Christmas in Connecticut (1945): Yuletide Cheer and The War’s End is Here

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Christmas in Connecticut functions as a fine way to cap off 1945, a year full of jubilation and relief for the American public. The war was finally over! Given this context, the setup might feel familiar. A sailor who was shipwrecked out at sea in the Pacific was rescued. Now he’s seeing the war from the sidelines in a hospital.

Because in the mind of the viewer the war is already won, it feels like a relief. Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) is an American hero, and all he has to worry about are building his strength and getting to know the pretty southern belle nursing him back to full health. Still, with the holidays approaching, he can’t help yearning for a little bit of good old-fashioned Americana, the down-home comfort and hospitality he’s missed out on overseas.

A letter of request gets sent on his behalf and the old battle-ax, famed magazine publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) catches wind of it. The idea is to serve up the soldier a meal in the home of famed columnist Elizabeth Lane, known for her idyllic farm, snow-covered nostalgia, and domestic tips and tricks. (The character was based on real-life Gladys Taber of Family Circle Magazine who actually lived on a farm in Connecticut)

As he could use a bit of comfort and home cooking himself, Yardley thinks it’s a fine suggestion, and he’s prepared to invite himself and the soldier out to the country for the holidays. He has no thought that it might be an inconvenience.

But of course, this is hardly the problem. It’s worse than that. Elizabeth Lane does not exist, at least not as vividly as she does on the pages of Yardley’s magazine captivating nationwide audiences coast to coast.

In truth, she lives in a drafty apartment overlooking the outside laundry as she knocks away at her typewriter eating sardines for breakfast. Because she’s no cook nor a wife with a baby and a farm. She’s more of a city girl living off a diet of independence and mink coats. Of course, no one knows about the sham aside from her and her editor.

What makes it worse is the fact Mr. Yardley is a very principled fellow and a stickler for printing the truth. If he ever caught wind of this charade, it would be the end. So to take stock of the damage, her boss is about to show up on her doorstep (one which she doesn’t have) for Christmas eve with an unwitting soldier who believes in what she comes to represent.

Barbara Stanwyck dons this kind of part with ease as the street-wise lifestyle columnist. She rides out the comedy with her usual aplomb, but she can play romance and the sentimental in a manner that doesn’t totally rob them of their import.

Men vying for her affection will be an ongoing theme throughout the picture and why not because Barbara Stanwyck is the picture of self-confident beauty with an undisputed vivacity.

The film is salvaged — from solely a narrative perspective — when she impulsively accepts the routine marriage proposal from her suitor, the wealthy businessman John Sloan. He’s been trying to get her hand in marriage for a time. This time she acquiesces and accepts. Might as well have some stability.

However, it’s also the decision leading the shambles around her to all slide into place. It gets to the point where they might have a fighting chance making the impression stick at least for a weekend. John will be her husband because he is, isn’t he? They’ll conveniently use his farm. Check. Uncle Felix (S.Z. Sakall) will come along to cook the meals. Now there’s just the issue of the baby…

They assemble everything to make a go at the charade. They call out a judge to perform the marriage before their arrivals show up. There’s one hitch. Jefferson shows up early! It’s a scramble to pull everything together but the game is on whether they like it or not!

Morgan is an old star I always find to be a bit blah if generally genial. Thankfully, the film is replete with a formidable supporting cast to round out the holiday household. Not least among them Sydney Greenstreet (in a rather uncharacteristic role), then S.Z. Sakall, and Una O’Connor.

Felix and Norah go to war in the kitchen with their equally pertinacious attitudes. After all, Sakall is the king of the kitchen and catastrophe while subsequently becoming the film’s most lovable secret weapon when the story gets convoluted and a savior is called to bring it back around.

The many scenarios are easy to list off: bathing the baby with company on hand, flipping flap jacks at the behest of Mr. Yardley, putting the cow to bed, and the most calamitous of all, the baby swallowing a watch! It’s the actual unraveling of the scenes which become most delightful because Stanwyck rides them out with her typical flair for situational comedy.

A major turning point comes at a festive dance where love blooms though it does give a strange impression to outsiders looking in. The “married” Mrs. Sloan looks to have taken a shining for the tall man in uniform and the feelings are mutual. But that’s quite out of the question. Think of the scandal. This would never do totally dousing the prevailing happiness brought on by the cessation of war.

Still, they take a magical sleigh ride together. Because one of them knows they are unattached and Morgan’s character is just naive and self-effacing enough for us to believe he would never have presumptuous intentions.

