Other Media Review

Smart Bitches Movie Matinee: Christmas in Connecticut

Carrie: OK, I’m going in. Watching Christmas in Connecticut. If you don’t want spoilers avert your eyes.

Sarah: Do moviegoers know it’s Christmas if there are no Jingle Bells?

RHG: Special thanks to whoever said “HEY THIS IS ON TCM IN LIKE AN HOUR” when we posted that this was our pick for this month. Tivo is magic!

I’m not, as a rule, terribly fond of old movies, which is one of the great things about this movie matinee project is that I am encouraged to stretch my consumption and see things I wouldn’t have picked on my own. Also this is about a food writer. This is, as the kids say, Relevant to My Interests.

Carrie: Gracious me this movie starts off with a literal war (on, one assumes, a figurative Christmas).

RHG: I don’t think this submarine is very Christmas-y. Neither is blowing a ship. Or starving on a life raft. What the hell is this movie. Are we going Heart of the Sea on this? FIFTEEN DAYS? Holy shit.

Sarah: Dude, why would you wake that man up from a “fine dining in a raft” dream? Also, food looks terrible in black and white!

RHG: Heheheheh Seaman. You’ve been starving to death at sea for many many days so you don’t get real food for a bit. Sorry bro. Torturing yourself with food articles isn’t a good plan, though.

Sarah: OK, so Elisabeth Lane runs Cooking Up Romance, and posts all sorts of (IN COLOR) pictures of her food. So the fact that the magazine food writer is Elizabeth Lane is making me VERY happy.

Carrie: Ha he’s not allowed to eat solids but he’s already smoking.

Elyse: Priorities

Sarah: SMOKING IN THE HOSPITAL IN A WHEELCHAIR. Oh, the irony.

Aw, poor smoking soldier and his imaginary food boner. He’s going to faux-seduce the nurse for better food? Nice.

RHG: “That was no sacrifice. Have you ever tasted K-rations?” Ha. (Stop smoking!)

Bro, I told you. Your system ain’t ready for real food.

Carrie: Sweetie I sympathize with your problems with your raw egg and cigarette diet but if you don’t know your nurse’s name by now you’re kind of a jerk.

Sarah: So of course I went down the rabbit hole of what “the old Magoo” is, including a Straight Dope discussion that includes Urban Dictionary links:

In the 1945 Barbara Stanwyck film “Christmas in Connecticut,” a “magoo’ is a seductive, complex story you tell to get what you want.

He gave her “the magoo” by saying he couldn’t marry her because he was going to die in 2 months.

I used to think of this dude when I heard “Magoo” but now, well, that’s different.

Cartoon character Mr. Magoo - a bald blind man

I also learned the original Mr. Magoo has won two Oscars, both in the short cartoon category. Mr. Magoo is an Oscar winner!

OK, back to the movie.

Elyse: Okay I automatically don’t like the hero after the whole “magoo” thing. He’s tricking the nurse into thinking he’ll marry her? For some chops? What the ever lovin’ fuck? It’s not cute and I’m not sure he can redeem himself.

Carrie: Felix! Played by It’s That Guy!!!

Felix, I already love you! Marry me!

Sarah: Her column is Diary of a Housewife? She’s the ur-mother of mommy/food bloggers!

Hey Elizabeth! Listen, I know you’re working on making up recipes about veal, but I need to know if you have a monthly calendar wherein you log when you wash the chow-chows. It’s about predicting the future, so it’s kind of important.

Elyse: So far I’m intrigued. This is a movie about a woman who constructs an elaborate fiction about inhabiting the perfect female role. This could either be really good and subversive or piss me off.

RHG: Also the “OMG I HAVE TO MOCK UP A FAKE LIFE REAL QUICK” trope is a fave for a reason.

Elyse: “Remember I have a wife and a family to support.” Code: And you are single and therefore not important. Fuck off, dude.

Carrie: I’m pretty sure all the men in this are gay.

Except the sailor, who’s sexist.

Sarah:

A black deliverywoman wearing a cape and hat, delivering a large box!

PERSON OF COLOR. PERSON OF COLOR. This movie is already more inclusive than several films released this year with one Black woman postal carrier. Also her postal carrier cloak is NICE. Our mail carrier needs a cloak, I think.

Carrie: OK in Hollywood terms the fake fiance is definitely gay.

Sarah: Felix: “Nobody needs a mink coat but a mink.” YES FELIX.

