, but never with a light touch; and Garbo, save for one performance, was simply not interested. But Stanwyck…ah, she was light as a feather, sharp as a tack and packed the subtle punch of a Singapore Sling.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) is a minor comedy, but it is so charming, and Stanwyck is so endearing that I find it irresistible. Playing Elizabeth Lane, a “bachelor girl” with no domestic talents, she writes a domestic column that presents her as the Martha Stewart of 1945, happily living on her farm in Connecticut with her husband and baby. In reality, she lives the single life in a New York City apartment. This masquerade is only known to her good pal Felix (the adorable S.Z. Sakall), a gourmet cook who supplies Elizabeth with all of her recipes,  and to co-worker John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner). Things are going so swell for her that she goes out and buys herself a mink coat. I just love that about her. When I got my first really important paycheck I went out and bought a designer handbag. I can relate!

But trouble is in the wind. Wholesome and wounded sailor boy Jefferson Jones (an earnest Dennis Morgan), just home from the front, longs for a good home-cooked meal. A nurse (Joyce Compton) who is sweet on him thinks Elizabeth Lane’s life would be the just the thing to perk up her sailor, so she gets Alexander Yardley (an engaging–and likable!–Sydney Greenstreet), the publisher of Lane’s magazine, to agree to invite the boy to spend Christmas with Elizabeth in her idyllic home. Yardley thinks this would be great publicity for his magazine. Remember, it was during World War II.

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT 3Elizabeth is thrown into panic mode, but manages to hatch a plan by accepting a marriage proposal from Dudley (Robert Shayne), a stuffed shirt friend who just happens to have a farm in Connecticut  Felix is brought along to cook and Elizabeth and John seem to have everyone fooled. They even manage to procure the baby of a maid and pass it off as Elizabeth’s. Naturally, it all goes to hell once Jefferson shows up. He and Elizabeth fall in love and eventually the truth comes out: she’s not married, she has no baby, she can’t cook and she’s mighty available. Joy to the world.

Cute story and a great cast, but it’s no The Lady Eve. Yet, this is the kind of role that Stanwyck turns into gold. She just is – no fuss, no muss, wearing that Ruby Stevens New York accent like a badge of honor. She is lovely and tender, but she is nobody’s fool. We like this girl. She is real. She is one of us.

Marsha Collock has been an avid fan – not scholar – of  classic films since she saw the first flicker of black and white on the TV screen. Her muse is Norma Desmond, to whom she has dedicated her blog, A Person in the Dark, a site designed for all of the wonderful people out there in the dark who have an unabashed passion for silents, early talkies, all stars and all films. Visit her Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/FlickChick/155690437779073

  • El Bee

    Stanwyck catalogs two other Christmas movies. “Meet John Doe” is usually considered one, although I find that a bit of a stretch except for the final scene. But the one I really love is “Remember the Night.” With Fred McMurray co-starring, Preston Sturges writting, Mitchel Lieson directing, and a superb supporting cast, the movie turns into a holiday gem (after the first 15 minutes). If you haven’t seen it, do. It’s lovely.

    • magicflute

      I agree with El Bee. “Remember the Night” is a great movie and the best kept secret since the Manhattan Project. I only stumbled on it a few years ago … where was it hiding my whole life? Actually, it was a great find, and has become a favorite of the family. All of my friends agree, although a few would have preferred a different ending. But, if you think about it, in a day when there was a consensus of opinion about right and wrong, that was, really, the only possible ending to set things right. There were consequences for her actions, and they will begin a whole new life together with a clean slate.
      BTW, anyone familiar with Fred McMurray only through “My Three Sons” will be in for a big surprise.

    • T L Miller

      I just saw “Remember the Night” for the first time ever on TCM last week — REALLY good picture! Great dialogue, with just the right mix of heartwarming, funny and poignant. I might have to find that one and add it to my collection.

  • rocky-o

    Ms. Stanwyck is soooo delightful in ‘christmas in connecticut’, my favorite christmas movie…but her other christmas classic, ‘remember the night’ is not only terrific, but also shows what’s wrong with ‘it’s a wonderful life’…not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but let’s just say this ending is perfect, unlike the capra classic…

  • Joe G.

    Nice piece, but I think you confused two of the characters. Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) is the stuffed-shirt friend and Dudley (Robert Shayne) is her co-worker. One of my favorite Christmas movies.

  • T L Miller

    I love this movie! I had to go out and buy a leopard print belt because of it! :-D This pre-Martha Stewart working girl, working her way through domesticity (and finding out how hard it really is!) is on my must-see list every December. I hum “The Wish I Wish Tonight,” sigh over Dennis Morgan in uniform, and laugh at the two fat boys sparring in the kitchen (“Cook your own kidneys!”) — can’t get through the holiday without it!