Aka Indiscretion, which doesn’t sound quite so Christmassy (in fact, it sounds rather more like a Hitchcock film) but describes this one better. Because this film, while it is about an eventful Christmas in Connecticut, is more about an indiscreet little bunch of lies, and the amount of hot water they land their perpetrators in.
To be precise, one perpetrator, who ends up pretending—in real life—to be someone she absolutely isn’t, even though she’s been keeping up that pretence in print for a while now. Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is the mainstay of a very popular home and housekeeping magazine. Her articles on housekeeping—and especially on cookery, with long and detailed recipes and mouthwatering descriptions—have made Elizabeth hugely popular. So much so that when Elizabeth mentions in an article that she’s been looking for the perfect rocking chair, but hasn’t been able to find one yet, she’s suddenly inundated with rocking chairs from admiring fans.
And why shouldn’t she be popular? Elizabeth writes well, and the images she presents—a lovely little farm in Connecticut where she lives with her husband and baby, the cosy fireplace, the view from the windows. Flapjacks for breakfast. Cows. The unspoilt countryside. A rural idyll… she gives her readers all they yearn for.
Which is really quite commendable, considering that in real life, Elizabeth Lane is unmarried, doesn’t live on a farm (she lives in a busy city), and can’t even cook. She lives above a restaurant owned and run by the portly, sweet chef Felix (SZ Sakall, one of my favourites), and it is Uncle Felix who not only brings Elizabeth all her food, but even gives her all his recipes. These, with his blessings, are what she’s been passing off as her own all this while.
Also in on the secret is Elizabeth’s editor, Dudley Beecham (Robert Shayne), but it doesn’t make a difference to him. As long as Elizabeth is churning out good, enticing articles that boost sales and keep the rag’s owner, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) happy, Dudley is more than happy to have Elizabeth’s farce continue.
The third person besides Uncle Felix and Dudley to know Elizabeth’s true identity is her good friend, John Sloane (Reginald Gardiner). Sloane is an architect, and has been trying to persuade Elizabeth to marry her. Elizabeth has gotten rather tired of constantly having to turn him down—she doesn’t love him at all—and is now running out of excuses to say no. Not that there’s anybody else in her life, she admits.
But the film itself begins by introducing us, not to Elizabeth and her friends/boss/unwanted suitor, but to two soldiers. Jefferson ‘Jeff’ Jones (Dennis Morgan) and his pal and colleague Sinkewicz (Frank Jenks) are clinging to a raft, drifting along after their ship’s been torpedoed by a U-boat. There don’t appear to be any other survivors. As they bob along, half-unconscious with hunger and thirst, Jeff finds himself dreaming blissfully of fabulous meals, of fine wines and splendid desserts, of roasts with all the trimmings…
18 days go by thus, and Jeff even gives up his last bit of K-ration to save his friend from starving to death. Fortunately, the two of them are rescued soon after and wind up in hospital. Here, poor Jeff makes the unsavoury discovery that while Sinkewicz, in the bed next to Jeff’s, is tucking into chicken Maryland and steak and whatnot, Jeff’s meal is considerably less exciting. It consists, in fact, of an egg floating in a bowl of milk.
The nurse, Mary Lee (Joyce Compton), when applied to, explains that it’s because Jeff, having had a tougher time—thanks to his having sacrificed his K-ration—needs more time for his stomach to return to normal.
This, realises Jeff, is not a good situation. Sinkewicz offers a suggestion: the ‘old magoo’. And no, it’s nothing even mildly X-rated: all he’s suggesting is that Jeff turn on the charm, and the nurse, hopefully, will melt like butter on hot asparagus.
It does seem to work, and soon Jeff is being treated to slightly better meals, and Mary Lee spends her free time sitting beside him and reading out delicious-sounding articles from the Smart Housekeeping magazine. Jeff agrees wholeheartedly that that Connecticut lady, Mrs Elizabeth Lane, must sure be a fantastic cook. How lovely it would be to sit down to a grand Christmas dinner cooked by her.
Whether Jeff actually feels anything for Mary Lee or not is left to conjecture (it doesn’t seem as if he regards her as anything more than a friend). Mary Lee, on her part, is quite smitten with the handsome young sailor. And, now that he’s getting discharged and will be stepping out into the big wide world again, she knows just the thing to pep him up. Christmas with Elizabeth Lane and her family!
