Sunday, 29 May 2011

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

For someone whose favourite films date from 'ancient times', I seem to have been reviewing a ridiculous number of modern movies in recent weeks.  Therefore to remind myself that "they don't make them like that anymore", I chose to revisit this film which is something of a cross between a Christmas staple and a classic 'screwball' comedy.  It's not exactly one of the all-time greats, but it's as pleasant a way of wiling away the time as many.

Barbara Stanwyck plays a women's magazine columnist, sort of the Martha Stewart of her day, whose homey recipes and glorious tales of her husband, baby, and farm are loved by millions of housewives.  The trouble is she is not a wife nor a mother nor a farm-lady, and she can't cook.  When her pompous and irascible publisher, Sydney Greenstreet, involves her in welcoming a recovering war hero into her home for the Christmas holiday, she can't get a word in edgeways to escape this impossible situation.  To make matters worse, he also invites himself.  Fortunately, her persistent beau -- a full-of-himself boorish architect played by Reginald Gardiner -- has a gentleman's farm and can provide a borrowed babe that his housekeeper (Una O'Connor) looks after while its mom in on her war-factory shift; he'll save her job for her, if she is finally prepared to marry him. As for the cooking, there is her Uncle Felix, a Hungarian emigre and restaurant owner (S.Z. Sakall), who has been providing most of 'her' recipes anyhow.

When the young sailor, played by Dennis Morgan, arrives early, it is lust at first sight, and excuse after excuse must be found to avoid the marriage ceremony in front of the judge who has been stashed away in the library; meanwhile she and Gardiner must pretend to revel in domestic married bliss.  Although Morgan -- never an A-list leading man, but always an adequate player -- was 37 when the film was made and Stanwyck 38, they both seem much younger and have terrific screen chemistry.  In films since she was 20 and never a 'glamorpuss', Stanwyck is always down to earth and believable as a strong woman. Although she wasn't usually called upon for comic roles, she could show a fine comedic sensibility in films like "The Lady Eve" and "Ball of Fire" and her touch here is beautifully light.  She gets great support from the rest of the cast.  Morgan has the opportunity to show off his fine Irish tenor.  Sakall, or "Cuddles" as he was affectionately known in Hollywood, plays his usual scatty and amusing European.  O'Connor and Gardiner (his idea of romance is to drone on about heating pipes) also contribute to the farce.  However, it is Greenstreet who provides the cherry on top.  For someone who did not appear in movies before his 62nd year and who was pushing 300 pounds, he provided some indelible and highly memorable characterisations in what was only an eight-year career.  At one stage Sakall refers to him a 'the fat man', a cheeky look back to his 1941 film debut in "The Maltese Falcon". 

This film is remembered with fondness by many movie buffs, so it came as something of a shock when it was remade for cable in 1992, directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger of all people.  (Fortunately he did not take any of the main roles and only appears in an unbilled cameo).  However Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson, and Tony Curtis in the Greenstreet role were pallid substitutes for the original players.  I now learn that a remake is in development for 2012 with Jennifer Garner in the lead -- and I think once again, why can't these people leave well enough alone.  As Sakall's Uncle Felix might have exclaimed, this is NOT "hunky dunky"!!   
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