Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
by Jonathan Walker
Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) writes a domestic column for a popular magazine. In fact, her pearls of wisdom regarding the beauty of domesticity increased the periodical’s circulation dramatically. Her publisher Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) demands that she invite the war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) to spend Christmas with her family on their country farm. Besides being a good deed, it will be a great publicity stunt. The only problem is that Miss Lane has fabricated everything in her columns; she doesn’t have a husband and baby and she lives in a Manhattan apartment. The biggest problem is that she’s an atrocious cook and has no domestic skills. Nevertheless, she must create the illusion for Jones and Yardley to preserve her job.
The screenplay has its good and bad points. The first fifteen minutes wastes time on what could easily be simplified, but the characters are charming and well-drawn. Aileen Hamilton and Lionel Houser, the screenplay’s authors, admirably avoid both heavy-handedness and a saccharine conclusion. Pushing past the miss-start, the film quickly picks up and keeps the action moving. Peter Godfrey’s direction keeps the film light and playful as Elizabeth finds herself getting deeper and deeper in the ruse. He allows the gags to play themselves out without tinkering with them. During the baby swapping, he does not push the absurdity, but permits the actors’ reactions to deliver the humor. This hands-off style serves well, but does not smooth over uneven moments in the screenplay.
Little White Lies
While Connecticut‘s premise hinges on Elizabeth’s literary license, almost every main character can be blamed for some dishonest representation. All of the harmless lies collide to cause the commotion that ends up being the Christmas holiday on the Connecticut farm. Lacking a villain, as well as any malicious intent, the misrepresentation (or “The Magoo” as one minor character calls it) creates the conflict of the story. Notwithstanding that fact, the comedy doesn’t intentionally lay out a moral, but one stands out: even “harmless” lies have a way of complicating life. Connecticut illustrates how our relationships with people can be the first things affected. The foundation for all good relationships-whether they are employer/employee, husband/wife, uncle/niece-is honesty. If we cannot deal honestly with those around us, we are never able to create the stability necessary for happiness.
A Convincing Picture
Barbara Stanwyck (Meet John Doe and Double Indemnity) delightfully plays the writer Elizabeth Lane. Lane paints such a convincing picture of the idyllic country life that she has convinced her readers that she lives the perfect domestic life. Dozens of chairs flooded her apartment when she wrote that she was in search of the perfect rocking chair. Even her publisher Alexander Yardley admits to his mouth watering over the dishes featured in a given edition. As a capitalist, he appreciates the increase to circulation, but as a journalist, he demands a commitment to the truth. So, Elizabeth must hide the truth or lose her job. Yardley’s commitment to honesty is admirable, but it’s imperfect. Sydney Greenstreet (The Maltese Falcon) plays the overbearing Alexander Yardley well as he steps on other people’s sentences and refuses to listen to others. His refusal to allow dialogue creates an environment where the truth, if he does not know it, cannot be told to him. This prevents understanding and causes many moments of needless commotion.
“That will come.”
In a slightly different way Elizabeth’s fianc John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) is also guilty of this. Elizabeth finally accepts Sloan’s incessant proposal for marriage, partly in an effort to keep up appearances and partly because she has “run out of excuses.” He will not accept her primary excuse: she does not love him. “That will come, in time.” While the proposal seems honest enough, it lacks something. Elizabeth soon realizes that it isn’t enough for only one of them to love the other. It isn’t fulfilling for either of them. This fact is drawn out by an offer Yardley makes to the couple. He sees a business opportunity in the husband and wife team collaborating on a building/domesticating periodical. Sloan loves the idea and his ambition quickly reveals the weakness in his affection for Elizabeth. Soon, his desire to marry her becomes an issue of satisfying ambition and not of making a loved-one happy. The financial advantage of their union exposes the extent of their emotional deficiencies.
Perfectly balancing the dishonesty of these characters, Elizabeth’s Baltic uncle, Felix (enjoyably played by S. Z. Sakall), stands as a paragon of honesty. When Elizabeth encourages him to lie about who will be cooking the meals over the holiday, he cannot do it. Instead, he simply makes a cryptic remark that allows the visitors to believe Elizabeth’s ruse. He does not hide the fact that he disapproves of Elizabeth and Sloan’s marriage and openly tries to thwart it. Meaningfully, he must step in at the end to set straight the problems that threaten Elizabeth’s future happiness.
Like many comedies, Christmas in Connecticut‘s premise hinges on the wiles of people’s harmless white lies. Godfrey issues no heavy handed reproach for people misrepresenting themselves to others. The simple realization that their problems are all of their own making stands for itself.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.