It’s well-known that food was a very real concern during the Second World War. There were many, many desperate and starving people all over the world. In Holland, for instance, people were chewing on tulip bulbs and making bread out of peas. England was better off, but since they depended so heavily on imports, things were tight. For Americans, food was somewhat plentiful. There were still shortages, so, like England, they had to contend with rationing and a point system in order to get what they needed and keep inflation down. For the servicepeople overseas, there was nothing more comforting (or potentially maddening) than thoughts of home-cooked meals, and one movie in particular that dealt with this was the 1945 film, Christmas In Connecticut.
Elizabeth (Barbara Stanwyck) is a popular columnist for Smart Housekeeping. Her pieces detail her life as Elizabeth Lane, a housewife and mother on a Connecticut farm, and are full of mouthwatering descriptions of rich food. She has fans everywhere, including Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan), a Navy officer recuperating in a hospital on Staten Island. Jefferson and his buddy, Seaman Sinkewicz (Frank Jenks), spent eighteen days on a raft after their ship was torpedoed, and since Jeff gave Sink the last of the K-rations, he can’t have real food just yet. Only mush and milk, with the occasional raw egg floating in the latter. Yuck. Meanwhile, Sinkie’s feasting on steak and chicken Maryland, and he rubs Jeff’s face in that fact. What a pal.
To add to Jeff’s mostly empty plate, his nurse, Mary (Joyce Compton) is very taken with him, and one of the other nurses suggests she hook Jeff by inviting him home for Christmas. Mary doesn’t know anyone who lives in an actual homey setting, but she’s got a Plan B: She writes to Alexander Yardley, the publisher of Smart Housekeeping, to ask him if Elizabeth Lane will host Jeff for Christmas.
Little does she know, it’s all completely fake. Instead of writing from a farm in Connecticut, Elizabeth really types her columns sitting at a desk in the middle of a sunny New York apartment while eating a plate of sardines. She’s not a wife or a mother, and she can’t cook. Elizabeth can’t even boil water. Her friend, Felix (S.Z. Sakall), who’s a restauranteer, delivers meals to her and gives her detailed recipes for the magazine.
Illusions of home life aren’t unusual in the food world (Betty Crocker, anyone?), but it’s inevitable that the proverbial piper will eventually put out his hand and say, “Show me the money.” Elizabeth is called to Long Island to talk to Mr. Yardley (Sidney Greenstreet). She’s shaking in her boots because she thinks she’s about to get fired, but it turns out to be much worse. Mr. Yardley wants to know if Elizabeth Lane and her husband would like to entertain a Navy officer at their Connecticut farm for Christmas.
Elizabeth fumbles out something about her baby being sick with whooping cough, but Mr. Yardley is unmoved. It’s fab publicity for Smart Housekeeping, plus it’s Elizabeth Lane’s chance to show herself as she really is, and do something for the servicemen. It’s her patriotic duty to have this man over. And just to fuel the party spirit, Mr. Yardley himself will be there to meet him, too. His doctor has told him his Christmas dinner will be mashed prunes and turnip fluff (!) and he’s been dreaming of Elizabeth’s food himself.
Heh. Yipe. Now what?
After the meeting, Elizabeth meets her editor, Dudley (Robert Shayne) and her architect boyfriend, John Sloane (Reginald Gardner) for lunch at Felix’s restaurant, and the three of them are very down in the dumps about Elizabeth being found out. Felix isn’t so cheerful himself. “Catastroph,” he says, and no, that isn’t a typo. John’s got other ideas, though–he’s proposed to Elizabeth many times, only this time he convinces her to say yes, since she’s about to lose her job and all. Dudley loves the idea, especially when he hears that John’s Connecticut farm is where Elizabeth got her source material. Why not host the Navy man? Their jobs and the illusion could be saved. There’s the problem of Elizabeth’s nonexistent cooking skills, but that’s easily solved by bringing Felix along.
Elizabeth, John, and Felix head out to the farm, which is picture perfect, only it doesn’t take long for Elizabeth to panic because they forgot that she’s supposed to be the mother of a baby boy. John is nothing if not an idea man, because it just so happens that his housekeeper, Norah (Una Merkel) watches a baby for a woman in the village who works at the war plant. Et voilá, the picture is complete.
Well, almost. Unfortunately, John is a cold fish and a workaholic. Even when he’s kissing Elizabeth he’s thinking of plumbing or plastics. It’s a bit baffling as to why John bothers to be in a relationship in the first place, unless it’s because he sees Elizabeth as another accessory. To be fair, Elizabeth doesn’t love John either, but she’s marrying him because she feels backed into a corner. Deep down, Elizabeth knows she’s in a huge pickle even after the officer’s gone home, because she starts getting misgivings about what she’s doing. Especially when the local judge shows up to marry she and John.
Fortunately for our heroine, the judge doesn’t get three words out before the officer arrives. He’s cute. And charming. Elizabeth is immediately smitten, of course. Even moreso when she finds out Jeff can sing, which he certainly can–he’s Dennis Morgan. So much for acting the part of a happily married woman.
Still, the charade must be maintained, and Jeff is such a big fan that he knows Elizabeth’s so-called life better than she does. The baby’s awake from his nap? Well, it’s time for his bath. There’s a cow at the kitchen door? It’s Mecushla coming to say good night. And what’s a visit to the Lane farm without seeing the lady of the house flip some flapjacks? Elizabeth gets by, but only with the purest of dumb luck, and it’s hilarious to see how she finds her way out of this massive scrape. The inevitable complications, such as two war workers bringing babies by to be watched, or Elizabeth and Jeff getting arrested for inadvertantly stealing a sled are the icing on the cake. One wonders how deep into things Elizabeth will get before she comes clean.
Christmas In Connecticut is an amusing romp that doesn’t try to change the world, but that’s all right. The cast were having a good time, and the production is clever and appealing. How does it turn out? I’m not going to tell, obviously. Only this: It’s always a good sign when a movie ends with Sidney Greenstreet chuckling jovially. I do wish there was more emphasis on Elizabeth learning to cook or at least pretending to cook, but as it is, we only see her flip one measly flapjack. In all likelihood, however, it would have been too expensive to film many scenes with actual food due to wartime shortages, which got more stringent in 1945, even in America. Hollywood had to adhere to these restrictions just like everyone else.
The film may have been a simple wartime comedy, and Elizabeth Lane may have been a fabrication, but she was based on a real-life columnist, Gladys Taber, who wrote for Family Circle and Ladies’ Home Journal. Only difference was, Taber was legit. Not only did she live on a farm in Connecticut, but she was a popular cookbook author and essayist as well. In fact, her books are still available on Amazon. She must have been flattered and amused that she was the inspiration for this light, fun movie.
Thanks for reading, everyone, and see you then!
This film is available on Amazon.