Christmas in Connecticut: A Veritable Feast of Talent

Guest blogger Paul writes:

Christmas in Connecticut is a sparkling Christmas comedy starring Dennis Morgan, Barbara Stanwyck, Reginald Gardiner, Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. Sakall, Una O’Connor, Frank Jenks, and Robert Shayne.

Perhaps one of Barbara Stanwyck’s best and most under-rated performances, this is a different type of comedic role for her, a departure from the strong, self-assured characters she played in The Lady Eve and Ball of Fire.

Although she plays a single career woman and thus by definition should be “in control”, she manages to get into quite a tangle by constructing a Martha-Stewart-ish fantasy life as a marvelous cook named Elizabeth Lane, living on a farm with her husband and baby while she writes her popular cooking column in the magazine, Smart Housekeeping.
In reality she lives in a small urban apartment from which she writes the recipes for her column with the help of “Uncle” Felix Bassenak, played by the wonderful S.Z. (Cuddles) Sakall, who is a professional chef and restaurateur.

This film is as much about food as it is about anything, and putting together the brilliant cast must have been very much like whipping up a culinary masterpiece. Each carefully selected ingredient (or in this case, actor) lends a unique flavor to the mix.

The opening shots show a German U-Boat blowing an American ship out of the water, then two sailors on a life raft: Dennis Morgan and Frank Jenks. The Dennis Morgan character, Jefferson Jones, is dreaming about food, something with bearnaise sauce and a good wine.

Jenks is a veteran character actor you may have seen before, but you probably never knew his name. One of his earliest notable roles was “Red”, the mischievous rogue who steals Fred Astaire’s pants just before his wedding at the beginning of the Fred-and-Ginger classic, Swing Time.

He plays a smiling rogue in this movie too, a sailor named Sinkewicz who tries to explain to Dennis Morgan how to use the “old Magoo” on his nurse to get better chow in the hospital after their rescue.

The “old Magoo” works a bit too well, with Jones becoming engaged to his nurse Mary. Mary gets an idea that her Jeffie-boy needs to spend Christmas in a real “homey” home so that he will know how wonderful marriage can be. She writes to Alexander Yardley (Greenstreet), the publisher of Smart Housekeeping, to ask him if Elizabeth Lane will consider hosting her fiancé for Christmas.

Just as Lane has reconciled herself to losing her job when Yardley finds out she has no farm, no husband, and no baby, Reginald Gardiner’s character, John Sloane, proposes to her again and she remembers that he has a farm in Connecticut.

We won’t spoil the movie for you by telling too much, but many of the best lines are spoken by Sakall’s Felix. This is the role in which he said “Everything is hunky-dunky!”. Cuddles is really the glue that holds this film together, or perhaps he’s more like the binding agent that helps to “set” this cinematic soufflé (read more about Sakall here).

Sydney Greenstreet is a revelation; watching him do a comedic prat-fall in the snow, or go one-on-one with Cuddles or Reginald Gardiner is worth the price of admission (read more about Greenstreet here).

The great Una O’Connor is in her prime, playing the flustered and frequently shocked housekeeper to the Sloane character. There are a number of wonderful, brief encounters between she and Cuddles…they had WAY too much fun in the kitchen when he “fixed” her Irish stew (read more about O’Connor here)!

Stanwyck has an interesting time trying to hold her own with this crew of scene-stealers, but of course we know she’s up to the challenge. One of our favorite scenes occurs when she’s asked to flip a flapjack by Greenstreet in front of the entire household. You can see Cuddles praying in the background, and miraculously Barbara succeeds in flipping the flapjack.

Watching her face and body language in that scene as she goes from trepidation to panic to beaming with accomplishment in a matter of seconds is one of the highlights of the film.

Jefferson Jones and Elizabeth Lane try to resist one another but it’s pretty hopeless. Of course he thinks she’s married and she doesn’t know about the nurse, Mary, so the plot thickens, and then thickens again.

If you’ve never seen this one, you owe it to yourself to catch it. But please avoid the terrible, made-for-TNT, 1992 remake (directed by Arnold the Governator) at all costs!

Paul 2 is the award winning host of “Trivia Time” at the Classic Film & TV Café. His love and knowledge of film comes from his dad, a one-time free lance special effects troubleshooter.

 

  • goarmy

    undervalued but one of the best for Christmas. The secondary cast is outstanding.

  • tlynette

    One of my favorites. There are a lot of things to like about this movie, not the least of which is Dennis Morgan looked mighty tasty in that uniform! ;-p But, Barbara Stanwyck is MY GIRL, so I’ll watch anything she’s in, and it was nice to see her in a different kind of role — Martha Stewart w/a dash of Dixie Daisy, mixed w/some Ann Mitchell — capable, but a little flaky! And I LOVED that outfit she wore in her first scene — white blouse, black pants and leopard belt: simple and tres chic!

  • Lenny Cassioppi

    I look forward to viewing this movie each
    Christmas to enjoy two of my favorite stars.

  • Nick

    A fun Christmas movie and Barbara Stanwyck is wonderful in this movie. Not to be missed!!!

  • John Marsh

    One of my all time favorites. An absolutely outstanding supporting cast led by Sakall and Greenstreet along with Gardiner keep things moving. And, yes, Stanwyck is superb in one of her best comedic performances. But don’t forget the always likeable Dennis Morgan who also gives us a beautiful song as a real bonus in this totally satisfying film!