RHG: OH MY GOD THAT FUR COAT (I don’t care I don’t care it’s the 40s it’s glamorous) also Babs’ hair is SPECTACULAR. “All my life I promised myself a mink coat…I needed it!”

Sarah: I could feel bad about a guy who has to eat mashed prune whip and creamed turnip fluff, but he’s emotionally manipulative so he can go sit in his fluff and like it.

Also the way he holds onto her upper arms to invite himself to Christmas dinner…dude.

Elizabeth's creepy boss grabbing her upper arms.

I’d have nailed him with my knee right in the creamed turnips.

RHG: Oh shit, a newspaper editor that’s a stickler for the truth? What kind of rare monster is THAT?

“It’s Yardley. He’s sending me a sailor for Christmas.” “Oh. How nice.”

Um, Yardley? Adults CAN get whooping cough, TYVM. Also it’s not good for a baby that’s sick to be exposed to some rando sailor germs. Even if the baby isn’t real but YOU DON’T KNOW THAT.

Sarah: The juxtaposition of proposal and buffet was glorious.

John, regarding what job Elizabeth would need: “The job of Mrs. John Sloane.”

Meddling Felix: “Horseradish!”

RHG: SAVE THE DAY FELIX. With your hammered dulcimer in your restaurant!

Sarah: John, ordering wine: “Very good but not too expensive.”

RHG: “The job of being Mrs. John Sloan.” Ugh. Your moustache is stupid. “You need someone to look after you.” Shut up, Sloan.

Sarah: I bet he’s a terrible tipper, too.

RHG: THIRTY EIGHT ROCKING CHAIRS? That’s a lot.

Elyse: They’re totes gonna fuck in that rocking chair.

Sarah: I do love the chain trim on her dress.

Elizabeth's dark-colored dress with chain-looking trim on the collar.

And really, “I can’t think of another excuse,” is probably the best response available for a proposal over a buffet and a pile of horseradish.

Elyse: You don’t need an excuse to say no to a dude’s proposal. You can just say no. “I married a dude I don’t love because he has a farm in Connecticut and I’ve been lying to my boss for years” is the most romance novel thing ever. Except the fiance would be shirtless a lot. And the hero.

Also “I’ll probably regret this for the rest of my life but if it’s what you want” is the most emotionally manipulative shit ever.

Sarah: The whole story is an elaborate game of dress up and role playing. And jackets with embellishments.

Carrie: That was the worst kiss in Old Hollywood history.

RHG: “John, when you’re kissing me, don’t talk about plumbing.” Fair request.

Carrie: I’m enjoying the war of accents more than perhaps I should

When Stanwyck drops into her lower vocal register…I mean…she could weaponize it.

Sarah: Yeah, Carrie, that was a bad kiss. And so many accents! Meanwhile, Elizabeth needs to stop swallowing her words.

Elyse: WE FORGOT ABOUT THE BABY!

OMG DO NOT MARRY A DUDE WHO CAN MAGICALLY PROCURE AN INFANT!!!!!

#TEAMDFTG

Carrie: This baby is like “WTF is going on I sure hope my parents don’t steal all the money I get paid for this.”

Sarah: Ok that’s an adorable tv baby. And I can’t imagine she likes being held against sequin applique. And bathing in a suit? That’s a recipe for dry cleaning.

Baby keeps looking at the camera.

Cute little baby from the movie, looking at the camera

HI BABY!

RHG: DID YOU GUYS STEAL A RANDO BABY? A stoned baby?

Sad baby! “Oh, I know! It’s time for the baby’s bath!” CAN I WATCH YOU BATHE YOUR BABY? That’s…. Forward. And weird.

Carrie: “What a night. Moonlight…snow…and a cow.”

RHG: RANDOM COW. With a nice rump! A nice firm rump!

Carrie: Maybe Felix and Nora can get married and adopt me. “I don’t flip ’em, I scoop ’em!”

RHG: Felix: I will fix things with booze. Smart man.

Sarah: I have a lot of Stanwyck jacket envy here. GET A LOAD OF THIS.

Elizabeth wearing a white, fur bolero.

Barbara Stanwyck and her big balls.

RHG: That bolero is ADORABLE.

Dance jacket!

A plaid-esque jacket with a large black bow tie.

“I haven’t been gallivanting. I’ve been in jail!”

I’m using that with anyone who questions my whereabouts when I’ve got a chiffon scarf and a long coat and a sleigh.

RHG: “I don’t cook for people who are mean to my friends.” PREACH FELIX.

