Last year, MovieFanFare writer Brian Sieck gave his views on Christmas in Connecticut in a First Time Watch post, here with another take on the beloved holiday classic (just in time for Christmas in July!) is guest blogger Gary Sweeney:
It’s getting to the point where Barbara Stanwyck should be considered a synonym for “excellent”. Her roles, no matter how varied, always leave a lasting impression. When you combine her undeniable allure with Dennis Morgan, who was known for his silky voice, and the commanding Sydney Greenstreet, one needs not wish for a Christmas miracle – it’s a guarantee. On August 11, 1945, Christmas in Connecticut was released and quickly became the holiday staple that audiences still enjoy to this day.
Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a famous food columnist for a large magazine owned by Alexander Yardley (Greenstreet). Her comforting stories of warmth, marriage, motherhood and life on her Connecticut farm make her a role model for women everywhere. The only problem is: Elizabeth lives in New York, has no children, no husband and her delicious meals are actually the work of “Uncle” Felix (S.Z. Sakall). By all accounts, Elizabeth is a fraud, but a brilliant writer who is able to perpetuate a life she knows nothing about. It’s a situation that is working out beautifully for her, until Yardley tells her of a war hero named Jefferson Jones (Morgan) who is returning home after sustaining an injury. Yardley all but demands that she entertain Jefferson on her farm for the holidays. Elizabeth panics, knowing this may force her to confess that her entire literary career is based on lies. Yardley is an overpowering man who seldom allows anyone to get a word in edgewise, so Elizabeth’s attempts at trying to talk him out of the idea are useless. As if this isn’t frustrating enough, Yardley invites himself to spend Christmas on Elizabeth’s farm as well. A few days later, she is about ready to come clean and accept being fired when friend John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) has a brainstorm. They are out socializing when Sloan suggests that he and Elizabeth get married. Sloan is wealthy and actually has a farm in Connecticut. He is smitten with Elizabeth so the arrangement appears to be the answer to everything. Though she doesn’t love him, Elizabeth agrees to the proposal. She recruits Uncle Felix to tag along, since she’ll need his culinary skills. They make the trip to Connecticut and scramble to have everything ready before Jefferson and Yardley arrive. When they do show up, the fireworks start almost immediately.
Sloan seems to have everything under control for Elizabeth; he even “rents” a baby to pass off as their own. As Jefferson arrives, she is immediately taken by his looks and charm, momentarily forgetting that she is about to be married to Sloan by a judge any minute. Jefferson shows signs of attraction towards Elizabeth as well, but restrains himself out of respect for her “husband”. Shorty after, Yardley arrives and is overcome with excitement about being on the farm. He is obsessed with his magazine and is constantly dreaming up ways to stay one step ahead of his competition. He believes the trip will result in more readers for Elizabeth and her column, thereby making him more money. Yardley is also determined to experience the first-hand comforts of Christmas on a farm. He’s like a big child waiting to tear into colorful wrapping paper and marvel at the gift inside. Elizabeth has to counteract all of his expectations with a quick excuse. Meanwhile, she is doing quite well at avoiding Sloan and the judge. Though she knows that marriage is crucial to the image she’s created, her heart isn’t in it. Elizabeth wants Jefferson, she’s wanted him from the moment he walked through the front door. In the midst of the insanity, Uncle Felix recognizes the attraction between Jefferson and Elizabeth. He’s not particularly fond of Sloan, so he orchestrates ways to help Elizabeth stall the wedding ceremony. During a holiday dance at a nearby hall, Yardley notices how close Jefferson and Elizabeth seem to be, and it suddenly dawns on him that something is amiss. By this time, Elizabeth begins to care less and less about disappointing her audience and suffering the wrath of Yardley. She wants to be happy in her real life, not vicariously through a woman that never existed.
Christmas in Connecticut was an about face for both Greenstreet and Stanwyck. Greenstreet (article) had just come off a very successful string of films with Humphrey Bogart (The Maltese Falcon, Across the Pacific, Casablanca, Passage to Marseille and Conflict). His characters, almost always domineering, were the representation of the conflict at hand. Though his Alexander Yardley character here was similar in that respect, the person behind it was a bit different. Yardley isn’t intentionally cold-hearted, he’s simply a man driven by his own inconsiderate ambitions. His mind rattles off ideas like a machine gun, with no space between the bullets for anyone else’s opinion. That drive makes him a successful businessman, but it also contributes to his isolation. His jubilation over the simplicity of watching Elizabeth flip a pancake is proof that he has little else to his existence. This film was Barbara Stanwyck’s next after the shadow-twisting madness of Double Indemnity. Any actress that can go from Phyllis Dietrichson to Elizabeth Lane without missing a beat is phenomenal. The two characters are not only polar opposites, but require different ambiance. Stanwyck is a pro at making a film her own, almost to the point where we could imagine the poster reading “Barbara Stanwyck presents…”. She commands the attention in every scene, regardless of how famous her co-stars may be. This is part of the effortless appeal she perfected. To date, there is no definitive book on Stanwyck or the brilliance of her career. Hopefully, one will surface and detail her versatility, as it is sorely overdue.
Dennis Morgan played the part of Jefferson Jones in a way that balanced the landscape. Everyone on the farm is riddled by some sort of discomfort except him. His only issue is his affection for Elizabeth, which he seems to keep under control. The romance that does surface between them is the result of her encouragement, but he is only willing to go so far knowing that she is taken. Despite the fact that he’d been out at sea for months with no female company, it isn’t enough to corrupt his morality. The character of Jefferson is the cause of both the drama and the resolution.
Christmas in Connecticut was released on DVD in 2005 by Warner Home Video. The disc is not abundant with bonus features but it is not completely barren either. The extras we get are a vintage Oscar-winning short, 1945′s Yuletide-themed Star in the Night, and the theatrical trailer.
Christmas in Connecticut is a good old fashioned holiday film. Interestingly enough, the Connecticut farm is the same one used in Bringing Up Baby (1938). Here we are treated to an array of big personalities in a wide open setting, leaving little to hide behind. Luckily for the audience, these characters are right in our faces and presented like entrees with the lush countryside serving as the platter. An interesting bit of trivia: The character of Elizabeth Lane was loosely based on popular Family Circle Magazine columnist Gladys Taber, who lived on Stillmeadow Farm in Connecticut. All that aside, the film is no-holds-barred enjoyment for all ages.
Gary Sweeney began The Midnight Palace in June 2006 as a way to express his opinions on classic films and to attract other classic film buffs. In addition to running The Midnight Palace, he owns a web/graphic design business called 39 Images, and is working on the first ever biography of Leila Hyams, an actress of the ’20s and ’30s (which he promises to eventually finish).