Monday, December 24, 2012

Classic Films in Focus: CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945)

Although not as well-known, perhaps, as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) or White Christmas (1954), Christmas in Connecticut (1945) is a holiday charmer justly beloved by many classic movie fans. Headliner Barbara Stanwyck makes an engaging heroine in this comedy of yuletide romance, but the real attractions here are the supporting players, particularly Sydney Greenstreet and S.Z. Sakall as two funny fat fellows who constantly steal the show from the more serious leads. With lively direction from Peter Godfrey and entertaining performances from Dennis Morgan, Reginald Gardiner, and Una O’Connor, Christmas in Connecticut is a great addition to the “must-see” list of holiday films.

Stanwyck stars as Elizabeth Lane, a successful columnist whose idyllic tales of married domestic life are pure fiction. Her elaborate deception catches up with her when a Navy war hero (Dennis Morgan) and her unsuspecting publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) ask to spend Christmas at her imaginary farm, forcing Elizabeth to procure a home, a husband, and a baby on short notice. Elizabeth is even set to marry bland boyfriend John (Reginald Gardiner) to sell the holiday ruse, but sparks fly when she meets Jeff, the handsome hero, even though he’s engaged to another girl.

Stanwyck is best remembered today for her femme fatale roles in noir classics like Double Indemnity (1944), but she was adept at romantic comedy, as well. Christmas in Connecticut shows a softer, more relaxed Stanwyck than we see in most of her other films. As Elizabeth, her hair is longer and her look is more natural; she’s not playing the tough cookie type this time. The love triangle of the plot gives her two leading men to play against, the wet blanket, all work and no play architect played by Gardiner and the all-American wartime good guy played by Morgan. Of course Morgan’s Jeff is the man for her; we know it from the way her eyes light up the moment he walks in the door, but the fun comes from seeing how the two of them will overcome the obvious but largely fictional obstacles to their romance.

As good as Stanwyck’s performance is, the comedians in the supporting roles are the real gems. Greenstreet and Sakall, both portly character actors with talent as great as their girths, are simply hilarious, especially as they begin to work in cahoots near the movie’s close. Una O’Connor has less to do, but she’s in fine form, sporting her full Irish accent and the usual busybody bluster at which she excels. I would say Joyce Compton’s drawl as Mary Lee is a bit much had the actress not been born in Kentucky, but she certainly does pour it on. Try watching the 1939 short, Hollywood Hobbies, for a different sense of Compton’s sound and style.

See more of Stanwyck’s comedic roles in The Lady Eve (1941) and Ball of Fire (1941). Greenstreet is celebrated today primarily for his debut role in The Maltese Falcon (1941), but you’ll also find him in Casablanca (1942) and Across the Pacific (1942). S.Z. Sakall appears with Stanwyck in Ball of Fire and also has a role in Casablanca, but he turns up in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and In the Good Old Summertime (1949), as well. Look for Dennis Morgan in Kitty Foyle (1940) and My Wild Irish Rose (1947). Don’t miss the marvelous Una O’Connor in classics like The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Witness for the Prosecution (1957).

An earlier version of this review originally appeared on Examiner.com. The author retains all rights to this content.