Barbara 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 her editor Dudley (Robert Shayne). 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.
Elizabeth is thrown into panic mode, but manages to hatch a plan by accepting a marriage proposal from her architect pal John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), a stuffed shirt 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