However, everything must come to a head as this is tantamount to Murphy’s law in cinema. In this movie, it’s thanks to a miscommunication and a kidnapped baby. One of the highlights of the movie is observing the subtle antagonism of Sakall toward Greenstreet. He mutters “Fat Man” which might be a fairly blatant reference to his incorrigible part in The Maltese Falcon.

However, they also go at it in the kitchen because Sakall is the glue and the matchmaker — everything required to hold the story together and see it to the desired ending. It means stopping Yardley in his tracks. In fact, these scenes are only topped by Stanwyck laying into the Fat Man of her own accord and then falling for Dennis Morgan as it’s meant to be. They really are 1 and 2 on the film’s greatest attractions.

In a movie such as this with snow, sleighs, a warm hearth, and friends and family, not to mention the end of WWII, what would the ending be without our protagonists wrapped up in each other’s arms? If you’re like wartime audiences with generous spirits, it’s excusable to find Christmas in Connecticut to be agreeable holiday entertainment as the mood strikes you.

3.5/5 Stars

Hollywood Canteen (1944)

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This propaganda extravaganza showcases Hollywood in all its glory from the Brown Derby to the Hollywoodland sign and of course the pride and joy of wartime morale-boosting, the Hollywood Canteen.  It’s a bit of a faux reality, Hollywood’s rendition of what real life might actually be like since the Hollywood Canteen did in fact exist.

Historically, it began as an effort by John Garfield and Bette Davis of all people to support the troops and give them quality entertainment from the entertainment capital of the world. Though newsreel footage might serve as a better historical marker (albeit still biased), there’s no questioning the patriotic waves flooding through this picture.

True, even in this film there are anecdotes that point to a slightly different reality. Namely the fact that this was meant to be a Hollywood wide endeavor but all other studios balked and so the lineup is filled out by Warner Bros. catalog of stars and them alone.

Furthermore, it’s easy to surmise that far from being overcome by patriotic fervor, Joan Crawford probably took her role because the alphabetical billing conveniently put her above a couple perennial rivals in Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck.

Even with its authenticity in question, there’s no doubt that the film boasts talent. There’s an inexhaustible array of song & dance from the likes of the Andrew Sisters, Roy Rogers (with Trigger) and Jimmy Dorsey.  The stars also come out in full force with cameos from everyone conceivably under contract to Warner Bros from Kitty Carlisle, Jack Carson, Joe E. Brown, Ida Lupino, Jack Benny, and of course Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet staying in character. Each one provides enough star power to fill in the idle moments around our main love story.

Still, there’s no doubt that Joan Leslie was one of America’s sweethearts and it’s no coincidence that our protagonist falls head over heels for her all the way in the South Pacific. The pair of lovebirds represents all that is seemingly good and upright about American ideals even if she is a movie star and he is only a common soldier.

That makes the prospect of actually meeting her beyond his wildest dreams, but Hollywood purportedly is in the dream making business and so Slim gets his wishes granted. A date with his dream girl is soon arranged by those tactful matchmakers Davis and Garfield.

Robert Hutton is almost uncannily reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart who was at the time leading bombing raids over Germany. It seems little coincidence that he would then land the crucial role as the universal soldier Slim — a man who saw his share of action and is home for a short spell — before heading out on his next tour of duty.

He represents all the boys fighting for not just the Red, White, and Blue but every color and creed. In his very starry-eyed and candid way, he mentions each one as the camera picks each out of the crowd. Curious the only group not mentioned were members of the Japanese-American infantry. Yet another incongruity with the world at large. But the red carpet that is rolled out for him at the Hollywood Canteen is meant to be only a small recompense for all his service to his country.

Delmer Daves’s picture much like Stage Door Canteen (1943) fits the realm of saccharine propaganda, even blatantly so, but if you allow yourself to be carried away by the historical moment it has its certain charms.

True, the Home Front or the Allied cause isn’t quite as unified and squeaky clean as it claims to be just as humanity on the whole and the stars behind Hollywood rarely could hold up to scrutiny. However, there’s still something here that can make you smile. Publicity stunt or not. Maybe it’s the romantic in me that likes to believe there’s at least a kernel of truth in here and if nothing else there’s honest to goodness sincerity.

3.5/5 Stars

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

416cc-christmasinconnecticutElizabeth Lane  is the perfect cook, hostess, wife and mother who is the talk of the town thanks to her daily column in a reputable publication. Anecdotes from her quaint lifestyle out on a Connecticut farm have everyone from war vets (Dennis Morgan) and publishing magnates (Sydney Greenstreet) fawning over her cooking. She’s a chef extraordinaire. Except she doesn’t actually exist, or rather not in that incarnation. Instead the persona is the creation of New York columnist Elizabeth Lane who lives in an apartment with very little culinary ability of her own. That’s why things get complicated when a young sailor followed by the old publisher want to meet her and share Christmas on her farm. She knows Mr. Alexander Yardley is a stickler for the truth and so she rushes to pull off a masquerade to keep her job. It’s a harebrained scenario involving the farm of a beau and her kindly chef pal Felix (S.Z. Sakall) who covers for her lack of cooking ability. For a while it works and romance is in the air, but as you would expect things get a little complicated. Everything ends up hunky dunky in the end. If you’re feeling a Christmas comedy with screwball elements, you’ve come to the right place. Stanwyck is always great and Sakall invariably steals the show at times.

