Sunday 29 July 2007

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) Peter Godfrey

The war is over for at least a few sailors whose destroyer has been torpedoed. They've survived long enough on the open sea to be rescued and set up for recuperation in a naval hospital on Staten Island but all they seem to hear about is the most famous food writer in the country, Elizabeth Lane. Sailor Jefferson Jones plays up to his nurse in order to get fed, to the degree of suggesting marriage but he gets stuck when he tries to back out. Nurse Mary Lee believes that he's just restless because he's never known a good home, so she manages to arrange his visiting Miss Lane in her perfect Connecticut farm for Christmas, through the fact that she'd once nursed the granddaughter of the owner of Miss Lane's magazine through the measles.

The catch is of course that Miss Lane doesn't have a perfect Connecticut farm, let alone a husband or a baby, and in fact she's a complete fake. All her great recipes come from Felix Bassenak, a man she helped into business. She writes from a small apartment in New York and probably hasn't even seen Connecticut. Worst of all, she can't even cook and knows less about food than her publisher, hardly surprising given that her publisher is played by big Sydney Greenstreet. To crown it all he invites himself too.

If you need an actress to play a journalist who has to play a fraud in order to keep her job, Barbara Stanwyck has to be pretty high on the list of choices. She always did have an uncanny ability to play characters who could lie through their teeth. She does her job so well here that we continually have to work out how much her character is doing through actually wanting to do it and how much is for ulterior motives. Her supporting men are perfectly fine: big Syd, Dennis Morgan as Jeff Jones and Reginald Gardiner as the husband Elizabeth needs to acquire, architect John Sloan.

The real joy though is watching the interplay between S Z Sakall and Una O'Connor, both known to far more moviegoers than ever knew their names. Una O'Connor was the perennial shrieking woman in Universal horror movies but who lent her Irish charm to a truly diverse range of roles up to her last film, Witness for the Prosecution. Here she's Sloan's cook Norah, running the best kitchen in Connecticut. That doesn't impress Sakall's character, Felix Bassenak, who runs his own high class New York restaurant. Sakall would always be best known for his role in Casablanca where he ran Rick's Cafe Americain. Here he tries to take over Norah's kitchen and it's a shame that the pair of them didn't get to interact even more. He's the chief reason to watch this one, given that the story does a lot more than stretch the bounds of credulity.

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