Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Barbara Stanwyck in “Christmas in Connecticut”: Just One of Us

This is my contribution to the Barbara Stanwyck blogathon hosted by Aubyn at The Girl With the White Parasol. Click here to see the many tributes laid at the feet of the great Missy.
I don't "do" diapers!
Barbara Stanwyck was the greatest movie actress. Period. Maybe not the greatest film actress, or cinema star (though you could make an argument for her in each case), but when it comes to plain old movies, the medium of the masses, she can’t be beat. Stanwyck is right up there with Davis, Crawford, and Garbo. Like those great screen actresses, her resume of fine performances is held in the highest esteem. Davis, Crawford & Garbo were actresses of great emotion, close-ups and drama. Stanwyck was the perfect middle-range actress. Most people don’t live their lives at the highest pitch offered by the great ladies. We live it in that middle range and that is why Stanwyck seems so real, so “one of us.”

There is another thing about Stanwyck that sets her apart from, and for me, above, those great ladies: she is funny! Davis, on film, didn't have a funny bone in her body, Crawford could do it, but never with a light touch, and Garbo, save for one performance, was simply not interested. But Stanwyck - ah, she was light as a feather, sharp as a tack and packed the subtle punch of a Singapore Sling. 

"Christmas in Connecticut" (1945) is a minor comedy, but it is so charming, and Stanwyck is so endearing that I find it irresistible. Playing Elizabeth Lane, a “bachelor girl” with no domestic talents, she writes a domestic column that presents her as the Martha Stewart of 1945, happily living on her farm in Connecticut with her husband and baby. In reality, she lives the single life in a New York City apartment. This masquerade is only known to her good pal, Felix (the adorable S.Z. Sakall), a gourmet cook who supplies Elizabeth with all of her recipes,  and to co-worker, John Sloan. Things are going so swell for her that she goes out and buys herself a mink coat. I just love that about her. When I got my first really important paycheck I went out and bought a designer handbag. I can relate!
I love this woman!
But trouble is in the wind. Wholesome and wounded sailor boy Jefferson Jones (an earnest Dennis Morgan) just home from the front, longs for a good home cooked meal. A nurse (Joyce Compton) who is sweet on him, thinks Elizabeth Lane’s life would be the just the thing to perk up her sailor, so she gets Alexander Yardley (an engaging and likable(!) Sydney Greenstreet), the publisher of Lane’s magazine, to agree to invite the boy to spend Christmas with Elizabeth in her idyllic home. Yardley thinks this would be great publicity for his magazine. Remember, it was during World War II.
Elizabeth cons her boss. After all, she has to pay for that mink!
Elizabeth is thrown into panic mode, but manages to hatch a plan by accepting a marriage proposal from Dudley, a stuffed shirt friend who just happens to have a farm in Connecticut  Felix is brought along to cook and Elizabeth and John seem to have everyone fooled. They even manage to procure the baby of a maid and pass it off as Elizabeth’s.

Felix teaches Elizabeth to make pancakes
and awakens her inner domestic goddess
Naturally, it all goes to hell once Jefferson Jones shows up. He and Elizabeth fall in love and eventually the truth comes out: she’s not married, she has no baby, she can’t cook and she’s mighty available. Joy to the world.
Aww... they're in love ♥
Cute story and a great cast, but it's no "The Lady Eve." Yet, this is the kind of role that Stanwyck turns into gold. She just is – no fuss, no muss, wearing that New York Ruby Stevens accent like a badge of honor. She is lovely and tender, but she is nobody’s fool. We like this girl. She is real. She is one of us.


31 comments:

Inge Gregusch said...

Your usual well-written and illustrated piece on what seems like a charming, romantic and funny movie.

Caftan Woman said...

Your charming article is a delight. I adore the entire cast so much that it pains me not to adore the entire movie. However, you have convinced me to cut "Christmas in Connecticut" some slack this coming Christmas Movie Season.

Brittaney said...

This movie was my first introduction to the great Stanwyck. It's become like an old friend to me as I watch it every Christmas. There is so much to love about it. Thank you for your post.

Lisa said...

CIC is a joy. It used to be found on TV every xmas season, then disappeared. Thanks to DVD and the internet we can enjoy it any time. Like right now. It was filmed in July, so perfect timing. My admiration for Stany grows when I think about wearing that fur jacket, in Burbank,in July.

Patricia Gallagher said...

I'm a big fan of Stanwyck and "Christmas in Connecticut". And I agree with you that, of the major female stars who did drama and comedy, she was one of the best. But I would argue that Davis could do it, when she was given the chance. Specifically, I would mention "It's Love I'm After" and "The Bride Came C.O.D." They are frothy and silly, but I think she is adorable in them, and bounces off her leading men (Leslie Howard and James Cagney) beautifully.

Elizabeth Boyde said...

Great! I've loved Stanwyck for ages, but just have never been interested in 'Christmas in CT'. Your post makes me want to give it a try. :)

And I concur with Patricia RE 'It's Love I'm After' - it's wonderfully hilarious!

Aubyn Eli said...

