Saturday, June 27, 2015

Christmas In Connecticut a.k.a. The Christmas Movie According To Babs by Paul F. Etcheverry



"Cook your own kidneys." S.Z. Sakall

"Cold chicken is my weakness." Sydney Greensteet

"It's always important to keep promises, especially the ones you make to yourself." Barbara Stanwyck

"Honesty is the best politics." Stan Laurel, Sons Of The Desert




Our contribution to the 2015 Classic Movie History Project Blogathon reviews this much-shown WW2 era holiday stocking stuffer from Warner Brothers. Within the guise of fluffy Yuletide entertainment, Christmas In Connecticut presents a jaunty look at outrageous ruses, the social order, creation of fantasy worlds, the fear of being unmasked and embarrassed publicly about one's own life, mass media, shameless big business, sham marriages, moral responsibility, the nature of truth, the inability to listen to others, New York City, New England in winter and, most importantly, food and chefs.



No, Christmas In Connecticut does not star Lon Chaney Sr. and include a scene in which he is dramatically unmasked to be revealed both as a hideous monster and a lousy musician who plays the organ in a tragically unhip and most unrhythmic style, but it does, in the velvet glove of a light romantic comedy, take on a few of our greatest fears (will anybody love me and if so, why? can I do anything right? am I, professional success notwithstanding, a failure as a person?).



The matinee idol headliners in this Christmas classic are one of the greatest and most versatile Hollywood stars, Barbara Stanwyck and, as the handsome American soldier, back from World War II and yearning for a delicious home-cooked meal, Dennis Morgan (as opposed to Dennis O'Keefe or Dennis Day - we're spared a hard-boiled Anthony Mann "Christmas noir" as well as a truly odd holiday episode of The Jack Benny Program).



The Christmas season offering offers quite the vehicle for Barbara Stanwyck's formidable talents as a light comedienne. Ms. Stanwyck was on quite the roll at the time this film was made, having starred in the remarkably funny The Lady Eve (written and directed by Preston Sturges) and Ball Of Fire (directed by Howard Hawks, screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett). In both, as well as the earlier 1940 Mitchell Leisen film Remember The Night, she portrays a scheming con artist, shamelessly fleecing a bumbling scion played by Henry Fonda in the former (Fonda: "Snakes are my life." Stanwyck: "What a life") and, as the salacious singer/moll "Sugarpuss O'Shea", attempting to take a band of college professors, led by an uncharacteristically - and not that convincingly - nerdy Gary Cooper, for saps in the latter.



In Christmas In Connecticut, she nails the role of Smart Housekeeping magazine's star columnist, Elizabeth Lane, a very good writer possessing active imagination - and just a touch of the con artist.



As always, Ms. Stanwyck gives a performance with honesty and conviction - and, in an art entirely lost in the present "Too Much Information - no, make that WAY Too Much Information" era, manages to be genuinely sexy every step of the way.



Providing expert support of the two headliners throughout: the usually menacing Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner (The Great Dictator) and a first ballot selection for the Comic Character Actors' Hall Of Fame, the inimitable and roly-poly S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall.



Also among the stalwart supporting players are Una O' Connor, Frank Jenks and ace comedienne/comic actress Joyce Compton, notable for her hilarious my dreams are gone with the wind number in Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth, as well as leading lady turns in short subjects starring McCarey's frequent silent era collaborator and prolific director-writer-comedian for the Hal Roach Studio, Charley Chase.




It's quite a kick to see Greenstreet, bad guy we know and love from The Maltese Falcon and other intrigue-filled tales, in a comedy.



Greenstreet plays a very wealthy, blustery and stubborn publisher-magnate who can be clueless at times - and is quite funny.



The essential premise of Christmas In Connecticut: a quarter century before Betty White played randy Sue Ann, "The Happy Homemaker" on TV's Mary Tyler Moore Show, Barbara Stanwyck's food writer columnist presents a picture of New England domestic bliss that makes the fantasy world hawked by the Martha Stewart Inc. juggernaut of 40+ years later look like the less bucolic milieus of humorist Erma "The Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank" Bombeck and wisecracking standup comedienne Phyllis Diller. Elizabeth Lane presents herself as "America's Best Cook", the ULTIMATE homemaker, whose picturesque columns come straight from her ultra-idyllic Connecticut farm, where she cooks 5 star meals 365 days a year for her fawning husband and cutesy cute baby.

Alas, the column is fiction, ALL fiction. The author lives alone in a NYC apartment and drinks double martinis. There's no adoring hubby, no farm, no gorgeous country home, no vegetable garden, no state of the art kitchen - and no bouncing baby boy or girl. Worse yet, Ms. Lane can't even cook - all of the column's recipes and menus come from friend and nearby restauranteur Chef Felix Bassenak (played with extra paprika by Sakall).



The plot thickens when the publisher of this magazine (young readers: this is a reference to the then enormously popular Good Housekeeping, an institution, especially in the 1940's and 1950's), completely and entirely unaware that Lane's column is 100% fabrication, arranges for a returning war hero to have his first home cooked meal, an unbelievably scrumptious repast courtesy of Happy Homemaker Liz.

