Christmas in Connecticut (1945) (review)

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Domestic Goddess?

The entire month of December sometimes seems like one long screwball comedy: lots of running back and forth, too much to do and not enough time to do it, getting drunk with people you really shouldn’t get drunk with, like office mates you barely know. So I’m happy to report that before the screwball era was over, Hollywood remembered to give us a Christmas comedy that’s still worth watching today.

I’d never even heard of Christmas in Connecticut before I started putting together A Very Flick Filosopher Christmas, and I can’t imagine why that should be. This should be a holiday TV staple. Light and funny, it’s a great accompaniment for a present-wrapping session.

Jeff Jones (Dennis Morgan), recovering war hero, spends his time in the hospital drooling over luscious food porn like Elizabeth Lane’s column “Diary of a Housewife” — complete with recipes — in Smart Housekeeping magazine. A wartime Martha Stewart, she waxes lyrical about her husband, her eight-month-old son, and her farm in Connecticut — about her cows and her grandmother’s rocking chair and, of course, about food, food, food. The nurse, Mary Lee (Joyce Compton), in love with Jeff, thinks he could use some pre-nup domestication — he’s never had a real homey Christmas — so, cashing in a favor, Mary wrangles an invite from Smart Housekeeping‘s publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet: Casablanca), for Jeff to spend Christmas at the Lane farm.

Oh, dear. It turns out — unbeknownst to Yardley — that Liz (Barbara Stanwyck: Meet John Doe) actually lives in Manhattan. A city gal through and through, her meals come from cans or her uncle Felix’s (S.Z. Sakall: Casablanca) restaurant. She cannot, in fact, cook at all — the scrumptious recipes in her column are provided by Felix. Convinced that she’s going to lose her job — Yardley is a “stickler for the truth” — she finally agrees to marry, not for love but for security, John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), the snooty, humorless, unromantic architect who keeps proposing to her. But she still can’t get out of hosting Jeff — and now Yardley has invited himself along — so she convinces John to let them use his farm, upon which she based her column’s fictional farm. “I know I shall regret this for the rest of my life,” John says, and he will, because of course Liz is going to fall in love with Jeff. We’ve known that from the moment we saw him flipping through Smart Housekeeping to get to her column.

It’s an absurd screwball setup, but who cares? Christmas in Connecticut is so much fun. It gets screwier, too. Liz and John’s attempts at a quick marriage ceremony at the farm keep getting interrupted, so that by the time Jeff arrives and she can’t take her eyes off him — he looks fabulous in his uniform — she’s still single. And much mayhem ensues with the multiple borrowed babies — all quite different looking — who stand in for the supposed Lane baby.

There are two things in particular about Christmas in Connecticut‘s spirit that I love. First, though we are treated to the continuing spectacle of a hopelessly undomestic Liz trying to live up to Yardley’s image of her as “the finest, most exemplary wife and mother,” the film’s point of view does not belittle her. Many a comedy — and particular those made in our supposedly more enlightened times — treat women lacking housekeeping and cooking skills as objects of ridicule or, at best, pity. Here, if anything, living up to the fantasy Liz creates in “Diary of a Housewife” is shown to be an impossibility — it’s the pursuit of an unrealizable domestic nirvana that generates the humor here.

Contrasting that, though, is the film’s delightful focus on food. Everyone seems to be either eating or talking about food here, from Jeff and his pal detailing the meals they can’t wait to eat once they get out of the hospital, to the rotund Yardley’s total dismissal of the concept of diet while at the farm, to Felix arguing over cooking and use of the farm’s kitchen with the cook, Nora (Una O’Connor: Cavalcade). Christmas in Connecticut is so unrepentant and downright brazen in its love of food that it seems practically sinful from our point of view today, when denying the sensuous pleasures of food is supposedly a virtue.

All in all, though, this is all very fluffy and silly and perfectly wonderful. If you like classic comedies, give yourself a present and go rent Christmas in Connecticut.

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