First Time Watch: Christmas in Connecticut

Christmas In Connecticut starring Barbara StanwyckAlright, it’s with the fear that I’ll automatically be dismissed as a cynic that I admit to this, but honesty is the best policy, after all: Yours truly is NOT a big fan of celebrating the holidays in any imaginable aspect that the season lends itself to… However, I’m certainly not looking to bum anyone out. I don’t consider myself to be a complete curmudgeon (though, some may disagree), and the concept of holiday cheer isn’t totally lost on me. It’s often one of the few times during the year when family and friends can actually make time for one another, so I suppose that’s a good thing (most of the time). My only argument would be that folks maybe shouldn’t need a holiday as an excuse to get together and celebrate, but maybe that’s a musing for another time.

Anyway, the art of commemorating joyous yuletide in film is also something that intrigues me. My favorite Christmas films are Bad Santa, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story (in that order), though, admittedly these films do all have a bit of a contentious holiday attitude, but regardless, ‘tis the season to be jolly… and jaded. So, it’s in this spirit of merriment that I’ve decided to take a look at an older production that I haven’t seen before. I have also recently been developing a crush on the striking Barbara Stanwyck, so what better selection to make than 1945’s Christmas In Connecticut? The premise didn’t seem like typical holiday fare for its time, so the decision was an easy one. Let’s review…

Christmas In Connecticut starring Barbara Stanwyck

The film features Stanwyck playing the Martha Stewart of her day (apropos, considering Stewart has had her own troubles in recent years), who pens the most popular magazine column in the country—waxing poetic about her incredibly tasty skills as a cook while caring for her husband and infant child as the ultimate homemaker on their Connecticut farm—for magnate Sydney Greenstreet’s publication. There’s just one problem: Stanwyck is a complete and utter FRAUD!

She’s actually a single woman (perhaps scandalous enough in itself for the ‘40s) living in New York who would probably have a hard time boiling water, yearns for mink coats, and depends on her friend S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall (short bio) (whose restaurant she funded) to provide her with meals, not to mention the recipes for her column. The trouble comes when a nurse (Joyce Compton) acquainted with Greenstreet writes to convince him to invite a war veteran (Dennis Morgan) she’s nursing back to health to have Christmas dinner on Stanwyck’s farm. Morgan has never known much of an idyllic home life, and Compton is convinced that if he gets a taste for settled-down living, it will convince Morgan to marry her. (Many critics cite the whole opening sequence with Compton and Morgan to be clumsy and unnecessary, but I’m not so sure about that. Having Morgan show up on Stanwyck’s doorstep without any kind of back story or character development would have been a huge mistake, especially considering Morgan isn’t asked to do much of the heavy lifting throughout the rest of the film).

Anyway, Greenstreet becomes convinced that the positive press from such a publicity stunt would be immensely beneficial, so he summons Stanwyck to his office to inform his prized employee that this will happen. Greenstreet is a powerful and aggressive man who not only doesn’t take “no” for an answer, but who also just doesn’t listen to others at all, and no matter what, Stanwyck can’t talk herself out of this predicament. Oh, and the kicker: Being that Greenstreet was going to be spending the holiday alone, he decides to invite himself over to witness the supposed culinary artist’s expertise firsthand. She retreats to Sakall’s eatery with her editor (Robert Shayne) who’s also in on her charade, and friend (Reginald Gardiner) who has been trying to get her to marry him for quite some time. Stanwyck and Shayne wallow in self-pity over the fact that their unscrupulous behavior will be discovered and they’ll be summarily fired. Convinced her plight is hopeless, Stanwyck agrees to marry Gardiner, even though she doesn’t love him… but wait, surprise, surprise, Gardiner owns a home on a Connecticut farm?! Sheesh!

Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut

Barbara Stanwyck and Sydney Greenstreet

OK, so while Stanwyck is resigned to wed Gardiner, she still feels bad for Shayne, who has helped her a great deal over the years. Therefore, she convinces Gardiner and Sakall to go along with yet another scheme (one would think she had learned her lesson) to pull off this Christmas dinner to save Shayne’s job. Of course, when Morgan shows up it becomes love at first sight for Stanwyck, and hilarity ensues as their relationship develops and everyone waits for her cunning trickery to come crashing down around her. Now, assuming one can consider a complete lack of any kind of journalistic integrity to be “charming,” then the film’s premise will work.

