Saturday, December 26, 2015

Peter Godfrey | Christmas in Connecticut

a christmas catastrophe, or, all’s well that ends well
by Douglas Messerli

Lionel Houser and Adele Comandini, writers, based on a story by Aileen Hamilton), Peter Godfrey (director) Christmas in Connecticut / 1945 

It seems a bit strange to me that the very appealing and talented Barbara Stanwyck so often played women characters that lied about their jobs and motives In the 1940s alone she hid her identity of a gambler’s daughter in The Lady Eve, and in that same movie tricked Henry Fonda into thinking she was a relative of a wealthy Englishman; in Ball of Fire she took refuge in all-male den not unlike Snow White’s entry into the home of the seven dwarfs, tricking the unexperienced scholars within to believe she was other than a mobster’s moll; in Double Indemnity she was wicked enough to have her husband murderer, and almost got away with it; and in both Meet John Doe and Christmas in Connecticut she fabricated identities (her own and others) in order to get ahead in her job—in both cases working as a journalist.

      At least in the final movie, it all ends, as actor S. Z. Sakall playing the restauranteur Felix Bassenak might say, “honkey-dory,” but it still puzzles me why such a smart, long-legged beauty spent so much of her film career fabricating reality. At least in Meet John Doe she had good reason to make up a fabulous story, having just lost her job. But in the Christmas film, Elizabeth Lane, her character, and her editor, Dudley Beecham (Robert Shayne) have apparently been lying for years, as she, writing for a house and garden magazine,  has described a beautiful Martha Scott-like life in Connecticut, while cooking up her friend Felix’s delicious recipes. Now she is about to be “found out” and surely fired, since the magazine’s publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) has gotten it into his head to invite a young sailor her and himself to her imaginary Connecticut farm.
      Fortunately, she remembers just in time that there is just such a farm, owned by Elizabeth’s architect friend, John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), the place upon whom she has based her magazine descriptions. The only wrinkle is that John has long been attempting to get Elizabeth to marry him and will provide her the cover only if she actually goes through with the ceremony. What choice does a young working woman have but to agree to a quickie wedding officiated by a local judge; pity she doesn’t love the man, and that he, a fastidious bore, is not worthy of her love. But evidently, she’s willing to sell herself into an unhappy relationship just to continue on lying. 
     Lucky also that her loyal friend Felix agrees to join her in the country myth in order to cook up all the wonderful dishes she’s described, and, moreover, Felix, not liking Sloan one little bit, is  willing to enter into this “catastrophic” world in order to save her from marital servitude.
    Wonder of wonders, the young soldier, Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) is just the man Elizabeth has been looking for, a real hunk who might take her out of out of her fabricated world and make her life real—if only she weren’t a married lady with a child to boot.

      Of course, we know it will eventually work out: after all, the farm is perfect picture postcard wrapped in a snowy landscape replete with Micushla, a friendly cow, and a baby on loan from the working neighbors, friends of Sloan’s maid, Norah (played by the always slightly dyspeptic Una O’Connor). And now that the leads have been joined by some of the best character actors Warner Brothers could offer, we know we can sit back and watch the fantasy unwind.
      Even though Yardley becomes suspicious about Elizabeth and Jefferson’s intentions and calls in the police when he observes someone spiriting away the young child, and even though, the loving couple get into trouble just by sitting in an open sleigh, which leads to a night in jail, Felix takes over, cajoling the grumpy publisher into his kitchen time and again, and wheedling out the news from the nurse interloper, Mary Lee (Joyce Compton) that, despite her spoken intentions to marry Jefferson,  she has already married another sailor—freeing him to hook up with Elizabeth! Despite her admission of her deceit, through Felix’s mendacity, Yardley changes his mind and offers her twice the money to continue her column. So she keeps her job and gets her man both!

       Director Peter Godfrey has whipped up such a beautiful sound-set and filmed the entire in sharp contrasting blacks and whites so rich that every viewer might wish to join those gathering round the dinner table for chicken and the breakfast table for flapjacks. Everything looks and smells just like the holiday should. But still something isn’t quite right about this picture, based as we know it is on a pack of powerful whoppers. And how to explain the fact that Elizabeth and her sailor interloper seem equally willing and ready to cross the boundaries of her martial status, he without even knowing that they’re not real. Are Godfrey and his writers trying to tell us something about all those Christmas fables they so elegantly portray.
       Despite her raise in salary in appears the happy couple may have to return to the stable (symbolized by Elizabeth’s shabby apartment) to begin their new life.

Los Angeles, December 26, 2015

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