I really enjoy this one, so I'm so glad you decided to write it up for the blogathon. It's nothing major but it's fluffy and light and free of sentiment. I agree with you that Davis and Crawford weren't really relaxed enough for comedy. Both of them were better off when they could just sling one-liners, which they do brilliantly. But Stanwyck could loosen up onscreen without being embarrassed or manic. And the supporting cast manages to keep up with her. I'm especially fond of Reginald Gardner. Great review!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Inge - it is a totally charming holiday film.

FlickChick said...

Oh, CW, please do cut it some slack. The only thing that would have improved the movie for me is if they would have given Stanwyck a more dynamic leading man.

FlickChick said...

Hi Brittaney - thanks so much for stopping by and for your comment!

FlickChick said...

Lisa - I so agree about that coat!

FlickChick said...

Patricia: I agree that Davis is good in that film, but she always seems to force the issue with me. I love Cagney, but she and he, for me, didn't blend well in "The Bride came C.O.D."

FlickChick said...

Elizabeth - oh, if they run this at Christmas time, I guarantee you'll have a little yuletide spirit!

FlickChick said...

Thank you for your comment, Aubyn, and thank you so much for hosting this massive event!

Dawn Sample said...

I just read where Barbara Stanwyck, enjoyed making Christmas in Connecticut as a nice change from some of villainous parts she'd been doing.

Great review and film!!

movieclassics said...

This sounds like a lot of fun - it has never had a DVD release in the UK and I don't remember it ever being shown on TV here either, but I see the US DVD is available cheaply on import, so I will aim to see it soon! Must agree that Stanwyck was great in comedies as well as dramas. Judy

Silver Screenings said...

I adore this film and never pass up an opportunity to watch it. I love the scene where she wanders home after a night out and says, "I wasn't galavanting – I was in jail!" That line gets me every time. I also love the scene where she makes flapjacks and is stunned when one lands back in the pan.

Thank you for such a lovely review of this film. You've really done it justice, and I can't wait to see it again.

Christine Holt said...

I'm SO glad you posted about CIC! It's a family favorite at holiday time but gives us a break from the over-gooey-sticky "Christmas Spirit" with a story that could easily happen today: a hard-working writer digging herself a professional hole that her friends (and a sweet, romantic guy) help her get out of. Can I mention my favorite? It's Barbara's "Uncle Felix-the-chef" character who has some of the best snarky lines as he defends her from her overbearing boss and snooty fiancee, and then wages war with the incensed Irish housekeeper over control of the farmhouse kitchen. Really, it's the large number of funny characters/support players that is a real stitch! This movie has a conniving Southern-belle nurse, a sailor so hungry that he will propose marriage in order to get dinner, and a succession of factory workers who happily leave their babies with the helpless Barbara! Also love the scene in which we get to enjoy a very large & cranky man rolling end over end down a snowy hill. Merry Christmas to us all!

FlickChick said...

Dawn - thanks for that - it looks as though she was having a grand time!

FlickChick said...

movieclassics - oh, I do hope you get a chance to see it. It is just a light comedy, but special one!

FlickChick said...

Silver Screenings - thank you so much for the lovely comment.

FlickChick said...

Christine - you described the charms of the film perfectly. The supporting cast is aces and the characters are just unique enough to make this comedy very special.

joel65913 said...

My favorite Stanwyck comedy. I know that I should say it's The Lady Eve and I do enjoy that film but there is just something about this film, a coziness perhaps that endears it to me more. Missy is so breezy and obviously enjoying herself so you do too. The film seems to have the common touch as well, everyone I've watched this with or recommended it to have all become fans as well, even people who don't like Christmas movies. Probably because it has a lively holiday spirit without being swamped with all the trimmings.

As far as the other iconic actresses and their comedy chops. I agree that Garbo didn't have the lightness for comedy. Bette and Joan could within certain narrow perimeters be amusing but they were never knock around comediennes. Claudette Colbert had a light touch and could do drama well but I think the only equal that matched Barbara was Carole Lombard. She was a comedienne par excellence but her dramatic work was, particularly in her later films; In Name Only, Vigil in the Night etc, exquisite.

FlickChick said...

Joel - thanks for a great comment. Carole was in a league by herself. Barbara had the common touch, though. Lombard always was so beautiful and so looked like a "movie star" even when she wasn't trying.

Christy said...

Great recap of a charming Christmas staple. ~Christy

portraitsbyjenni said...

One of my favorite holiday movies and loved your post on it.

FlickChick said...

Thanks for stopping by, Christy!

FlickChick said...

Jennie - I think I am liking this more than It's a Wonderful Life - I just love that fur coat angle!

Classic Film and TV Cafe said...

A marvelous post on one of my top four Christmas movies and an all-season delightful comedy. It's well-written and the supporting cast is perfect (Cuddles and Greenstreet together--you can't beat that!). But the glue that holds it all together is Ms. Stanwyck, who's a riot as the non-cooking cook that gets herself a jam (not the jelly kind). You are absolutely right--among the great classic actresses, Barbara Stanwyck was the best comedienne.

said...

I'll be forever guilty of missing this film on TV! But I'll grab my next chance to watch it.
I love how down-to-earth Barbara was. As you wrote, she was one of us, a lady we could meet on the street and share a nice smile.
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
Kisses!

The Lady Eve said...

You capture the spirit of "Christmas in Connecticut" beautifully - and define Stanwyck's talent and appeal to a T. Love her, love this movie - wonderful post.