Christmas time is another natural story time – there’s something about a long winter’s night that makes one long to hear a tale. And storytellers are ready to oblige!
Out of all the dozens and dozens of Christmas films out there, I keep returning to the 1945 Christmas in Connecticut. I’m not sure where I saw it first; it must have been Turner Broadcasting System, back in the 80s.
OLD FART TANGENT: What do kids do these days for random input? When I was a kid, you could depend on a potluck from old TBS – old movies I’d never heard of, but there was nothing else on during a lazy Saturday, and I’d start watching, and before I knew it, a whole movie had gone by. These days, there’s so much choice that one feels it’s very important to make the Right Choice, and so one might spend more time looking up movie reviews than actually viewing movies. Or maybe that’s just the perfectionist in me. But there were so many good movies I would have never seen if it weren’t for an afternoon of boredom.
ANYWAY. Christmas in Connecticut is a Christmas comedy whose theme is about lies that seem to make our lives easier, and how the truth sets us free. On top of that rather ponderous base is a light and fluffy confection of a story. It starts with food. The Germans blow up a boat (1945, remember?) and two stranded sailors float on a raft. Our Hero, Jeff, dreams of the feasts he’ll eat when they finally get rescued. And they do get rescued, but no feasts for Jeffy-boy – he’s got to make do with milk and maybe a raw egg for a special treat until his digestive track gets back to normal. In pursuit of solid food, he heeds the advice of a buddy and flirts with the nurse to get a real meal. Desperate foodie that he is, he even promises Nurse Mary marriage. Meanwhile, Nurse Mary reads to him from women’s magazines – particularly the exotic rural fables of Elizabeth Lane, “America’s Best Cook” according to her tagline.
The food sticks in his throat, and he gets cold feet, so Nurse Mary writes to Lane’s publisher, Mr. Yardley, and arranges a visit to Elizabeth Lane’s perfect home so that Jeff can get a taste for home life and maybe make good on his marriage promises.
In the meantime, Our Elizabeth lives in a small New York apartment overlooking frozen laundry lines. She writes her fantasies of a farmhouse, husband and baby while being a feisty career girl who buys her own mink coats, thank you very much. Her expertise is supplied by the cooking magic of Felix, an immigrant with a thriving restaurant, and the country tales of her persnickety suitor, John Sloan.
Her publisher, Yardley, has a sixth sense of circulation – he knows that a story about a war hero visiting America’s Greatest Homemaker will boost his readership, and he insists that Elizabeth host Jeff . . . and himself. It’s not that Elizabeth is weak. She’s very good at being reasonable and standing up for herself. It’s just that Yardley is stronger.
And so, the gig is up. The whole fantasy falls to pieces. Or does it? Elizabeth finally agrees to marry John Sloan, and as a final favor to her editor, persuades her fiance to scam the publisher with John’s farmhouse and Felix’s cooking skills.
That’s the set up. You can just imagine the hi-jinx that ensue when Jeff, then Yardley, show up at the farmhouse. I’m afraid anything more would be spoiler territory, and you don’t want to be spoiled for this movie!
Suffice it to say, there’s a touchingly cozy romance – no kissing until the very end. But oh, the looks of longing! The adorable touches. The sight gag when the snow on the roof avalanches upon our gorgeous couple, and they look up dazed from under a blanket of a snow. Sigh!
There’s banter – that old-style black-and-white banter that we so rarely see anymore. Elizabeth comes back from her first meeting with Yardley, and announces to John, “It’s Yardley. He’s sending me a sailor for Christmas.” Oooh-la-la!
There’s great characterization. Nobody does anything that betrays the rules our writer has set up for our characters. And almost everyone is so nice, and so sympathetic. Even Sloan, who is a selfish lover only thinking of his own needs and interests, comes across as someone real.
Oh, and the challenges Jeff Jones goes through to prove he’s a worthy lover. He can bathe a baby, sing and play piano at the same time, and resist temptation even when she’s moving in for a kiss. Father material, cultured gentleman, and man of honor, all rolled up and dressed in a uniform. Oh, how the hearts must have beat wildly in 1945!
Best of all, there’s a screwball ending that winds up with happiness and good cheer.
I want to take a side-trip into diversity for just a minute. I don’t think there’s anything aggressively offensive in this movie. Like most films, then and now, it’s overwhelmingly white. But there is a very put-together black woman delivering packages (how many women were portrayed doing that kind of work in 1945? Or even now, how often do you see a mailwoman on TV?), and a black waiter who is very intelligent and dignified and helps Felix with his English. Felix is an immigrant with a restaurant. The actor, S.Z. Sakall, was a Jewish Hungarian who fled Europe when Hungary allied with Nazi Germany, and it’s not hard to draw a few connections that Felix must also be a refugee from the horrible Hun. Take a look at his story on Wikipedia – he did very well in Europe, and despite immense tragedy, went on to play Carl in Casablanca and do at least 30 more movies after that. Immigrants. They get the job done.
If you’ve seen the movie, and you want to discuss further plot developments after Jeff shows up at Sloan’s farmhouse, please start the spoilery parts with a capital SPOILER: — I think everyone can fend for themselves in the comments. And if you haven’t seen it? Oh, I highly recommend it. ‘Tis the season!