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Viewer Guide: “Christmas in Connecticut” and “The Pier”

July 27, 2022 | Richard Peña


Christmas in Connecticut (1945).

This week it’s Christmas in July on Reel 13, with the 1945 romantic comedy Christmas in Connecticut, directed by Peter Godfrey. 

Barbara Stanwyck stars as Elizabeth Lane, a food writer whose column in “Smart Housekeeping” magazine has her legion of readers salivating for her next delicious recipe, expertly prepared at her Connecticut farmhouse where she lives in pastoral serenity with her husband and baby.  But in reality, Elizabeth can’t cook, lives alone in a cramped Manhattan apartment, and doesn’t know the first thing about caring for a baby.  For you see, Elizabeth’s happy homemaker persona is entirely a work of fiction, concocted in collaboration with her editor Dudley Beecham, played by Robert Shayne.  And those enticing recipes?  All courtesy of the Elizabeth’s doting friend Felix Bassenak, a Hungarian restauranteur played by the great character actor S.Z. Sakall.  Elizabeth’s charade has everyone fooled, including her publisher Alexander Yardley, played by the always formidable Sydney Greenstreet… until one day   a letter arrives recounting the plight of Jefferson Jones, a shipwrecked war hero played by Dennis Morgan, who survived his ordeal at sea by fantasizing about Elizabeth’s mouth-watering meals.  Knowing a first-rate publicity stunt when he sees one, Yardley orders Elizabeth to host the returning war hero at her fictional Connecticut home for the holidays.  With her career at stake, Elizabeth realizes she somehow has to figure it out—but is there any Christmas miracle that can make a house, a husband and a baby materialize in time? 

Originally planned to star Bette Davis, Christmas in Connecticut provided a relaxing change of pace for Barbara Stanwyck after her demanding performance the year before as the double-crossing femme fatale in Billy Wilder’s film noir classic, Double Indemnity. In keeping with studio boss Jack Warner’s insistence on frugality, keen-eyed film buffs may recognize the set for Elizabeth’s Connecticut house from Bringing Up Baby, and her prized mink coat reappeared later that year on Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. The film’s out-of-holiday season national release on August 11—just four days before V-J Day—proved to be a fortunate choice that caught the wave of postwar jubilation, making the movie a major box office hit.  The film marked the first of three collaborations between Barbara Stanwyck and British director Peter Godfrey, followed by Cry Wolf and The Two Mrs. Carrolls, both in 1947.  In 1992, Arnold Schwarzenegger directed a TV movie remake starring Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson, with Elizabeth’s career updated to a cable TV cooking show.  


The Pier (2013).

This week’s double feature continues with The Pier, a 2011 romantic comedy-drama written and directed by Gerard Hurley. 

Writer-director Gerard Hurley also stars as Jack McCarthy, an itinerant Irish construction worker in the Albany area who receives an urgent call with the alarming news that his father is dying.  Rushing home to southern Ireland, Jack soon discovers his father Larry is nowhere near his death bed; in fact, as portrayed by Karl Johnson, Larry just might be too mean to die, with father and son quickly slipping back into their contentious old relationship.  While Larry admits the emergency call was a ruse to get Jack home, he insists they have important work to do, and presses Jack into service to help him collect on old loans that Larry has made to the hardscrabble community.  Jack finds some temporary consolation in the company of a recently divorced American tourist played by Lili Taylor, but as the prickly reunion with his father continues, it becomes clear that Larry’s “important work” might also have something to do with the tragic death of Jack’s mother so many years before. 

Born in Ireland, The Pier’s writer-director Gerard Hurley has lived in America since the age of 17.  Produced on a modest grant from the Irish Film Board, The Pier provided Hurley with the opportunity to return to his native region in the southwest coast of Cork.  Describing the film as “not autobiographical, but personal,” Hurley was interested in dramatizing the difficulty that fathers and sons often can have in communicating.  The career of veteran Welsh actor Karl Johnson, who co-stars as the cantankerous Larry, dates back to the British children’s series Rainbow in the early 1970s, with early film roles in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee and Wittengenstein.  Johnson’s many roles for film and television include Rome, Lark Rise to Candleford and Dream Horse. 

Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema. 

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