3.5/5 Stars

 

The Maltese Falcon (1941) – Film-Noir

4ef67-falconmThis archetypal film-noir directed by John Huston, stars Humphrey Bogart as the detective Sam Spade. After an initial conversation with a mysterious woman, that same night two men end up dead. As Spade tries to understand what is going on, it puts him in contact with a paranoid little man and another man who is trailing him. All of them have something to do with a black bird and the situation gets more complicated when Spade meets the fat man. Rather surprisingly Spade ends up with the falcon but of course there has to be a twist. Soon enough the truth comes out of Brigid O’Shaughnessy and Spade coldly does his work. This film has great characters played by Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, Ward Bond, and Elisha Cook Jr. The directing is good as well as the cinematography. This is the film that finally made Bogart a star and he would never look back.

5/5 Stars

Review: Casablanca (1942)

It was over 70 years ago that Casablanca hit the silver screen for the first time. All the main players are dead and gone now. The Golden Age of Hollywood, where pictures were being churned out with factory-like efficiency, has given way to a modern era of blockbusters. To borrow a quote from the movie, it doesn’t seem that one little film would “amount to a hill of beans” in our present world. Still, somehow Casablanca is beloved to this day, despite the numerous other films that have undoubtedly entered the black hole of film oblivion. It seemingly will not die and for good reason.

Considered one of the greatest films of all-time, this well-loved classic deserves to be here. It is the hallmark of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s careers. It also has one of the greatest scripts of all time, and it has achieved legendary status over the years. Many consider it purely the best film ever made and in all honesty, I would never try to refute that.
The film opens quickly and we are immersed in a world that is at the height of the Nazi terror, and many people are fleeing Europe by way of Casablanca. It is a treacherous place full of pickpockets, corrupt authorities, refugees, and naive tourists as well. Two German couriers have been murdered and some invaluable letters of transit have been stolen. That’s when we are first introduced to Rick’s Café Americain and its cynical proprietor Rick Blaine (Bogart).
A shady fellow named Ugarte (Peter Lorre) comes to Rick with the letters and asks Blaine to keep them for him. However, later that night Ugarte is taken into custody, and things begin to get even more complicated. Wanted resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) is now in Casablanca, however, a Major Strasser has arrived from Germany to take him in. To top it off, Laszlo’s wife Ilsa (Bergman) was Blaine’s old flame in Paris and, needless to say, it didn’t end well.
Laszlo desperately needs the letters of transit to escape, and he inquires about them. Soon he is led to Blaine, but as Rick often admits he sticks his neck out for nobody. Knowing all too well that he is in danger, Laszlo still shows his defiance against his enemies by leading the people in a round of “La Marseillaise” and as a result, Rick’s is shut down.
All the memories of Paris begin flooding back, and then Ilsa confronts Rick in order to get the letters. This is possibly the most critical point in the film because this tense altercation ultimately renews the relationship between Rick and Ilsa. Rick asks her to trust him, and he begins to take things into his own hands. The results of his actions created one of the great romantic and cinematic moments in the history of film. The whole film leading up to this point hints at it, but Rick truly is a sentimentalist at heart. He can live with the notion that they will always have Paris and that leads him to commit a selfless act of love.
This film holds such a tremendous presence in movie history, and upon seeing the movie it makes complete sense what all the hype is about. What more could you want than Bogey, Bergman, Casablanca, and some of the greatest quotes ever uttered? Do not forget the corrupt, but nevertheless lovable French Captain Louis (Claude Rains), who delivers some terribly witty lines. Honestly, he may be my favorite character in the whole film, and that’s saying a lot!  Then, of course, there is the immortal tune of “As Time Goes By,” sung by Dooley Wilson which will forever be ingrained in film lore.
However, you also gain an appreciation for the other interesting characters of Casablanca, some comical, some sympathetic, and others despicable. We have a rogue gallery of everybody under the sun from Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, German soldiers, various guests, and all the staff at Rick’s Place. This movie has conflict and the uncertainty of war in practically every scene because at the time World War II was in full force. There are a broken romance and a forlorn hero who shows his courage in the end. As an audience, we come to realize the transformation of Rick into a truly great man. Ilsa on her part has the most radiant face I have ever seen.
 It is wonderful that Casablanca succeeds as entertainment despite the fact that it is not modern. In fact, part of its charm is the black and white cinematography that helps make Rick’s Café so atmospheric. It effectively makes each interior shot moodi34 and every romantic scene even more striking. I am very doubtful that they would ever be able to pull this film off in color. It just wouldn’t work.
You do not need explosions and violence either, only great characters and a story with both drama and humor to reel the audience in. Up until the final moments of the movie you are captivated the entire time. Then, fittingly, you are left with the two men walking off into the night with the words, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
In fact, with this film, my thoughts always go back to the script. Lines like “Here’s looking at you kid,” “We’ll always have Paris,” and “Round up the usual suspects” are so rampant that you cannot possibly remember them all, and I doubt there will ever be another film that is so immersed in American cultural lexicon. Still, many of my favorite lines in the film are those that get overshadowed by the more famous ones. That is the sign of an amazing film that never grows old. Even those who have not seen this classic film like to think they have, because the influence of Casablanca reaches everywhere. I guess I’m rather an idealist myself so I would like to think that even if 70 more years pass, we’ll always have Casablanca.