Carrie: Well that got rapey abruptly.

Sarah: Wow, Carrie, that did get a little rapey very fast, didn’t it?

So wait, the answer to Yardley telling John to have another baby is, “Having babies to boost your circulation takes time.” Not, “WTF is wrong with you?”

Elyse: I don’t like Yardley either. “Can you and your wife create another human being to boost our circulation?” No Yardley, we can’t. Also I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand how pregnancy works because even if they get pregnant right now, that other baby is gonna be born first. Someone needs to explain to him the facts of life.

Sarah: You know how people who cheat are likely to do it again? I think men who lie to women to get upgraded food are likely to do it again. Don’t trust food liars in the cowshed, Barbara.

Carrie: I’ll probably have more analytical thoughts later but I’m fascinated by the idea that this idealizes domesticity without the domestic woman ever having to actually do anything.

That movie was very funny in so many places but it left a horrible aftertaste and much confusion.

The idyllic farm doesn’t belong to Elizabeth so where are they going to live? Is she going to stay at home now? I’m a stay at home/work at home mom, and I like it, but after five minutes Elizabeth will go raving mad.

The movie is like this easter egg of lies – Elizabeth lied to her boss for years and years. She’s honest with her fiance about not loving him but she’s not honest about changing her mind about getting married – and every other character also has secrets. That’s where the comedy comes in, but comedy that depends on a world of untruth is pretty dark comedy. And then I think Elizabeth is being sold a lie – come be the perfect wife and mother for real! You can wear a gorgeous dress while you decorate the tree! You will have so much hired help that everything will be done for you and you won’t have to worry about pesky deadlines any more! But unless one is very very rich, and I don’t think Elizabeth is quite that rich, that’s not what being a “wife and mother” is like at all.

Sarah: I’m with Carrie about the ending. It’s all very up-in-the-air, happy for right now without much more practical concerns addressed. She has no job. Are they going to move into her apartment/room? I’m confused.

And I wish she’d been able to make a choice instead of having the conclusion she may have wanted and likely did want brought upon her.

Carrie: On the other hand her face when she realizes she’s being a little bit naughty is delightful, as is the scene where she tells off her boss. And the dialogue is great.

Elizabeth smiling and saying, "Oh that's what you think."

Random note: the postwar timing of this movie is super important because it’s a time when men really were shoving women back into the home and claiming, literally, that women shouldn’t hold a job a man might want because men have to support wives and families.

Sarah: But back to her as a writer for a minute. As much as I hate the term “mommy bloggers,” I don’t have a better one to describe the writers I’m talking about, so I apologize for the terminology – I dislike it, too. But the publisher, Mr Yardley, talking about how advertising and circulation went up because “Elizabeth Lane” had a baby, and another baby is good for business, etc – makes me think of the community and also monetary value of honest (and if not honest then candid) portrayals of individual and ordinary women’s experiences, especially when they are, for lack of a better term, dressed up. Aspirational homemaking portrayals are still fascinating and draw an audience (Hi, Pinterest!).

And then there’s the monetization of the narrative, of companies selling items for that experience alongside the narrative, wanting to be affiliated with that person… she really is an ur-Mommy blogger. It’s fascinating. Giving me popcorn brain.

I am also still fascinated by the role playing and performance of home keeping and motherhood hiding inside a fluffy holiday farce. Elizabeth doesn’t do either in reality. Meanwhile, around Elizabeth are a housekeeper (Nora, who is hired help), Felix (who is a chef and somehow there like a fairy godfather of some sort), and women who leave their babies with Nora/ Elizabeth because they have to work in factories.

Meanwhile Yardley is making money of the image of a woman doing it all single handedly and so flawlessly that she has time to write about all of it and pull it off without any problems (HELLO MARTHA STEWART) so other women will admire her and men will want wives just like her… even though the reality is that to do all of it is nearly impossible. The part about Yardley expanding his magazine about housekeeping to include home building for post-war families is also illuminating: not only can readers (aspire to or feel badly about their inability to) cook multi-course gourmet meals, raise children, and shop for rocking chairs, they can now “learn” to build their homes. There’s a lot going on behind the farce.

And the plot isn’t just about the lies and expectations of everyone involved. The problem isn’t just that the reality and the expectations of Elizabeth Lane are so far apart. It’s that the distance between them hurts Mr. Yardley financially, and of course her moral character is to blame. She pretended to be a wife and mother and homemaker and she’s not. She isn’t what people expected of her, despite her attempts to hide her shortcomings. That deception hurts Yardley financially, and she’s morally culpable for lying.

