Journalist Elizabeth Lane is one of the country's most famous food writer. In her columns, she describes herself as a hard working farm woman, taking care of her children and being an excellent cook. But this is all lies. In reality she is an unmarried New Yorker who can't even boil an egg. The recipes come from her good friend Felix. The owner of the magazine she works for has decided that a heroic sailor will spend his Christmas on her farm. Miss Lane knows that her career is over if the truth comes out, but what can she do?
Forget Martha Stewart. Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is the original domestic diva. Each month, in the pages of Smart Housekeeping magazine, she extols the virtues of hearth and home, captivating readers with an array of mouth-watering recipes and decorating tips, while chronicling in copious detail how her husband, baby, and tranquil Connecticut farm enrich her perfect life. Yet what Elizabeth's adoring admirers — and her gruff, demanding publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) — don't know is that her idyllic housewife image is a total and complete fabrication. In reality, she's single, lives in a tiny Manhattan apartment, and can't even fry an egg. She filches her recipes from a neighboring restaurant chef (S.Z. Sakall), and politely rebuffs the attentions of a stubborn suitor (Reginald Gardiner) who regularly proposes to her.
For years, Elizabeth has deftly perpetuated her deception, but the jig could be up when a lovesick nurse (Joyce Compton) writes to Yardley about a convalescing GI (Dennis Morgan) who's alone for the holidays and just happens to be one of Elizabeth's biggest fans. The rotund publisher smells a circulation bonanza, and demands Elizabeth invite the soldier to her farm for an old-fashioned New England Christmas — roast goose and all. Panic-stricken over the possibility of exposure, Elizabeth tries to wriggle out of the assignment, but Yardley won't hear of it. (He even wrangles himself an invitation for the festivities.) So, to keep her masquerade alive (and her much-need paycheck coming), Elizabeth must quickly manufacture a husband, baby, and country estate — oh, and learn how to cook, too!
Such is the premise of 'Christmas in Connecticut,' a delightfully daffy comedy that celebrates the season without the mawkishly sentimental trimmings that weigh down most holiday movies. Much like 'Woman of the Year,' it pokes fun at a tough career woman trying to play house, but with far less incisive humor. Nevertheless, director Peter Godfrey guides a sterling cast with a light touch, and the Lionel Houser-Adele Comandini script supplies several laugh-out-loud lines, all delivered with customary aplomb by Stanwyck and her cohorts.
Although best known for portraying icy noir heroines and tough-talking Western dames, Stanwyck also possessed a flair for comedy, and though 'Christmas in Connecticut' pales when compared to such Stanwyck classics as 'Ball of Fire' and 'The Lady Eve,' it offers the actress several opportunities to clown around. Her funniest scenes involve the borrowed baby for whom the hopelessly inept Elizabeth must care. Watching Stanwyck nonchalantly toss a dirty diaper on the floor and respond to the infant's piercing cry with the impeccably delivered line, "It must be time for…something!," remind us how versatile she could be, and how she relished kicking up her heels now and then.
Stanwyck also creates excellent chemistry with Morgan, whose relaxed acting style belies the depth of his talent. Often saddled with bland romantic roles in women's pictures or playing straight man to Jack Carson, Morgan never really got a chance to shine on his own, but his upbeat personality and Irish grin brighten many films of the '40s. Greenstreet, in a rare comedic turn, seems to enjoy sparring with Stanwyck, but it's lovable S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall who nearly steals the film with his shameless yet always adorable mugging. In his chef's hat and apron, the roly-poly Hungarian actor is a dead ringer for the Pillsbury Doughboy, and his thick accent renders many of his lines unintelligible, but he's such a charming and endearing presence, who cares?
'Christmas in Connecticut' will never reach the rarefied level of such holiday classics as Alastair Sim's 'A Christmas Carol' or 'It's A Wonderful Life,' but it's a festive, enormously entertaining romp that deserves to be in every family's holiday viewing rotation.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Christmas in Connecticut' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
The 2005 DVD of 'Christmas in Connecticut' looked pretty slick, but this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer from Warner ever-so-slightly improves upon that standard-def effort. Though grain levels flucuate throughout the movie's course, with some scenes exhibiting more texture than others, clarity and contrast are strong across the board, and excellent gray scale variance nicely highlights background elements and lends the picture a bit of depth. Black levels are rich and inky, the white of the snow remains bright but never blooms, and shadow delineation is quite good even during nocturnal sequences. Close-ups are intentionally soft, but still sport significant amounts of fine detail, and Stanwyck's striped jumper is always rock solid and resists shimmering. The source material still exhibits a few nicks and marks, but they're never intrusive, and no noise or crush creeps into the image. While far from a dazzling transfer, this is a very solid effort that will certainly please the film's fans and merits an upgrade.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track supplies clear sound that's free of any age-related detriments, such as hiss, pops, and crackles. A wide dynamic scale handles all the highs and lows with ease, and a couple of booming bass moments - the torpedo strike in the opening minutes and the avalanche of snow cascading off the barn roof later on - possess palpable presence, shaking the room while resisting distortion. Frederick Hollander's music score sounds rich and full, dialogue is always clear and comprehendible (except when spoken by Sakall), and Morgan's dulcet crooning exudes plenty of warmth. For a 70-year-old film, 'Christmas in Connecticut' sounds darn good, which is excellent news indeed.
Both of the extras from the 2005 DVD have been ported over to this release. It's too bad an audio commentary or retrospective featurette couldn't have been added to this Blu-ray edition, but studios aren't very willing to invest in special features these days, especially for catalogue titles.
Vintage Short: 'Star in the Night' (SD, 21 minutes) - This Oscar-winning short is an exceptional modern day telling of the birth of Christ…with a little Dickens thrown in for good measure. J. Carrol Naish leads a marvelous ensemble cast as Nick Catapoli, a Scrooge-ish desert innkeeper in the American Southwest, who puts up a huge neon star on Christmas Eve to attract more business. The gimmick works — he fills his motel to capacity — but his grouchy guests drive him to distraction, forcing Nick to adopt a harsh, defensive edge. Enter a hitchhiker (Donald Woods) in need of sustenance, and, shortly after, an Hispanic couple named José and Maria (Tony Caruso and Lynn Baggett), who beg for shelter. Nick reluctantly sends the couple out to the barn, and…well, you can guess the rest. Aside from fine acting and clever storytelling, the 21-minute short marks the debut of director Don Siegel ('Dirty Harry'), who at once draws us into the action and lends 'Star in the Night' the classy feel of a feature film. This is a real gem of a movie, and should by no means be overlooked.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - The film's original preview features lots of clowning from all the principal actors.
Light, frothy, and spiced with seasonal cheer, 'Christmas in Connecticut' will please residents of any state, and add warmth and merriment to every family's holiday. Barbara Stanwyck's breezy performance and the colorful portrayals of a fine supporting cast elevate the charmingly innocuous material, making this romantic comedy a true yuletide treat. Warner's Blu-ray presentation may be short on supplements, but it features excellent video and audio transfers that improve upon the previous DVD and help this delightful romp earn a hearty recommendation.