In my last blog, I wrote about the humour in nostalgia. Part of the humour is based on those holiday disasters that bring families and friends closer together. Think about it… we wait all year for Christmas and Thanksgiving because of our favourite foods and the gifts, only to have the charade crumble before our very eyes. Some of my fondest memories of the holiday season stems from the laughter my family shared over mishaps. One year my mom slaved over handcrafting each and every bow atop our presents from high-quality ribbon and we spent the entire Christmas season chasing my dog around because he loved the glitter on the bows and insisted on hiding them in the house. Similarly, what would A Christmas Story (1981) be with out the Bumpuses’ dogs stealing the turkey from the table on Christmas morning?
Christmas in Connecticut (1945) does not have the theme of nostalgia in its narrative, but it does break down the facade surrounding the housewife and her abilities in the kitchen at Christmastime. Our expectations for perfection are unrealistic and Christmas in Connecticut parallels the suppositions society held about women, but also about the Christmas holiday… and Barbara Stanwyck is the perfect woman for the role.
Barbara Stanwyck is known for her dramatic acting in roles such as Stella in Stella Dallas (1937), a maternal melodrama, and as the tricky femme fatale in Double Indemnity (1944). To place her in the role of a journalist pretending to be a domestic goddess in a housekeeping magazine is both humourous and ingenious in terms of commentary on American society. Her character, Elizabeth Lane, supposedly lives in Connecticut with her husband and baby — she is the epitome of a perfect housewife. Unfortunately, this guise is revealed to the audiences when a WWII wants to experience a real home and his girlfriend arranges a visit to Elizabeth’s “homestead” — her boss, Mr. Yardley agrees. The plot becomes even more twisted as she reveals she does not have a home in Connecticut and must agree to marry a man to use his home in Connecticut.
I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot, because I’d like for you to watch it… but! The best sequences in the film involve Stanwyck trying to prove she is the housewife she claims to be. Most of her help (and all of her recipes) come from her friend, Felix (S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall), and his lines (“CATASTROPH!”) always make me roar with laughter. He is the foil to all of Elizabeth’s mistakes and brings us moments of laughter in confronting imperfections in our expectations — especially when Elizabeth tries to prove she can make pancakes.
If you haven’t seen Christmas in Connecticut, I urge you to do so.. especially this Christmas season. Maybe it’ll help you see life’s mistakes are often life’s greatest victories if laughter is the result.