  • El Bee

    This is Stanwyck during her prime: GOLDEN BOY, MEET JOHN DOE, THE LADY EVE, BALL OF FIRE, REMEMBER THE NIGHT, even LADY OF BURLESQUE. If this lady had been under contract to a single studio, she would be rated up there where she deserves. But in spite of that, she is always in the best actress list during the studio era.

  • John Small

    One of my all-time favorites. But I have to admit I wasn’t even aware the the TV remake you mention.

  • Pat

    I agree with the writer that the re-make should be avoided totally. If you HAVE to see it out of curiosity please make SURE you have seen the original first.

  • joan m. slotnick

    Have this dvd, love it. They don’t movies like this anymore and it is sad, but then we do not have these kind of actors anymore either.

  • Susan

    This is my absolute feel good favorite movie of the season. Nothing heavy here, just pure innocent fun entertainment, by a stellar cast !!

  • Stevie Ray

    I love this movie and always waited for it to come on TV during the holidays. I finally got the DVD last year. I watch it all the time and never get tired of it. The cast is great and ‘Cuddles’ reminds me of a great-uncle I had.

    Didn’t know there was a remake. Baa, I have never seen a remake of an old classic that was any good!

  • Chester

    What a warm film. Not a bad scene in it. Not a wasted minute of play time. Every time I see it, I want to jump in the TV and join the party. Every character is lovable.

  • Goose Gravelle

    ‘Christmas in Connecticut’ is one of those lesser thought of films to watch during the Christmas holidays. ‘Holiday Inn’, ‘White Christmas’, ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ are the usual film fare folks zone in on (and so they should, they’re all terrific films). But I suggest they expand their viewing pleasure with some other Christmas themed films that offer their own unique seasonal joys. In addition to the aforementioned ‘Christmas in Connecticut’ there are these gems:

    ‘Holiday Affair’(1949)starring stalwart Robert Mitchum and lovely Janet Leigh – a very romantic comedy/drama

    ‘The Thin Man’(1934)with the incomparable couple of William Powell and Myrna Loy – a wonderful mystery adventure set during the Christmas season

    ‘The Lemon Drop Kid’(1951) with Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell – a fine comedy based on a Damon Runyon story – plus the song ‘Silver Bells’ originated here

    ’3 Godfathers’(1949) with John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz and Harry Carey Jr. directed by John Ford – an offbeat western of three outlaws who rescue and adopt an infant

    ‘O’Henry’s Full House’(1952) – particularly of note are the two segments ‘Gift of the Magi’ and ‘The Last Leaf’

    ‘The Holly and the Ivy’(1952) a fine atmospheric British film with a fine cast of characters

    There are, no doubt, many more seasonal films that could be added to the list, but these will help to make the season bright. Enjoy! A Happy and Prosperous 2012 to all!

  • roger lynn

    this is a CLASSIC,,one of my all time fave Chritams movies,,I watch it every year,,I had on laser disc,,then waited til they put it on dvd,,..Ms Stanwyck (my all time favorite actress)is great in this,,she was in a class all too herself,she can play comedy,drama,musicals,hero,villain ..4 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS(HONORARY OSCAR BODY OF WORK)AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD-FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER-3 EMMYS,2 GOLDEN GLOBES(1 WAS CECIL B. DEMILLE AWARD)..DON’T MISS THIS GREAT CHRISTMAS HEARTFELT COMEDY,,,MR GREENSTREET,MR SAKALL WERE AWESOME…as was DENNIS MORGAN..in my top 20 of all time favorite movies…

  • Sue

    This is one of my favorites, and a great change of pace for Barbara.

  • Marcb

    Agreed this is one of my favorite movies as well. Great cast, change of pace for Barbara Stanwyck, which she excelled in. Remake was awful.

  • Joe Gregorio

    My mother was a big fan of movies in general and this one in particular. The first time I saw it was when it was shown on local TV around Christmas time. It became a family favorite, which we looked forward to seeing every year. Eventually I purchased the VHS tape and I will get the DVD. A very enjoyable film, with the leading and supporting actors in it all wonderful. It’s good to know that more and more movie buffs seem to be discovering this film with each passing year.

  • sugarpussoshea

    One of my favs every winter holiday – good in the summer also. Her hair is the best – I tho’t the long, brunette was much better on her than blonde and/or short. And I wish someone wud reproduce her door knocker earrings she wears during the Christmas dance.
    Two of my favorite lines are by “Cuddles” in this one. “Nobody needs a mink coat but the mink!” And he tells the nurse to “wait until the fat man leaves” – and he ain’t talking about himself!

  • sugarpussoshea

    If you are talking about the remake with Dian Canon – much as I like her – forget it absolutely!!

  • frnkstricker

    Love Xmas in Ct. But not D. Morgan. He is mostly just a pretty face in this one and boring as an actor. Everyone else is so good, from Stanwyck to all the supporting cast.

  • Roger Phillips

    “Christmas in Connecticut” is a gem and really pretty funny. Barbara is always good whether comedy or drama. Hilarious that she didn’t even know the sex of the baby!

  • Steve in Sacramento

    Pretty subversive for a mainstream Hollywood Christmas movie from the mid-40s. My favorite line (Stanwyck): “I’m not in the flipping mood this morning!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.silvestri.96 Robert Silvestri

    A must see every Christmas. Ms. Stanwyck does comedy so well, and this movie wouldn’t be what it is without Cuddles and Greenstreet.