Women are by and large still handed the same message: motherhood, home making, and working simultaneously are supposed to be glamorous and effortless, easy and elegant. In reality, it’s work and not very glamorous at all. There’s a lot of money made by concocting images of what women (and men) are supposed to be, and products to make up the difference in our collective shortcomings.

I do love how Elizabeth herself is pretty unflappable.

When Elizabeth snaps and tells him to listen, it’s rather satisfying.

In terms of how many people love this movie for the holidays, I can totally understand why! It has every major element of holiday charm, including literal sleighbells and horses. And a cow! And THE JACKETS. I also think that the story plays with the tension and the illusion of what Christmas “should be like” and how it really is, though magical baby procurement is usually not part of either concept. I’m still thinking about Elizabeth and her column (and I hope she gets another writing job since Mr. Yardley thundered out) and the lies and revelations – and I see why so many of you love this film.

Elyse: The only dude I like in this movie is Felix. Yardley doesn’t understand gestation and he’s awful. John is more awful. He knows Elizabeth doesn’t love him and he’s trying to rush her into a marriage she doesn’t want. And honestly he looks like a guy who ties women to railroad tracks. Jefferson is obviously supposed to be the hero, but I’m still salty about the nurse thing. Felix is just a good dude though. I want Felix and Elizabeth to kick everyone out and stay on the farm and have an awesome life.

Felix and Elizabeth in the kitchen, flipping pancakes!

Okay, I also like the cow. The cow is unusually cooperative (for a cow) and clearly deserves head scritches. That’s also the cleanest cow EVER. Cows are super dirty and smelly and gross.

John. John is just gross and awful and ugh. I SHAN’T SLEEP A WINK BECAUSE YOU WON’T HAVE SEX WITH ME. NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR STUPID BONER, JOHN! Good on you, Elizabeth. Don’t indulge him. I’m renaming the movie “Emotionally Manipulative Entitled Man-Babies.”

Nora’s not going to start flippin’ for nobody. Nora gets it. Nora can stay on the farm with Felix, Elizabeth and the cow.

Why are three men so fascinated by the idea of a woman flipping a pancake? How can she touch the pan without burning herself? Were pot holders not a thing then?

And yeah, the end did get kind of rapey and weird.

I guess this movie didn’t work for me at all. The plot is basically a chain of men manipulating women emotionally. Jefferson lies to the nurse and convinces her that he has feelings for her that he doesn’t. Then she does something really nice for him and arranges for him to meet Elizabeth Lane. Elizabeth’s boss (not Yardley) pressures her into acting out this whole lie for Yardley because even though he’s been complicit in this whole facade, if Yardley finds out and fires them, somehow it’s her fault. John is just awful. His tantrum about Elizabeth not having sex with him makes me want to hit him with Nora’s frying pan. Yardley is pressuring John and Elizabeth into having a kid for the sake of circulation. It’s just a big pile of “NOPE.”

Jefferson is obviously the least awful of all of them. He at least knows how to bathe and change a baby, but I can’t get over the fact that he loves Elizabeth based on who he thinks she is and not who she really is. The movie tries to convince us at the end that he’s fallen in love with the real her, but I’m not convinced that away from the perfection farm that it will work out. There’s still too much up in the air–does he expect her to walk away from her career and become the Elizabeth Lane he’s fantasized about?

I think that’s the problem with romances based on elaborate deceptions. It’s a lot to resolve at the end and I’m not sure I believe that everything is settled.

I’d prefer it if Felix, Nora and Elizabeth kick the dudes out and Felix can start some kind of boutique B&B while Elizabeth writes novels. And the cow can stay. The cow can come hang out and get scratches and the babies can visit. That’s the ending I want.

RHG: That was SUPER cute. It’s kind of slow (My mind was wandering a lot) but it’s CHARMING and Barbara Stanwyck is amazing and hilarious. I am deeply fond of bedroom farces that involve a lot of slamming doors, and this had just enough of that. Along with a fake engagement/wedding and a perfectly flipped pancake and baby swaps and people not knowing how to hold a baby? Adorable.

Also Felix is the absolute best. The BEST.

Did you catch Christmas in Connecticut this month? How did you feel about the dudes in the movie? How about the cow? Share your thoughts with us!