Casablanca (1942)

 

Considered one of the greatest films of all-time, this well-loved classic deserves to be here. It is the hallmark of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s careers. It has one of the greatest scripts of all time, and it has achieved legendary status over the years. Many consider it purely the best film ever made and in all honesty, I would never try to refute that.
The film opens quickly, and we are immersed in a world that is at the height of the Nazi terror, and many people are fleeing Europe by way of Casablanca. It is a treacherous place full of pickpockets, corrupt authorities, refugees, and some tourists as well. Two German couriers have been murdered, and some invaluable letters of transit have been stolen. That’s when we are first introduced to Rick’s Café Americain along with its cynical proprietor Rick Blaine (Bogart). A shady fellow named Ugarte (Peter Lorre) comes to him with the letters and asks Blaine to keep them for him. However, later that night Ugarte is taken into custody and things get even more complicated. 

Wanted resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) is now in Casablanca, however, a Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) has arrived from Germany to take him in. To top it off Laszlo’s wife Ilsa (Bergman) was Blaine’s old flame in Paris and it didn’t end well. Laszlo desperately needs the letters of transit to escape and he inquires about them. Soon he is led to Blaine but as he often admits Rick sticks his neck out for nobody. Laszlo shows his defiance against his enemies by leading the people in a round of “La Marseillaise” and as a result, Rick’s is shut down. 

All the memories of Paris begin flooding back, and then Ilsa confronts Rick in order to get the letters. This is possibly the most critical point in the film because the tense altercation ultimately renews the relationship between Rick and Ilsa. Rick asks her to trust him and he begins to take things into his own hands. The results of his actions created one of the great romantic and cinematic moments in the history of film. The whole film leading up to this point hints at it, but Rick truly is a sentimentalist at heart. He can live with the notion that they will always have Paris and that leads him to commit a selfless act of love.
This film holds such a tremendous presence in movie history it is quite extraordinary. Upon seeing the movie it made complete sense what all the hype was about. What more could you want than Bogey, Bergman, Casablanca, and some of the greatest quotes ever said? Do not forget the French Captain Louis played by Claude Rains or the immortal tune of As Time Goes By sung by Dooley Wilson. However, you also gain an appreciation for the other interesting characters of Casablanca, some comical, some sympathetic, and others mysterious. We have a rogue gallery of everybody under the sun from Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, German soldiers, various guests, and all the staff at Rick’s place. 

This movie has conflict and the uncertainty of war practically in every scene because at the time World War II was in full force. There are a broken romance and a forlorn hero who shows his courage in the end. As an audience, we realize the transformation of Rick into a truly great man. Ilsa, on her part, has the most radiant face I have ever seen! If you take into consideration when this movie was made, it truly is wonderful to watch. You do not need explosions and violence, only great characters and a story with both drama and humor. Up until the final moments of the movie you are captivated the entire time. Then, fittingly you are left with the two men walking off into the night with the words, “Louis I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

 In fact, with this film, my thoughts always go back to the script. Lines like “Here’s looking at you kid,” “We’ll always have Paris,” and “Round up the usual suspects” are so rampant that you cannot possibly remember them all, and I doubt there will ever be another film that is so entrenched in American culture. Many of my favorite lines in the film are those that get overshadowed by the more famous ones. That is the sign of an amazing film that never grows old. Even those who have not seen this classic film like to think they have because the influence of Casablanca reaches everywhere.

5/5 Stars