I found it to be a little curious but it certainly wasn’t a deal breaker, though, the argument made by some that all of Stanwyck’s lies and unsavory behavior makes it difficult for anyone to feel for her is perhaps a legitimate one. However, I simply disagree. I’ve always been impressed with the power of movies to influence viewers to root for characters who are less than stellar individuals. In fact, some of my favorite films are those that force one to pull for a protagonist that maybe isn’t the best person. After all, no one’s perfect. Anyway, I found myself really enjoying Stanwyck in this film. I believe I may have even enjoyed her performance in CIC better than the one in Double Indemnity, dare I say it… and she looks fantastic, by the way. Additionally, most of the acting was completely enjoyable and the strongest aspect of the film, with Greenstreet’s commanding presence as the overbearing boss and Sakall just about stealing the production as the lovable Uncle Felix. Sadly, I must acknowledge that aside from Casablanca and this effort, I’m totally unfamiliar with the work of Cuddles, which is undoubtedly a “catastroph,” but fortunately my associate scribe on this blog, Gary Cahall, is. So, everyone can now be schooled on the man who’s certainly a charming actor.

Barbara Stanwyck and S.Z. Sakall

Barbara Stanwyck and S.Z. Sakall

No, the real problem with this movie lies in the script, even though the sheer scope of it is impressive and original. After all, the plot itself is somewhat involved, with a lot of interested parties, and the various components to Stanwyck’s ruse are relatively complex, as well. Furthermore, her entire artifice is a bit of a dastardly one, and it’s an intriguing and fun notion that all the “distasteful” instances made it past the ultra sensitive ‘40s censors, especially considering that the film is intended as a Warner Bros. Christmas Celebration!

However, in the end, the screenplay from Lionel Houser and Adele Comandini could use some polishing. While the initially offbeat approach is admirable, the movie eventually devolves into a succession of resolutions that are safe and saccharin sweet, which is somewhat forgivable being that it’s a Christmas film, but ultimately a letdown since some of the characters’ initial transgressions are so grand. I don’t have a problem with happy endings, but when that climax is achieved through a stream of premises and actions that are too quaint, too simple, and too silly, it’s a huge problem. I wasn’t buying any sequence with a child, nor was I accepting of Sakall’s saving of the day with a handful of gestures that are so overly simplistic that they’re absurd. I also wasn’t agreeable to the fact that characters are willing to change motives without warning and that everyone is able to forgive one another with impunity in mere moments. It’s all reminiscent of the numerous and endless family sitcoms over the years that have tackled and remedied major family “catastrophs” in twenty-two minutes that I’ve been trying to avoid for quite some time. However, after making all this known, CIC is intended as a comedy, and there are genuine laughs. It also manages to be safe holiday fun for the entire family, so it’s with this in mind that I’ll give CIC a “hunky dunky” three stars out of five.

Happy Holidays and Bah Humbug to everyone!

But before you go, here’s a preview of this 1945 classic:

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  • Mike Weingardner

    Christmas in Connecticut is an enjoyable movie and funny.

    Brian’s opinion is very long, longer than the movie itself. Why didn’t he just re-write the screenplay instead?

    Many people are not happy with very much as is and look for ‘bad’ in just about anything and it’s much too late to complain about sometjhing so long ago.

  • cleo

    This is a magical wonderful movie when ever you watch it. It makes you feel good thats what a good old hollywood picture is about. Barbara is great in it …the cast is great its, fun heart warming . Smile cuddles is in it. Pimpeles all over the goose…have fun & ENJOY.

  • http://www.facebook.com/whatever41 Cynthia LaRochelle

    Wonderful movie, and Brian should stick to his hardcore sports stuff. Put a little love in your heart Brian (if you have one that is). Humbug.

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  • JUanita Curtis

    My all time favourite actress is Barbara Stanwyck so she can do wrong in my book. I love Christmas in Connecticut simply because its very entertaining and Missie always elevated her roles beyond the “shortcomings” of the scripts.

  • joan m. slotnick

    I absolutely adore this film. It is a holiday gem. Barbara Stanwyck is at her best. The entire film is a joy to watch and it is so perfectly cast.

    • Salah

      Such a great tdiartion to have with your mom. I love the outdoor Christmas lights the most. I love how neighborhood’s are transformed this time of year. It reminds me that light dispels the darkness.

  • Marie A. Yavarone

    I just love Christmas in Connecticut. It is a fun,enjoyable, funny, and heartwarming story. It’s one of those Cinderella stories that all women love to watch. And that home in Connecticut– it is my dream home.