The plan does go a tad awry at the last minute, causing all kinds of comic complications. Reginald Gardiner's character, a process-obsessed and detail-oriented architect who simply does not comprehend that when a gal says no to multiple proposals annually several years in a row, that means "give up, you dope", in return for the wholly uninterested Ms. Lane to finally agree to marry him, offers his state-of-the-country home Connecticut farm and even manages to rustle up a baby - then TWO babies - for the ruse. However, when the columnist and war hero Jefferson Jones (who tacitly agreed to marry southern belle Nurse Lee in the opening of the film) become passionately smitten with each other on first meeting. . . hoo-boy!



The key phrase is "let the games begin" and the entire cast, plus Mackooshka The Cow and the local gendarmes, become active participants in putting the kibosh on Lane's marriage to the professionally skilled but utterly deluded architect. For everybody but Gardiner's character, it's a happy ending - and even Greenstreet's "time is money" magnate has a good time of it.

Characterizations are seldom strictly by the book (thanks, screenwriters Lionel Houser, Adele Comandini and Aileen Hamilton). Dennis Morgan's war hero is a cool guy, an artist, singer, pianist, overall sensitive soul and most of all A FOODIE, whose his very first sentence in the movie includes the word "bordelaise". While Elizabeth Lane loves a mink coat and a stiff drink, she is also a generous and good-hearted gal who loaned the money for her pal Felix to launch his successful restaurant. Indeed, the practice of writing characters that an audience can actually sympathize with is yet another lost art.

Of course, everything ends swimmingly and Happy Homemaker Liz and the war hero no doubt (post fade-out) live happily ever after, teaching each other to cook all the while - BABY, and how!



Such tidy scenarios would definitely not be the road Ms. Stanwyck's career or American cinema would take as the 1940's progressed. Through the 1940's and 1950's, she would go on to star in many more classic film noirs, none of which have happy endings or qualify as "foodie flicks", as well as such gritty modern westerns as Samuel Fuller's Forty Guns, before a successful career in television.



Her subsequent films with the director of Christmas In Connecticut, Peter Godfrey, are the substantially darker The Two Mrs. Carrolls and Cry Wolf.





Here's the trailer - and readers note, this holiday classic is finally out on Blu-ray. It's a good double bill with Remember The Night, or, if you're as twisted as this author, Double Indemnity!



SCREEN CREDITS



Christmas In Connecticut: Directed by Peter Godfrey. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner, S. Z. Sakall, Robert Shayne, Una O'Connor.

Again, we extend big time thanks, with a CHEERS and ceremonial clink of Nick & Nora Charles' Glenlivet-filled tumblers, to Fritzi, Aurora and Ruth from Movies Silently, Once Upon A Screen and Silver Screenings for hosting this blogathon, which has posted many fine pieces by top-notch writers - and to Flicker Alley for sponsoring it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Opening Tonight: Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival At Niles



The 18th Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival starts tonight. The event includes a walking tour of Niles, as well as the customary lineup of vintage films shot in and around the area for the Essanay company.



The Essanay productions shall include Broncho Billy westerns and comedies from the Snakeville series starring Harry Todd, Margaret Joslin, Victor Potel and Ben Turpin (who boxes future director Lloyd Bacon in Snakeville’s Champion).



Author and film historian David Kiehn has been the curator and prime mover behind the festival, now in its 18th year.



David arrived in Niles in 1995 to conduct research for a screenplay on the western division of the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company and ended up writing the book on filmmaking at Niles, Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company, as well as discovering the historic "walk down Market Street" footage shot just before the 1906 earthquake.



The three-day event starts with a reception at 5:30 p.m. For more info, see Mary Mallory's article on the festival, posted earlier this week as the June entry of her Hollywood Heights column in the LA Daily Mirror.



Festival passes and tickets are available on the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum website. The festival schedule is here for download.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Classic Movie History Project Blogathon - All Next Weekend



This last week has felt like a roller coaster. This blogger was very happy about the parade and ceremony in Oakland yesterday celebrating the intrepid Golden State Warriors winning their first NBA championship in 40 years, as well as the discovery of missing footage from the 1927 Laurel & Hardy pie-fight epic The Battle Of The Century a few days earlier.



Were also profoundly saddened by the bad news involving the passings of Sir Christopher Lee, Ron Moody, Ornette Coleman and The Firesign Theatre's David "Nick Danger" Ossman (all of whom contributed mightily, prolifically and felicitously to 20th century culture) - and the worst, the sickening news from Charleston. ANY good tidings are much needed and desired.



Since it's June 20, we can start good tidings by listening to the great sounds of two musical geniuses born on this day, symphonic pop maestro Brian Wilson - and we'd be remiss to not say Happy Birthday to Brian - and one of the towering giants of jazz, the guy who could plan ANY kind of music on saxophones, flute and clarinets with warmth, skill and humor, Eric Dolphy (1928-1964).






And. . . one seeking sanctuary can also look forward to next weekend's Classic Movie History Project Blogathon, which will commence starting this Friday.



