"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves." --Rainer Maria Rilke (©julenisse/Fotolia)

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Crushed in Connecticut

For many of us, no holiday season is complete without viewing beloved Christmas movies. Some are old classics we grew up with, while others have become favorites more recently.

Remember waiting for Rudolph the Rednosed-Reindeer to come on the family television? In a pre-VHS, pre-DVR, pre-streaming world, we only had one chance to see it. It was appointment TV, and the annual airing was a pivotal event, one that ushered in weeks of tree trimming, cookie baking, carol singing, and the anticipation of Christmas morning. 

Our current rotation is an eclectic mix of the sentimental, musical, and farcical, generally culminating in our yearly viewing of the Capra classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Despite knowing the plot and outcome and having memorized much of the dialogue, I look forward to the film each season. The opening titles and music awaken something both novel and familiar, nostalgia, but through the lens of one more year of life experiences, somehow bittersweet, like unwrapping the tissue from an old-fashioned ornament that once belonged to a loved one no longer with us and hanging it on the tree. 

Before then, it’s often National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, Love Actually, The Family Stone, The Bishop’s Wife; possibly Meet Me in St. Louis – so we can hear Judy Garland sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – and Die Hard. (Oh, did you not think Die Hard is a Christmas movie?) 

The other night we cued up Christmas in Connecticut, an entertaining romp featuring Barbara Stanwyck as women’s magazine columnist Elizabeth Lane, who writes wholesome yet elegant pieces about living on a farm, preparing gourmet meals, and starting a family. Trouble is, it’s all a lie. Easy to fake it on paper. Not so much when her publisher demands she host a wounded WWII hero for a down-home family holiday, and then invites himself to boot. Mayhem and misunderstandings ensue. 

Publisher Alexander Yardley is the pompous, know-it-all great uncle nobody would want to sit next to at dinner. Hubris is his middle name. He never requests, he insists. He doesn’t listen, he bellows. He has no curiosity and is prone to snap judgments and sweeping generalizations. It doesn't take long to understand why this fellow finds himself alone at Christmas, his daughter’s family having cancelled on him. 

Sydney Greenstreet, known for Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, plays Yardley to the hilt. He blusters his way through this Christmas house party like the clichéd bull in a china shop, raiding the fridge, ordering Stanwyck’s Elizabeth Lane to flip flapjacks, and summoning the state police for a non-kidnapping. 

Yes, it’s a comedy and Yardley is supposed to be funny. But he’s a caricature of wealthy, white male position and power, and I didn’t realize until well into the movie for the umpteenth time that I was in no mood for it. Could be the shorter days. Perhaps I needed a nap. Or, more likely, I’ve lost my sense of humor because the world feels completely upside down. So, instead of laughing at Yardley’s boorishness, I cringed. Even in the context of 1945 when the film was released, it was maddening to see everyone around this man at his beck and call… that he has all the privilege and none of the manners… zero self-awareness or thoughtfulness. 

It's likely I’ve been watching too many sappy, seasonal movies. Yes, I’ve been teased about it, but they’re so reassuring in their predictability. I take comfort during restless times in knowing love conquers all and everything will work out by the final scene. 

While decidedly not Hallmark-y, perhaps the Christmas in Connecticut folks should’ve made a sequel where Alexander Yardley is visited by ghosts, or Elizabeth Lane gets to truss him up in the office à la 9 to 5, or Stanwyck teams up with Fred MacMurray again and offs Yardley for insurance money like they did in Double Indemnity. 

Short of those options, Yardley needs to walk a mile in the shoes of George Bailey or Bob Cratchit. In my frustration, I want him to have a comeuppance, which is how I feel about other selfish, loudmouth bullies who steamroll their way to the top, not caring about anyone but themselves. Karma, etc. 

Okay, I’ll lighten up and channel my inner Hallmark holiday heroine. I’ll pour a mug of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and pretend Alexander Yardley sees the error of his ways. He apologizes to Elizabeth Lane for barging in and gives her a healthy raise for putting up with him. Then, after a sumptuous dinner of roast goose and Bûche de Noël, he clears the table and does the dishes, while Elizabeth soaks in a deep, claw-footed tub overflowing with peppermint-scented bubbles.

A girl can dream.

God bless us every one! 

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