Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas in Connecticut

Next time you're looking for a fun little movie to curl up with around Christmas, skip the heavy-handed moralizing of something like "It's a Wonderful Life" or "A Christmas Carol," and buy or rent "Christmas in Connecticut." What a delightful picture it is.

"Connecticut" (1945) is a screwball comedy disguised as a Christmas movie. Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is one of the most popular food/home columnists in the country. She's the perfect cook, the perfect wife, the perfect mother living on the perfect farm in the country.

But, in reality, Elizabeth is a sham. She's single. She can't cook. She lives in an apartment in New York.

But the whole deception is in jeopardy when her publisher Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) receives a letter from a nurse asking him to arrange for her fiancee, war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) to visit the Lane home around Christmas. Making things worse, Yardley decides to tag along too.

So Elizabeth goes to work, and with the help of chef Felix (S.Z. Sakall) and stuffy friend John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), Elizabeth tries to pull off the deception of being a married woman living on Sloan's farm. Of course, that means Sloan wants to really get married, but Elizabeth is really attracted to Jones, who doesn't make a move because, of course, he thinks she's married.

All this seems a little thin, and in lesser hands would have been. But the cast is superb and the writing is top notch. The Warner Bros. movie factory was in high gear by the time this picture was made, and it shows.

Greenstreet plays a different type role here and is picture-perfect as the self-important rich publisher. The underrated Sakall steals the picture away from the stars as the adorable "Uncle" Felix. I've never much cared for Stanwyck (three words: "The Big Valley"), but she's fine here and plays her role with a certain sardonic sense of humor.

What's touching about the film in 2007 is its quaint, old-fashioned morality. The housekeeper nearly quits when she thinks Sloan and Elizabeth are carrying on before marriage. Yardley takes a dim view of the supposedly married Elizabeth going off on an innocent carriage ride with Jones. But the smartness of the film is that it manages to skew all of this, too, as well as simply being a darn entertaining tale.

You have to suspend belief a little while, and this certainly won't make you re-evaluate your life, but "Christmas in Connecticut" is a perfect way to enjoy some old fashioned laughs at the holidays. In it's own way, this cute little picture is in grave danger of becoming my favorite Christmas flick.

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