Dusty is an avid classic movie buff and wants to write reviews to, hopefully, stimulate discussion.
Christmas in Connecticut
1 hr. 41 mins Comedy, Romance 1945 7.4 stars
Director: Peter Godfrey
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck - Elizabeth Lane
Dennis Morgan - Jefferson Jones
Sydney Greenstreet - Alexander Yardley
Reginald Gardner - John Sloan
S.Z. Sakall - Felix Bassenak
Una O’Conner - Norah
Frank Jenks - Sinkewicz
Joyce Compton - Mary Lee
Dick Elliot - Judge Crowthers
Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie
Alexander Yardley and Machushla the Cow
The opening scene shows a Navy ship being torpedoed; it’s World War II. Two survivors are seen adrift in a life boat, Sinkewicz (played by Frank Jenks) and Jefferson Jones (played by Dennis Morgan). Jefferson is asleep dreaming of food when Sinkewicz awakens him to ask what day it is. They have been adrift for a long time and have run out of food.
Evidently they were rescued because the next scene shows them in a hospital recuperating. Jefferson is only fed light, easy food, but he longs for a more robust diet. He sees a home oriented magazine which features articles about home cooked meals from a bucolic setting on a Connecticut farm. Jefferson’s nurse, Mary Lee (played by Joyce Compton) has a connection with that magazine’s publisher, Alexander Yardley (played by Sydney Greenstreet). Mary writes to him asking for a favor. She requests that he arrange for her patient, Jefferson, to stay over for the Christmas holiday on the farm featured in his magazine’s articles and eat the cooking of those articles’ author Elizabeth Lane (played by Barbara Stanwyck).
The problem is that Elizabeth doesn’t really live on a farm in Connecticut nor is she a good cook. Her skill set is confined to being a writer. Her writing is so good and so convincing that her articles have boosted circulation for the magazine, but she in fact lives in a small apartment in New York City. Her publisher, Alexander Yardley, is not aware of the fictitious nature of her background and what’s more – he is a man who demands honesty and integrity in his writers. In short he demands authenticity!
Alexander’s response to Mary’s request is positive. He looks forward to arranging this Christmas stay at the farm in Connecticut and he summons Elizabeth to his house. When she arrives he demands that she arrange everything. Elizabeth fumbles in her response not wanting to confess her ruse (and lose her job), but unable to do the impossible either. But Alexander never takes “no” for an answer, he’s a powerful and intimidating man, and besides that, Elizabeth can’t get a word in edgewise. To make matters worse Alexander then decides to invite himself to join them at the farm for Christmas.
Elizabeth is in a real dilemma. To add to her distress she has an admirer, John Sloan (played by Reginal Gardner) who has asked her to marry him multiple times but to no avail; she isn’t interested. But John does own a nice farm in Connecticut. So Elizabeth finally agrees to marry John just so she can have the use of his farm for her ruse. A few problems remain. First, she has passed herself off as a wonderful cook and her magazine articles feature mouthwatering recipes. Yet the truth is that she can’t cook. She gets her ideas for those recipes from a Hungarian restauranteur around the corner, an avuncular character that has taken a liking to her, named Felix (played by S. Z. Sakall - who really is Hungarian). He is a renowned chef, and she gets the recipes for her articles from him. He is therefore also invited to this Christmas event on the farm. This Hungarian chef, soon buts head with John’s Irish cook, Nora (played by Una O’Connor - who really is Irish).
Finally one problem remains to be solved. In her articles Elizabeth discusses her baby and touts her mothering skills. Of course she hasn’t got a baby so how will that be covered? Well, Norah has taken in some babies belonging to local women who need a babysitter while they work in a factory.
John arranges for a judge to come by and perform a quick wedding ceremony to make everything legitimate. However Jefferson arrives early so Elizabeth and John are unable to get married as they put their ruse into operation. The stage is set (except for the marriage). It’s show time.
It’s obvious from the moment they meet that Elizabeth and Jefferson have taken an instant liking to each other, but Jefferson has gotten engaged to his nurse, Mary. Immediately Elizabeth faces problems with her homemaker – mother persona. For example: it’s time to bathe the baby, but she doesn’t have a clue as to how to do it. In this case she is rescued by Jefferson, though he doesn’t realize he’s rescuing her. It just so happens that he likes babies and has bathed his sister’s children many times; it’s old hat to him. He asks Elizabeth if he can do it, to which she eagerly agrees; she has just dodged a bullet. Next Alexander arrives to spend the Christmas break.
As Elizabeth plays hostess John tries to find a room in which to hold the wedding ceremony. It’s night and the guests have gone to bed, but the judge is there and so they commence, but Elizabeth hears a noise in the kitchen and she goes to check it out. Both Jefferson and Alexander have snuck into the kitchen for a midnight snack. After they finish eating they decide to go back upstairs to bed; the ceremony would have resumed, but the cow, Machushla, gets loose and comes to the kitchen door. Jefferson, still there from his snacking, recognizes the cow from one of Elizabeth’s articles and suggests that Machushla has come, as is routine, to be taken by Elizabeth to the barn and penned up for the night. Both Elizabeth and Jefferson take Machushla to the barn. They are falling for each other, but her alleged marriage is a barrier to both. Of course with all the incidents that have arisen the wedding has still not taken place. Jefferson doesn’t know this and Elizabeth doesn’t want to tell him since that would cause her to lose her job.
