© 1945 Warner Bros. Pictures

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

I had never heard of this film until I Googled “Christmas films of the 1940s.”  It is not nearly as well-known as other holiday fare from the decade such as It’s a Wonderful Life or The Bishop’s Wife, but judging from the IMDB message boards, Christmas in Connecticut does seem to have a small, solid fan base.

Barbara Stanwyck is always best when she is playing a conniving, manipulating femme fatales, such as her character in Double Indemnity. Here she is once again a deceitful woman, but one with her heart in the right place. She plays Elizabeth Lane, a sort of proto-Martha Stewart who writes her wildly popular column on keeping the perfect home from her farm in Connecticut. Only she lives in an apartment in New York, and her idea of cooking is opening a can of sardines.

Two of the most interesting supporting actors from Casablanca turn up in the cast, and really make the movie. Sidney Greenstreet plays a powerful publishing magnate who requests, or rather demands, that she open up her non-existent farmhouse to a returning soldier who was stranded at sea after his transport vessel was sunk. S.Z. Sakall, who has a small but memorable role as the bartender at Rick’s Place, appears as a Hungarian chef who provides Elizabeth with meals and recipes to run in her column. He is very entertaining in this film as the mastermind who makes sure the couple that should be together gets together. Rounding out the cast is Una O’Connor, who was so funny in The Invisible Man, and is just as hilarious here as the cook who spares with the Hungarian who encroaches into her kitchen.

When it becomes clear that she will lose her lucrative job if you doesn’t produce a Connecticut farm, she agrees to quickly marry a bore of an architect who just happens to own one. When the handsome young soldier, who has no family to spend Christmas with, shows up before the quickie wedding, she falls in love at first sight. The woman taken with a somewhat younger man is another type of role Stanwyck excelled in, maybe because the actress herself had a long relationship with the much younger Robert Wagner. Since every detail of her life is known to her publisher and the general public through her articles, she is forced think fast and make one lie after another to present the idyllic country life that everyone thinks she lives.

Although things work themselves out at the end of the story, as a Christmas film this avoids veering into the sickly sweet and sentimental.

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“Maybe it'll stop you trying to be so desperate about making more money than you can ever use? You can't take it with you, Mr. Kirby. So what good is it? As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends.”
-Martin Vanderhoff (Lionel Barrymore)
from You Can’t Take It with You