It’s the week of (American) Thanksgiving, which is when I officially start welcoming in all things winter- and Christmas-themed. Peter Godfrey’s Christmas in Connecticut is a fine, warm, witty way to ease into the holiday season, since it offers a hodgepodge of Christmas-y props–tinsel, carriage rides through the snow, and glossy magazine photos of food that’s too much work to actually make–but mostly uses them as set dressing for a good-natured farce of a romantic comedy.
Barbara Stanwyck stars as Elizabeth Lane, who writes a luxuriously cozy, essence-of-upscale-domesticity column about her idyllic life in a Connecticut farmhouse, where she effortlessly prepares gourmet meals, dotes on her husband and new baby, and tends to animals who follow her around like she’s a Disney princess. War hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan), who got hooked on her columns when he was in the hospital, gets the chance to spend Christmas on Elizabeth’s farm. It’s a great publicity opportunity, so the magazine’s publisher, the gregariously authoritarian Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet), lacking plans of his own, decides to tag along.
The problem is that Elizabeth Lane doesn’t have a husband, a baby, a Connecticut farmhouse, or even the ability to boil an egg. All the recipes in her column are the cheerful donations of her loyal friend, Felix (S.Z. Sakall), who acts as a kind of Hungarian fairy godfather.
If Yardley finds out the truth, Elizabeth and her editor are both sunk. Elizabeth reluctantly agrees to accept a long-refused proposal from her nice but dull friend, John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner). She’ll marry him as soon as possible, they’ll use his country house for the Christmas gathering, and maybe she’ll start having feelings for him … someday. I will note that despite the tendency to go on and on about architectural details, John Sloan is a man who will remember that you need a fake baby and make sure you get one, which is nothing to be sneezed at.
Of course, the moment Elizabeth and Jefferson Jones meet, they have chemistry that crackles more than the Connecticut farmhouse’s fire, and the two of them find themselves quickly falling in love while trying to work around the deception. Their romance is mostly the product of the two actors’ on-screen dynamism, but it’s so convincing and–despite all the 1945 restraint–so sexy that we don’t need anything more than that. Besides, more romantic storytelling would get in the way of all the farce, from a drunken judge being escorted out the window to the great baby switch to the false kidnapping to the adventure of the flipped pancake. It’s old-fashioned, cheerful humor that sees no particular need to be plausible–there’s no way anyone in any time would ever buy that baby substitution–and doesn’t really suffer from it.
(What it does temporarily suffer from is the newfound awkwardness of Jefferson Jones’s avid enthusiasm for participating in a random baby’s bath-time. Just go with it. It’ll be over soon.)
Christmas in Connecticut has a light touch, a great affection for all its characters and their foibles, and a sense of style, and its core players–Stanwyck, Morgan, Greenstreet, Sakall, and Gardiner–all share a great rapport. Plus, it gives you a holiday gathering that’s hectic enough to reassure you that you can probably get through your own okay, assuming you can keep track of all relevant babies.
Christmas in Connecticut is streaming on HBO Max.