Other incidents occur further postponing the wedding. The whole household is invited to a community dance and they go (except Felix who stays to babysit – but falls asleep). At the dance Jefferson and Elizabeth spend a lot of time together even sitting on someone’s sleigh whose horse is not tied up. As they relax the sleigh begins to move with Jefferson and Elizabeth in it. Alexander sees this and follows the sleigh for a while; he is very suspicious of these two and he is very concerned about any potential scandal that may come of this because of his magazine’s reputation. The owner of the sleigh notifies the sheriff that it is missing; he gives chase and catches them and they are arrested. Jefferson and Elizabeth spend a night in jail, but are released in the morning.
In the meantime, back at the farm the mother of the baby that was being watched that day comes from work and collects her baby. Alexander sees this and reasons that there has been a kidnapping so he summons the police and a great many reporters.
When Jefferson and Elizabeth come home fresh off their night in jail, they wonder what all the police and reporters are doing there. When Elizabeth learns that they are there dealing with the kidnapping she realizes that this ruse of hers has gone too far. Jefferson goes upstairs to pack. She explains everything to Alexander who is very upset that her entire background and column are a sham.
Mary, the nurse, comes to the house to inform Jefferson that his engagement to her has been broken off due the fact that she has married his friend, Sinkewicz instead. Jefferson is now a free man. It dawns on Felix that neither Elizabeth nor Jefferson realize that the other is free and he arranges for them to talk and find out. Felix also convinces Alexander to give Elizabeth her job back and with a bonus and he does this by offering the tasty meal he is preparing to him and by telling Alexander that Elizabeth received an offer from his competitor (though it was not true). Alexander, not willing to lose out to any rival quickly agrees. It turns out to be a merry Christmas for all. The End.
Elizabeth and Felix in the Kitchen
The humor of the movie is derived from the situation developed in the story and the personalities involved in that situation. It is a combination of the factors. There is nothing wrong with writing a series of articles on domesticity and creating an image in the mind of readers of an idyllic farm, a young family and a talented chef. But when the publisher of that magazine demands standards that will not tolerate fiction (and indeed the articles are presented as fact) and when that publisher has the strong personality to push his way, aided no doubt by his girth, there is a recipe for comedic disaster. Alexander Yardley is a big man and he pushes himself into the story by insisting that Elizabeth Lane host a Christmas celebration at her farm. Sydney Greenstreet who plays Alexander Yardley is a big man and he is perfectly cast for the part. Without his insistence there would be no story.
Because Alexander wouldn’t apparently, approve of the column’s fictional status, Elizabeth is forced to come up with a farm in Connecticut at Christmastime and come up with the ruse in order to remain employed. In order to convince Alexander that everything is real she must marry a man she doesn’t love. At the same time she falls in love with the sailor they are supposed to host, Jefferson, who also believes she is married.
The comedy is born out of the situation and the various missteps to try to protect the ruse.
Alexander is supremely interested in the progress of his magazine. He does not like fiction where the feels reality is required; he does not like competing newspapers (a fact which Felix will use to secure a better salary for Elizabeth.) He does love food though. As I mentioned before he is a big man, but he is a man whose doctor has placed him on a restricted diet which he loathes. Hunger is a theme in Jefferson’s mind too when he was adrift in the lifeboat and when he was recovering in the hospital. Elizabeth’s mouthwatering recipes are what drew both Alexander and Jefferson to this Christmas visit. But Elizabeth is not the cook they think she is. It’s Felix who supplies the recipes and Felix who also come along for the visit.
It is also Felix who satisfies Alexander’s appetite in such a way that he will eventually look favorably on Elizabeth’s job performance. Felix leads Alexander around by the cooking as a dog is led around by a leash. Felix is the comic relief within the comedy movie. His antics increase the laugh factor considerably as for example he, as a Hungarian, tries to turn Nora’s Irish stew into goulash by dousing it with paprika. He has several instances where he butchers the English language all leading to great comic delight.
But love wins in the end. The unmarried Elizabeth and the unengaged Jefferson find out that they are each free (thanks to the meddling of Felix) and the romance comes to be fully realized.
Poor John who has long wanted to marry Elizabeth will get a consolation prize in the form of his own lucrative architectural column in Alexander’s magazine.
The name of the cow is Machushla which comes from an Irish song and is directly translated as “my pulse”. The meaning in this context is akin to our “darling” or “sweetheart”.
Elizabeth and Jefferson by the Christmas Tree
Connection to the Last Reviewed Movie
The main similarity between this movie and the last movie I reviewed, Meet John Doe, is the star, Barbara Stanwyck. In both movies she is a writer whose writings are fiction but whose readers think they’re fact. In both movies this confusion between fact and fiction is what ignites the entire story line.