  • Dennis Harrington

    Journalistic ethics, bah! Screwball comedies (of which this is a late example) often depend on significant deception on the part of one of the principals, and it might well be journalistic: Powell in Libeled Lady, Grant in His Girl Friday, Gable in It Happened One Night, Arthur in Mr Deeds Goes to Town, March in Nothing Sacred. The deceptive character has to get some kind of comeuppance, but it’s never any bar to a happy ending.

  • Jeff Schneider

    Stanwyck, Cuddles & Greenstreet are three of my favorites. This is a good holiday movie in spite of its shortcomings. Take Casablanca which has Cuddles & greenstreet in it(as mentioned before), for instance. Obviously, it is one of best movies ever made. Yet if you study it & listen to an audio commentary by Roger Ebert, it has a million technical shortcomings.

    These shortcomings do not detract from the movie. This can be said of many good movies. They may have a number of shortcomings but are still good movies.

    • Alung

      We are siaokng up every minute of our “cold” Christmas season here on the Texas Gulf Coast. It will be very interesting to go through the Christmas season with summer time temps.Thanks for the Christmas updates. You may not know it but you are helping me pack… :)Hope all is well with you and your family.

  • El Bee

    Why not take your cynical nose and stick it in front of either of Stanwyck’s two other Christmas movies: “Remember the Night” or “Meet John Doe.” They both contain fraud, theft, and potential pre-marital copulation, so they would seem to fit into your contemporary view of seventy-year old movies. But don’t be sucked in too far, love conquers all in both of them. Stanwyck is at her finest hour in these years and she alone is worth the price of admission. If “Christmas” were in the title of “Remember the Night,” it would be on the best ever Christmas lists everyone is so fond of.

  • Tlynette

    Awww, who cares about shortcomings! This is my girl, Barbara Stanwyck, a modern woman in postwar America, going against the tide, doing her thing, a la Martha. That line about ‘I always promised myself a mink coat,’ was inspiring enuf to make me get one (faux)! From her outfits (didn’t you love the simplicity of the classic ‘uniform’ of white blouse, black pants with the smokin’ leopard belt?), to her whiplash-inducing thinking on her feet, this is one of my favorite holiday movies. And could Dennis Morgan be any cuter?!?! DAMN! That boy looked good in a uniform! The “fat men,” Una O’Connor, and Reginald Gardiner round out a delightful cast. (“I never flipped in me life, and I’m not about to start flippin’ now for nobody!”)

    Ms Babs was pretty kick-ass in “Meet John Doe,” too. During that stretch, she played the kind of woman most average women are — a smart, resourceful, hard-working standard-bearer, who may have to do some things you don’t necessarily want to do to get the job done. When I start my holiday movie marathon as we lead up to Christmas, these 2 are definite must-see’s.

  • jdroper3

    CIC is one of my favorite all-time movies (Christmas or July 4). Cuddles is great! When admonished that it was cold outside and he should wear a coat, he replies, “Pishy-poshy, in Budapest it was summer!” When Greenstreet complains that Missy had been lying to him, Cuddles comes back with: “Nobody could told you something!” All in all, a great movie.

  • Pat

    Hey Brian – you get the “Grinch” award for trashing a fun Christmas movie. Flaws, schmaws. It’s just an enjoyable little story. I loved the set with the country house. Even by today’s standards it’s still a great looking house. So what if it’s schmaltzy. It’s a fun watch. You said you didn’t like holidays anyway so why did you watch it? Go away.

  • Angela

    CIC is one of my favourite holidays films and I love watching it over and over, every year. At its heart it is a love story and you want Stanwyck and Morgan to get together from the moment they are both on-screen together!
    The comedy of it all is what makes it fun and a joy to watch. I love the simplicity of that era too, despite the winding road the viewer is taken on to get to the final “What a Christmas” from Greenstreet.
    Even those not having an enjoyable holiday season cannot help but crack a smile at least once during this film!

  • Brenda

    You have only seen “Cuddles” in two movies?! You have never seen “In The Good Old Summertime” with Van Johnson & Judy Garland? Where have you been? Or Yankee Doodle Dandy? Although his role was minimal in YDD.

    Get out your wallet and get these!

  • John

    Oh Brian – while I must agree with many of your points about CiC, I really think you need a good dose of rum soaked egg nog, and lighten up. As you said it is, a Christmas movie. And if life were just that simplistic wouldn’t it be a lot more fun?

    Happy Holidays to you All

    And for the hardcore…. Merry Christmas!!