We are delighted to see that a slew of terrific writers - many from our 20th century blog list - will be contributing to the 2015 Classic Movie History Project Blogathon.



We're also pleased as pomegranates to note that Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog will be among the blogathon's participants, with a review of Christmas In Connecticut, starring one of our all-time favorites, the incredible Barbara Stanwyck.



Without question, Monsieur and Madame Blogmeister, both big fans of co-star S.Z. "Cuddles" Zakall, could be induced to lead a cheering section with rousing choruses of "WE LOVE BABS!"



For putting this blogathon together, a big time tip of the Fred Astaire top hat goes to Movies Silently, Once Upon A Screen and Silver Screenings and sponsor Flicker Alley

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Wonder Of 1950's Technology, #46



And there she is, not Miss America, but the fair Geene Courtney, demonstrating the wonder of 1950's technology, sausages as a fashion accessory, with panache and extra mustard. Ms. Courtney was crowned Sausage Queen during National Hot Dog Week (sponsored by the Zion Meat Company), specifically in the year 1955. Nutritionists be damned - I like her!



And of course, we know what the theme music was when Geene accepted her official Sausage Queen tiara. Couldn't have possibly been Bert Parks singing the Miss America theme, but that's okay - we like this ditty by Perry Como better.



Invariably, this brings to mind a very cheesy TV ad, to this day branded into the minds of baby boomers as a red-hot brand burned cattle - this gem's from 1967 and no less ridiculously unsubtle almost 50 years later.



As is THIS commercial.



For alerting Your Correspondent to the Geene Courtney photo, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog must extend tips of a grand top hat worn by Oliver Hardy (or at least Hilliard Carr) to Paul Malon, Chelsea Nichols from The Museum Of Ridiculously Interesting Things and the Ridiculously Interesting.com website (responsible for an astonishing December 2012 post about Bizarre Beauty Contests) and, lastly, our friend Madeline Burke.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

It's Abbott and Costello Week At Anthony Balducci's Journal



Since posts will be few and far between for awhile, this correspondent shall enthusiastically plug writers he likes and other blogs. Today, the spotlight will be on Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog favorites Bud Abbott and Lou Costello all week at the always incredibly thoroughly researched and detailed blog by author and stage/screen comedy historian Anthony Balducci (Lloyd Hamilton: Poor Boy Comedian Of Silent Cinema, Eighteen Comedians Of Silent Film, The Funny Parts).



The first few installments in the Examining The Origins Of Abbott & Costello's Burlesque Routines series have been posted, with quite a few more to come:



Examining The Origins Of Abbott & Costello's Routines: A Prologue

A Trip Down Floogle Street

Who's On First Part 1

Who's On First Part 2

Who's On First, Part 3




One of my all-time favorite A&C bits is the "loafing" routine from The Abbott And Costello Show, the first season of which was filmed at (drum roll) The Hal Roach Studios.



We'll close today's post with pretty much the only impersonation of A&C this correspondent has seen that works - Eugene Levy and Tony Rosato on Second City Television (a.k.a. SCTV), starting at 1:49.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Attending The 20th San Francisco Silent Film Festival



Not posting much these days; the blog, with occasional exceptions, at this point is largely on hiatus (we shall return to participate in the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon on June 26-28). That said, a big reason for no postings this past week is that the 2015 San Francisco Silent Film Festival started on Thursday night. The 20th annual shindig of silents remains in residence at San Francisco's stunning Castro Theatre all this weekend and finishes with a bang with the big screen epic to end all big screen epics, Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ.



As usual, there is the customary stellar lineup of cool vintage movies to see, as well as lectures and book signings. While this correspondent will, unfortunately, not be seeing anywhere near as much of the splendid selection as he has in past years, there are fine articles out there - Eat Drink Films presents one by Thomas Gladysz, and another by Prof. Karl Cohen of SFSU; a piece about the music score to The Last Laugh by Andrew Gilbert, daily well-written reviews on the Jason Watches Movies blog and the Beyond Chron series about the 20th anniversary festival by Peter Wong, the comprehensive write-up in The L.A. Daily Mirror by author Mary Mallory (Hollywoodland) of the Hollywood Heritage Museum, to name just a few - covering it in detail.



Comedy-centric as this blogmeister is, attending Serge Bromberg's tribute to the way-out and wonderful stop-motion animator/comedian Charley Bowers shall be a must.



Also not to be missed: 100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History, a presentation and lecture by Ron Magliozzi of MoMA New York City detailing the discovery of the 1913 film Lime Kiln Club Field Day, starring the legendary Bahamas-born Broadway and Ziegfeld Follies actor-comedian-vocalist-songwriter-recording artist Bert Williams. This is one of the very few silent films with a cast entirely consisting of African-American actors, and very likely the only time anyone in the cast - Williams included - were presented onscreen in non-stereotypical roles.



The first, the best and the most mindbogglingly knowledgeable of all film historians, author and documentary filmmaker Kevin Brownlow, will introduce Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ as the festival grand finale.



For more info, see the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Happy Memorial Day From Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog - And Bud & Lou!



Today, remembering those who served - and those we miss - we honor Memorial Day with some laughs from Bud Abbott & Lou Costello!