Add Your Comment →

  1. 1
    Diane says:

    I thought John was terribly miscast – there was no way that guy would know a thing about plumbing. I also felt a bit sorry for him – he was going to great lengths to help Elizabeth and she pretty much ignored him the entire movie because she was in such a haze of lust for Keep-Him-Fed Jefferson.

    And that was one seriously ugly rocking chair. Please burn it in that overly massive fireplace.

  2. 2
    Francesca says:

    I watched it last night while giving myself a manicure. I, too, felt a bit bad for John, but I thought they went for The Other Woman trope in that he started as kind of boring and stuffy (I’ll ignore the “Job as Mrs John Sloane” comment; it was the 40’s). He character deteriorated as the movie progressed until he was willing to throw Elizabeth under the bus to get that job and stay on Avery’s good side and he took a lot of nasty pleasure in informing her that Jefferson was engaged.

    But I loved Barbara Stanwyck – her wardrobe, the way she gave no fucks and that she bought her own mink coat. On the second anniversary of my father trading my mother in for a younger model, she went out and bought herself a mink.

    Yeah, the movie has a lot of problems – Jefferson’s behaviour in particular, but it does highlight a lot of the expectations that are put on women.

    And the scene where they first meet and are utterly gobsmacked by one another was priceless. Love at first sight! The fact that this looked even remotely believable, I will attribute to Stanwyck’s phenomenal talent.

  3. 3
    Cristiane says:

    I love this movie because Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite actress of all time. (If you want to see another movie where she plays a journalist who makes up a story to save her job, take a look at Capra’s “Meet John Doe.”) However, my favorite Stanwyck Christmas movie is the beautiful “Remember the Night,” where she co-stars with Fred MacMurray (4 years before “Double Indemnity”), with a gorgeous script by Preston Sturges and lovely direction by the criminally underrated Mitchell Leisen. It’s a mixture of screwball, romantic comedy, and drama, but it really works. Great performances all around.

  4. 4
    CelineB says:

    @Cristiane I also love Remember the Night. I saw it for the first time last year and it’s one I will probably revisit every Christmas.

    I don’t disagree with any of the criticisms of this film, but even though I’ve had the same thoughts it’s never bothered me enough to stop my enjoyment of the film. Maybe because I first saw it at a time when I was young enough to not recognize the problems? Maybe because all the Christmas charm overwhelms the problems for me? I’m not sure exactly why things that would be a major sticking point for certain movies/stories work for me in others, but this isn’t the only case where I’ve had that happen.

  5. 5
    denise says:

    S. Z. Sakall! The best!!! Love him!

  6. 6
    Stefanie Magura says:

    I’ve said this before, but I second everybody who loves Remember the Night. And I have again forgotten to watch this movie before your review is posted–happens every time ha ha ha. Hopefully, I will catch it before the New Year.

  7. 7
    Janine says:

    I admit that I was both drinking wine and wrapping presents while I was watching the movie, but I was under the impression that Elizabeth ended up getting her job back (I rented the movie, so can’t go back and rewatch). I sort of envisioned her going back to writing in her apartment until Jefferson got out of the service, and then the two of them having a lovely artist/writer life in New York City. If I was wrong about that, then I would have liked the movie less.

    I didn’t mind Jefferson lying to the nurse as much as some people did–I thought that the screenwriter set it up that way so that he and Elizabeth would be on a more equal level–plus they were careful to show that she wasn’t hurt by it, given that he was away less than a week and she married somebody else.

    Mostly what I took away from this, though, was that I need to watch more Barbara Stanwyck movies! Will definitely check out Remember the Night!

  8. 8
    Maureen says:

    I’m a huge fan of classic movies (gearing up for my 3rd TCM Film Festival in April!)and this is a favorite of mine. I love Barbara Stanwyck, the set decorations are the best-I want to move to that farmhouse!

    The weak link for me has always been Dennis Morgan, I don’t find him super appealing. My thoughts on his casting are that this was filmed during WWII, when other major actors were in the military. Actors that for whatever reason weren’t able to serve ended up making movies they might not have been cast in before. I don’t dislike him, but I think of what someone like Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart could have done in that role.

    Remember the Night is SO GOOD! It has become a holiday favorite of mine-I had never seen it till it aired on TCM several years ago-I’m glad it is getting the attention it deserves.

  9. 9
    PamG says:

    My favorite Barbara Stanwyck outing is Ball of Fire, co-starring Gary Cooper. Both are outstanding as is the supporting cast. It’s sort of a 1941 version of a nerd romance. There’s also a lot of found family stuff going on as well. My whole family loves this movie.

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