A Hunky Dunky Holiday
This Christmas on TVO's SNAM, Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan whip up some silly and frothy holiday fare that's just right for those of us who are in the mood for some seasonal schmaltz.
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Christmas day. It’s a day full of time-honoured traditions, culinary and otherwise: turkey and trimmings, my mother’s infamous orange jello salad and the traditional figgy pudding with brown sugar sauce.
I spent the day fluffifying, de-fluffifying and re-fluffifying my six year old daughter’s Li’l Lovables Tickle Teddy. (It’s a make-your-own personalized teddy bear craft kit complete with a fluff spinner and teddy adoption papers.)
My son industriously set about constructing his LEGO Star Wars Jedi Starfighter with hyperdrive booster ring.
My brother spent nearly the entire Christmas noontime meal cynically lamenting about the R.O.I.(return on investment) of his World Vision micro-industry chicken and rooster gift set. (My brother says he wants the charitable organization to provide an annual report of how many eggs the chickens have laid and how much profit his investment has generated for the recipient family.)
Hammy the hamster spent her time snoozing soundly after snacking away on her Christmas hamster treats and getting a good workout on her hamster wheel on Christmas Eve. Hammy’s cage was installed right near the Christmas tree. Even though Hammy was awake for most of the night in this excellent vantage point, she was unable to provide us with any reports of a sighting of Santa. Anything that happens during her nocturnal activities while the rest of the family is asleep tucked up in their beds she generally keeps pretty much to herself.
It’s really easy at Christmas time to enter into some kind of a weird headspace that’s chock-full of ooey gooey sentimentality and high calorie nostalgia. We should all know better by now than to indulge, but for some reason, because it’s the holiday season, we just let ourselves go and run hog wild with the schmaltz and the schlock.
For me, a movie like "Christmas in Connecticut" fits in there somewhere in that weird headspace. In his annual Christmas letter, a distant relative of mine recommended "It’s a Wonderful Life", "The Bishop’s Wife" and "White Christmas" for holiday season viewing pleasure.
They are all good films for cuddling up on a cozy winter’s evening while slurping up the egg nog and gobbling left-over turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches. (Honestly, who eats turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches at any other time of the year? I guess it’s kind of a hazard of our holiday habits that include dining on oversized birds.)
"Christmas in Connecticut" appears to be firmly ensconced in the North American film répertoire as one of those ‘B’ type movies that the TV networks feel they can safely pull out during the holidays and still do something to maintain their ratings. (Maybe it’s due to that "weird headspace" phenomenon that goes on.)
Now, if I were one to quibble, I might argue that there are moments during "Christmas in Connecticut" that cause the Catherine "film-o-metre" to dip down dangerously low into the ‘C’ type film range. But, as most of us are feeling especially full of peace and goodwill towards all mankind these days, we won’t focus on that type of negativity.
I can sort of relate to the Elizabeth Lane character as played so ably by Barbara Stanwyck. Ms. Lane, a smart and sophisticated career woman, suddenly finds herself embroiled in a hair brain scheme that includes pretending that she has the ideal life circa 1945 which includes a husband, a hobby farm and a baby. In order to avoid a capital CLM (career limiting move), Ms. Lane embarks upon her merry pathway of deceit and diversion with the help of a number of co-conspirators.
Although we might look back on this film and be slightly bemused by another generation’s conception of what constitutes either the ideal woman or the ideal upper middle class lifestyle, I think that the film still holds some ground in that it depicts a basic conflict that many women of this generation still encounter. Lots of women today still struggle with pursuing career and balancing it off with quality family life. Some of the factors in the equation and the conclusions to the dilemma may have changed over the years, but the essential struggle still continues for many.
A cast of minor characters help Barbara Stanwyck maintain the façade of the idyllic country life of the perfect homemaker slash famous columnist. Particularly memorable amongst them are the cook, Uncle Felix (S.Z. Sakall) and Norah the housekeeper (Una O’Connor). Uncle Felix together with Norah supply things that are evidently missing with the Elizabeth Lane character: Uncle Felix provides wonderful culinary arts and a robust sentimentality while Norah fills in with her common sense home making skills and heightened moral sensibilities.
No one can live up to self-perpetuated illusions of perfection. Elizabeth Lane finds herself in a real pickle because of the creation of the pseudo-identity of the ideal female role model for her column’s readership.
Happily, by the end of the film, Ms. Lane discovers that she doesn’t have to be the ideal woman in order to luck out and get a storybook romance ending. Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) as the obligingly eligible bachelor is more than willing to participate in the mayhem of the moment. He manages to keep a smile on his face and adapt quite well through the convoluted mishaps that include a broken engagement, a baby’s gender confusion and a night in jail.
With the part of Elizabeth Lane, Barbara Stanwyck appears to be well underway with playing the part of the tough as nails female character for which she became famous. The screwball comedy genre in this case helps us to see the other side of that character; the soft, feminine and even naïve side of a woman who wants to just cut loose and fall in love with love.
Anyways. All’s well that ends well. Everything in this film finishes up just "hunky dunky", as Uncle Felix would say, just as it should in 1945 on the cusp of the post-war era. Never mind what lies have been told, what improbabilities have been ignored and what awkward realities have been easily smoothed over. It’s the Christmas season. At times like this we’re as willing to overlook such things as easily as we forgive the fake snow scene on a Hollywood back lot. Everyone, along with Ms. Elizabeth Lane, is poised to enjoy the wholesome, positive atmosphere that engulfs the promising new beginnings of a New Year.