Mary Lee has, at some point in the past, nursed the daughter of Alexander Yardley, so she writes to him, calling in a favour and asking him if he could persuade Mrs Lane to entertain Jeff Jones at Christmas. This is a war hero they’re talking about; he deserves it. And Alexander Yardley, when he sees the letter, realises that it’ll also be great publicity for the magazine. Dudley Beecham is ordered to contact Elizabeth Lane at her Connecticut farm…
…with the result that Dudley and Elizabeth are now in a real flap. It’s impossible to say no to a bossy man like Yardley, and to confess the truth to him—that Elizabeth Lane, far from being a country housewife, is a city girl who can’t even cook—will be disastrous. Both Dudley and Elizabeth will lose their jobs. There’s only one thing to do, and Elizabeth does it: she goes to meet Alexander Yardley and tells him that her baby has whooping cough, which is why she can’t entertain any guests.
Now what? Dudley, Elizabeth and John congregate at Felix’s restaurant, trying to think of a solution. In between fretting and eating, Elizabeth mentions to Dudley that John actually does own a farm down in Connecticut—that was her inspiration for her magazine articles, and it’s where she’s drawn most of her references from.
Suddenly, it all seems doable. John has a farm in Connecticut; if she marries him, pulling off the stunt—and leaving Yardley none the wiser—is possible. (Yes, Elizabeth does remember that there’s that minor problem about the baby she’s supposed to be mother to, but that, she surmises, is something they can try to work around).
The point, however, is that Elizabeth does not love John, and so she tells him. He asks her again if there’s anybody else she loves, and when she denies it, he says he’d like to marry her anyway, if she’ll have him.
Elizabeth is so desperate, she agrees. The three of them—John, Elizabeth, and Uncle Felix (who’ll have to do the cooking)—go off to the farm, where they are greeted by John’s housekeeper Norah (Una O’Connor). Yardley and Jeff—whom Elizabeth hasn’t met so far—will be arriving shortly. In the meantime, the magistrate who’ll be marrying John and Elizabeth arrives.
And Elizabeth realises that John is more resourceful than she’d guessed. He’s even arranged for a baby! This adorable little cherub is the infant of a neighbour, whose husband is away fighting the war, and who has to go out to work herself. She leaves her baby in Norah’s care, so John’s idea is that he and Elizabeth can pass off the baby as their own.
Now arise a bunch of problems. Firstly, Elizabeth loses her nerve when it’s finally time to say “I do.”
Then, Jeff arrives, and there’s an instant, mutual attraction between Elizabeth and him. He’s too much of a gentleman to flirt with another man’s wife, and she realises she cannot afford to blurt out the truth. But, if anything, this makes her even more reluctant to marry John.
To make matters worse, Yardley arrives soon after, and—thinking it over—decides that the best way to boost magazine sales even further would be to emphasize Elizabeth Lane’s domesticity. She should have another baby. Elizabeth, by now struggling to bathe and change and feed the baby she’s passing off as her own, is sinking deeper into the morass…
… all of it exacerbated by such sundry happenings as a wayward cow, a most un-lover-ly fiancé, a bossy and unreasonable boss, another woman with a baby to leave at this informal crèche, and a sailor who is far too attractive for Elizabeth’s peace of mind.
The sheer frothy, unreal chirpiness and charm of it all. It’s pretty obvious, right from the start, that with Elizabeth being unmarried and beautiful and Jeff handsome and oh-so-nice, there’s no way Elizabeth is ever going to marry John (even if they keep coming together in front of the judge to do so throughout the film). It’s also pretty obvious that truth will out, and that—despite everything—there will be a happy end to this entire tale. This isn’t drama, it’s a good old screwball comedy, and absolutely predictable. But fun. The leads look delectable (and Dennis Morgan’s boyish good looks certainly belie his age—he was 37!); the twists and turns in the plot, especially re: the baby, are delightful; and the supporting cast—in particular SZ Sakall, Sydney Greenstreet, and Una O’Connor, all stalwarts—are excellent.
Some plot elements that are utterly contrived—for example, the horse-drawn sled that results in Elizabeth and Jeff getting arrested, or Alexander Yardley’s insistence on having Elizabeth flip flapjacks for him. The first hour or so of the film, when the scene is being set for the deception, and the deception has begun, is absorbing and funny. Beyond that, it begins to veer off-course a bit, with forced scenes and not-very-funny bits and pieces stuck on.
But I’m not complaining, not really. Because Christmas in Connecticut is really, despite those hiccups, a lot of fun and very enjoyable. Not a Christmas film in the way of a definitely ‘peace-and-goodwill to all’ message, but sweet, and a good way to spend a cosy Christmas eve at home, curled up in front of the TV.
Merry Christmas, everyone! Many blessings, and much joy to you and yours today and all through the coming year.