Storm’s blowing in, finals are blowing over, and Bwog movie maven Mark Hay has a few cinematic choices to accompany these first flakes of snow.
Something about the vintage and the slightly outdated social norms of these films make them an endearing accompaniment to any night of cocoa and candy canes.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
The film opens with two American soldiers stranded at sea after being hit by a German torpedo. Recovering in a Navy hospital, one of the soldiers, Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) begins to romance his nurse, Mary Lee (Joyce Compton) to get some solid food for a change. His plot works too well and she prepares to marry him, so he uses his uncouth history in the Navy as an excuse – he would be a terrible husband and could not appreciate a woman’s orderly home. Distraught, Mary Lee appeals to old acquaintance and publisher Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) to rope his Martha Stewart-esque columnist into allowing Jones to spend Christmas on her Connecticut farm. Yardley agrees and decides to go himself. Only problem being that the columnist, Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) can’t cook, can’t clean, and doesn’t live on a Connecticut farm with her husband and child. Fearing for her career, she agrees to marry the somewhat sleazy John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) to use his place to perpetuate her lie – but upon meeting Jones, it’s love at first sight. Whatever shall a girl do?
A film doused in saccharine sweetness and overplayed black-and-white characters and storylines, to be sure. It lays the glorification of the housewife a little bit strong at times, but with just enough tongue-in-cheek humor to be palatable. But some of the scenes at such a time as this become more heartwarming and seasonally appropriate than hackneyed. After all, at this time of year, can’t we all just for a moment suspend our snark and cynicism and enjoy a good wintery love story?
Holiday Inn (1942)
In its initial conception nothing more than a vehicle for a series of songs by Irving Berlin about several major U.S. holidays, somehow the magic within those songs, including the unrivaled “White Christmas” introduced to the world in the film, and the talents used to convey them transform the film from a hollow musical shell into a humorous, sweet and satisfyingly cyclical film. Oddly the bulk of the plot occurs outside of the winter holiday season with Christmas and New Year’s Eve bracketing all of the development of the main love story and rivalry, but oddly enough each scene, perhaps flavored by what was and what is to come, remains a bit of a wintery sheen no matter the situation.
We begin on Christmas Eve as singer Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) prepares to marry part of his trio, Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), and retire to a Connecticut farm. Lila, though, favoring career over love, leaves Jim for their dancer, Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire). Jim retires to his farm alone and slowly goes insane as he realizes the amount of effort farming requires. So he decides to turn the farm into a club, the Holiday Inn, open only on holidays instead. His former agent, Danny Reed (Walter Able) laughs off the idea and sends desperate actress Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) to what he sees as a failed venture. But when Lila leaves Ted and Jim’s Inn takes off, Danny and Ted begin to hatch a plan to steal Linda from Jim as all the while a romantic bond develops between the latter two.
Astaire makes a great low-life, woman-stealing foil in this film, and his drunken New Year’s dance is a scene worth remembering. The sweetness of the love story and the humor poking through here and there should be enough to get you through the old-fashioned innocence.
We’re No Angels (1955)
Trending more towards black comedy than anything else, it still retains a certain sweetness and Christmas spirit, especially in the transformation of three hardened thugs into savior figures for a poor family. Certain points in the film do not feel right – the inclusion of Humphrey Bogart in a comedic role, the use of a poisonous viper to solve one of the main conflicts – but in the spirit of Christmas one may choose to forgive these little oddities and accept the sweetness inherent in the film for what it is.
At the opening, three convicts escape the French prison colony of Devil’s Island. The trio, Joseph (Humphrey Bogart), Albert (Aldo Ray), and Jules (Peter Ustinov), accompanied by Albert’s pet viper Adolf, make their way to a coastal town and locate the only store that will sell on credit. They plan to use their hosts’ hospitality, promise falsely to work around the shop to pay off their credit, and then steal supplies and slink off to a boat in the night. But as the group begins to hear more about the financial woes of the family owning the shop, and of an impending visit by the storefront’s owner, who plans to turn out the family, they begin to employ their seedy skills for the benefit of the store and family.
Director Michael Curtiz seems a little out of his element in this quirky Christmas tale, as does Bogey. But then again the whole film is about three men in an out-of-character situation slowly adapting to their new roles as angels instead of conmen, and so perhaps this awkward casting and direction has a secretive magic in it. Or perhaps, once more, it is just time to stop over-thinking, accept the strong-men-gone-soft sweetness, and enjoy your cup of cocoa and the impending snowstorm.