Christmas in Connecticut, 1945
She needs a farm, husband and baby pronto
Barbara Stanwyck portrays a magazine writer who uses a fictitious Connecticut farm, husband and child as backdrop for a series of popular columns on cooking and homemaking. This is a successful and lucrative ruse but it turns into a serious problem when her publisher invites himself over for Christmas Eve, with a navy veteran in tow, and now she's got to produce the nonexistent home, husband and child immediately or face losing her job.
Supporting star Reginald Gardiner does a good job giving us a rigidly boring architect who is the sometimes boyfriend of Stanwyck's character. He's named John Sloan and has been trying to get Stanwyck's character to marry him for a long time, and now that she needs a husband at a moments notice, it looks like his best chance has come.
On the other hand, the arriving navy vet is handsome and he can play and sing well at the piano in the grand spaces of her Connecticut country home (it actually belongs to architect Sloan) and so now there's added fuel to the magazine writers second thoughts about a hasty marriage. On top of that the Navy Vet is also a pro at taking care of the borrowed child Stanwyck has on hand, something the man learned from caring for his sister's children. All these qualities cause Stanwyck to start dragging her feet in her commitment to marry the architect, something they plan to do out of sight of the guests who are there to bask in the beautiful magazine-spread-worthy home decorated for Christmas that's all around them.
Trying to work up the enthusiasm to follow-through and marry the architect, Stanwyck's character says "John, dear, when you're kissing me, don't talk about plumbing," which turns out to be one of the things John is much more passionate about in lieu of the magazine writer, except as maybe a perfect fixture to add to his beautiful home
Christmas in Connecticut is usually included in the lists for classic Christmas movies, but its not at the top of the list by any means. This is most likely because, despite star Barbara Stanwyck giving a first class comedy performance, there is a lengthy story prelude (that doesn't include Stanwyck) that is a bit stiff and loaded with too much exposition about the film's co-star, Dennis Morgan, as a navy man who has just spent weeks of recovery in a hospital after being aboard a life raft for 18 days without food. A nurse who is harboring an infatuation for him writes to the magazine publisher about how the navy man is a big fan of the cooking and homekeeping articles by Stanwyck's character, and this is how he is invited to spend an old-fashioned New England Christmas that will mean sleigh rides, holiday dances, and of course, singing.
Sentimentality is hardly a stranger to good (and bad) Christmas movies, but this introductory material with Morgan is handled without much finesse and contains a cruel trick played on the nurse portrayed by Joyce Compton (probably most famous for her hilarious "Gone with the Wind" song and dance number in the 1937 The Awful Truth).
Once Stanwyck and supporting character actor S.Z. Sakall as chef Felix Bassenak hit the screen about 15 minutes in, though, the storytelling smooths out and Christmas in Connecticut becomes a better than average screwball holiday story with plenty of tricky comedy handled deftly by Stanwyck. Her character keeps trying to maintain the facade of an expert homemaker with house and family while actually possessing no real knowledge for either cooking or taking care of a child (she is challenged by the idea of even boiling an egg and changing a diaper), so she's trying to learn quickly while simultaneously fending off the architect who wants a wedding put together quickly, safely out of sight, because he senses money-making deals could be made with the visiting publisher portrayed by a jolly Sydney Greenstreet.
We get to see in Christmas in Connecticut that the crust of warm sentimental holiday making isn't entirely all real, but on the other hand, it's not exactly all baloney, either. Stanwyck and Morgan are a fine team, though, and Barbara is the one who really pulls what this film and story has to offer on through to the finish line, though Greenstreet, Sakall and Una O'Conner helpfully fill out the general silliness. There's more small pluses throughout the movie, such as spying upon a smartly-dressed messenger played by Daisy Bufford, and Charles Arnt and Dick Elliott as Connecticutians. The secondary cast helps fill out this first class production of faking Christmas and then maybe producing a better, and more real one, instead.
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Original Page December 25, 2023 | Updated January 6, 2024