  • steve

    I LOVED the sexy black shiny Mink Coat Barbara wore in this movie. I only wish I could find a vintage Mink like that in very good condition to buy today. My Aunt wore furs like that in the early 1950s and I remember how wonderfully soft and silky the fur felt when she visited us and wore that mink coat ! I couldnt keep my eyes off of her mink, it was so shiny black. The look of a mink coat like that made me want to feel its luxurious feels…. When she noticed me starring at her mink coat, she asked if I wanted to feel it and she delited me further by pulling me into the mink coat and making me hug it while wiggling about in her fur and then she rubbed the fur all about my face. What a feel !

  • Janet

    I have one other favorite to add to the ‘contentious holiday mood’ list, The Ref with Dennis Leary. It’s got it all, bad people,good people and everyone doing good and bad and the really nasty ones getting their comeuppance. Can’t go a holiday season with out watching it.
    Just as I can’t miss both versions of C.I.C.
    Happy Solstice!

  • IslandGirl

    This is an excellent Christmas movie! It makes you feel good right from the beginning. Perfect for watching with the kids. Get your hot chocolate, favorite cookies, pull up your cozy quilt, and get ready for an evening of laughs. If you don’t feel happy after watching this, you are a Grinch! It’s been one of my favorites since I was a little kid, I highly recommend it. You can’t beat the cast, the sets, or the costumes. The music is wonderful, and Dennis Morgan has a wonderful voice. I just love the farm house with all the antiques and that beautiful fireplace and the huge beams. And the Christmas tree is to die for! Merry Christmas to All and enjoy!

    • Nastyushka

      Troy was so frblettaoge that it wasn’t until your post that I realised I had watched it. I would add to this list The Forgotten’ ironic? The story of how a .no no, it’s gone again. See what I mean.

  • Christopher Anne Samson

    I was introduced to Christmas in Connecticut under most unfortunate circumstances. When I first saw it I was a particularly jaded big city preteen watching it badly chopped and interrupted on a Dialing for Dollars broadcast. I had yet to discover Barbara Stanwyck’s full power. This woman is amazingly talented, but film hash is no way to find that out — that came later thanks to films such as those she did directed by Capra, Sturges and Wilder.

    One quibble with the reviewer, in the Forties it was not a sin for a woman to not have a man. Too many had lost their men to the war. Still it was the dream to create some form of normalcy, which the nation had not experienced for nearly two decades. The opening sequence is based in part on this very desire for home, hearth and family.

  • ED Blecha

    This is one of my favorite Christmas movies. I loved Barbara and Cuddles and even Greenstreet in this movie. I watch it every time it is shown on TV and I even have my own personal copy on VHS and probably will get the DVD version. I always liked her in comedies and of course some of her dramas. Another comedy I enjoyed was her THE LADY EVE and her THE GREAT MAN’S LADY drama.

  • jan

    this movie is a staple at my house a couple times a year. its a reminder of the simplier life that used to exist, and the beautiful scenery didnt hurt either. stanwyck is one of my favorites. and i love cuddles too. stanwyck had to work hard to get what she wanted, but she stuck to her guns. i admire her for that.

  • sarge311

    @Steve “My Aunt wore furs like that in the early 1950s and I remember how wonderfully soft and silky the fur felt when she visited us and wore that mink coat ! I couldnt keep my eyes off of her mink, it was so shiny black. The look of a mink coat like that made me want to feel its luxurious feels…. When she noticed me starring at her mink coat, she asked if I wanted to feel it and she delited me further by pulling me into the mink coat and making me hug it while wiggling about in her fur and then she rubbed the fur all about my face. What a feel!” I’m sure the millions of minks that were slaughtered to make those coats would disagree with you wholeheartedly. If you truly want the feel of a fur coat, stick your hand in a door jamb and slam the door shut. Then and only then will you get to know what an animal had to go through for your “luxurious” coat. Or how about sticking an electric prod up your behind and being anally electrocuted? Or standing on a metal floor connected to electricity and have water pouring in while being electrocuted? Or how about someone skins you alive so they can wear YOUR skin? IDIOT!

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  • edro3111

    This is a classic for sure. Funny how some of the plot is similar to the Hudson-Day movie, ‘Man’s Favorite Sport”. Rock Hudson was a nationally famous outdoor writer and trout fisherman. But he too was a fraud and didn’t know squat about fishing OR the outdoors. Whatever the similarities, it’s always a pleasure to watch this every Christmas season.

  • cc

    Barbara Stanwyck could elevate any film, problems with the script, director, etc and make it work. This is a film I watch every year. Foodies will love it also!

  • Gary

    Great film,we watch it every Thanksgiving night. It marks the beginning of the Christmas season for us. Stanwyck was great at light comedy. The rest of the cast were wonderful also.