This is one of our favorite Christmas films. It’s a delightful romantic comedy with elements of screwball. It has one of our favorite character actors: S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall. And most importantly, it stars Barbara Stanwyck, one of our favorite actresses. She stars in two other films that are also essentials on our Christmas cinema watchlist: Remember the Night and Meet John Doe. All three of her films are quite different in tone and style, but she is superb in every one of them.
Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is a fraud. She writes a popular monthly culinary and housekeeping column in a magazine run by Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) all about the delicious meals she cooks for her husband and child in their quaint Connecticut home. But in reality, she lives in a small New York apartment, doesn’t have a child, isn’t married, and can’t cook. Meanwhile, a war hero (Dennis Morgan) recuperating in the hospital after his ship had been torpedoed has asked his nurse to marry him but is now reluctant to follow through, so the nurse asks the magazine publisher to get Elizabeth Lane to invite the hero to her farm for Christmas so he will see how wonderful home life can be. Faced with firing for her fakery, Stanwyck is rescued by Reginald Gardner, who has been proposing for years and now convinces her finally to marry him. He agrees to invite not only the war hero but also the publisher to the Connecticut farm, and in tow comes Felix (S.Z. Sakall), a restaurateur who has been secretly writing all the recipes that Stanwyck has been putting in her column for several years. When the war hero shows up at the front door on Christmas Eve, it is love at first sight between him and Stanwyck. Then things get really complicated. It’s a contrived, complicated storyline, typical of screwball comedies, but things roll along so quickly and engagingly that you never question the narrative logic, even though it’s thoroughly absurd.
NEW YORK CONNECTION
Despite the title, the first portion of the film takes place in New York. In fact, it’s one of the few New York Christmas movies with a specifically cited address: 325 W. 46th St., home to Restaurant Felix, run by S.Z. Sakall. That address is actually an old brownstone that’s part of “Restaurant Row” just steps away from Eighth Avenue and another block from Broadway. Barbara and I have had many a pre-show meal in that block.
A Christmas tree, singing, sumptuous meals, a roaring fire, dancing, and romance. It’s all Christmas, or as Sydney Greenstreet says in the film’s last line: “What a Christmas!”
Reginald Gardner (the owner of the Connecticut farm) appears in The Man Who Came to Dinner as Beverly Carlson. S.Z. Sakall plays a restaurant owner again in another film on our Christmas watchlist: Never Say Goodbye. Una O’Connor was a spirited character actor with distinctive appearances in The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein and The Sea Hawk. Joyce Compton, the nurse, sings the hilarious “Gone with the Wind” in The Awful Truth. Sydney Greenstreet is wonderful in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.
Reginald Gardner appeared as a butler in the Astaire film A Damsel in Distress — Astaire’s first RKO film without Ginger Rogers.
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
Three S’s: Stanwyck, Sakall and Screwball.
This time around I especially appreciated the delightful music with its distinctive themes for each character. It was written by Friedrich Hollaender, who also wrote the score for The Talk of the Town and Easy Living, two of our favorite films, both starring Jean Arthur. Hollaender, by the way, wrote the music for the Josef von Sternberg classic The Blue Angel and penned the song “Falling in Love Again,” which became a trademark tune for Marlene Dietrich.