Tag Archives: Barbara Stanwyck

Greatest Films of Christmas #11 Christmas in Connecticut

Another great Barbara Stanwyck film. And like Meet John Doe it’s based on a newspaper woman who writes a phony column. In this case Stanwyck is Elizabeth Lane where she writes a weekly column, Smart Housekeeping, about good housekeeping based on her Connecticut farm life, child-rearing based on her experience with raising her newborn, and quality cooking based on the meals she lays out for her husband every night. Only one problem to this. She lives in a New York City high-rise; she hates farms, has no husband or child, and couldn’t cook to save her life. Other than those little things it’s a great column.

But enter a problem. The paper has just been bought out by millionaire Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet in what may be the only likable character he ever played) and Yardley has his own problem. He has been asked by a nurse to give a Navy sailor in her care a Christmas dinner experience with his favorite food columnist Elizabeth Lane. Given that this is in the middle of WWII and patriotism is at its highest, and this particular sailor nearly died after spending weeks at sea without any food (hence his love of a food column). Lane and her editor who have always had an agreement about the false nature of her column are at a loss…they can fess up that there is no home in Connecticut and get fired or…or…or….Lane can take up the marriage offer of a friend who has been asking for years, and who just so happens to have a farm in Connecticut…and they’ll bring along her friend Felix (the man who has written all the recipes for her column) so that they can cover up the fact that she can’t cook. Oh and they get a baby for the day—don’t ask—to make the charade complete.
It should come as no shock that this is a romantic comedy. It’s not particularly deep but it wonderfully tugs at the heart strings.
I can’t exactly say that beyond love it has much to actually do with any theme of Christmas….but I love this movie too much to care.

I also love this as it shows a kind-hearted rich person (and it just feels strange to see Sidney Greenstreet as someone who is jolly and friendly and not sleazy in the least). Greenstreet’s Yardley is jovial and lovable and friendly and caring. Just as I’m sure many of the 1% are.
It’s not a deep movie, but it’s a fun one and I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.

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The Best Films of Christmas #13 Meet John Doe

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“Why can’t that spirit, that warm Christmas spirit, last all year long?”

It’s kind of a Christmas film, it talks about Christmas a lot…it’s more an anti-fascist film (which in 1940—and 2011—is a relevant issue)…although I’m not a fan of Capra’s preference for socialism, not that there is any difference between the two systems other than PR (Capra’s understanding of politics was infantile at best, but after all I’m talk about a man who adds a scene into Lost Horizon that praises pacifism and appeasement as the only way for society to move forward…which for a movie made in 1937 comes off as first rate thinking…I wonder how that policy would have turned out if put into practice?)

After being fired from her job at a paper Barbara Stanwyck writes a fake letter about someone so upset with the state of the world during the depression that he will jump off city hall at Christmas in protest, signed John Doe…just when printed it will embarrass the idiot who didn’t check before publishing.  But rather than embarrassing them, it generates a massive amount of interest…so much that the paper has to hire Stanwyck back to make sure she keeps her mouth shut…and the paper decides to hire a man to pretend to be John Doe.  Enter Gary Cooper.

Now the paper that is running this story is led by a wealthy businessman who Capra has an American stand-in for Hitler/Tojo/Mussolini/ Franco.  And as they publish Gary Cooper’s picture they publish it next to an article protesting the sorry state of the world.  Capra is clever enough to put it with sometimes valid complaints but he chooses the same complaints that Hitler and Goebbels used to gain populist support in Germany:

Against businesses owning politicians, against entitlement programs not providing enough, against there not being enough free health care to the poor, that the rich had too much, that they’re not paying their fair share (I know Capra chose this list of complaints because it’s what the Nazi’s used…but it sounds very familiar, I just can’t place it, I’ll have to let it Occupy my thought for a while and maybe I’ll realize where I’ve heard this list before) until mobs of people join in protest.  Anyway let’s leave the politics behind because they quickly become a secondary theme.

In trying to get away from the pessimism of the initial campaign Stanwyck writes a speech for Cooper that deals with the positive in life.  And when drafts that rely on meaningless platitudes don’t work (although in reality just uttering meaningless phrases tends to work for a while)she decides to write a speech about caring for each other and helping each other and seeing the best in ourselves and others…and uses as its key point that this behavior is evident at Christmas.

(Notice how there is no mention of government in this speech).

The movie continues with Cooper’s character realizing he is being used for something evil.  He ends up feeling that the only way to prove that the words he said in that speech were true is by fulfilling the original John Doe letter by jumping off the building.  At the last minute he is talked out of it by Stanwyck telling him that he can recover his faith and credibility:

Please don’t give up. We’ll start all over again. Just you and I. It isn’t too late. The John Doe movement isn’t dead yet. You see, John, it isn’t dead or they wouldn’t be here. It’s alive in them. They kept it alive by being afraid. That’s why they came up here. Oh, darling!… We can start clean now. Just you and I. It’ll grow John, and it’ll grow big because it’ll be honest this time. Oh, John, if it’s worth dying for, it’s worth living for. Oh please, John… You wanna be honest, don’t ya? Well, you don’t have to die to keep the John Doe ideal alive. Someone already died for that once. The first John Doe. And he’s kept that ideal alive for nearly 2,000 years. It was He who kept it alive in them. And He’ll go on keeping it alive for ever and always – for every John Doe movement these men kill, a new one will be born. That’s why those bells are ringing, John. They’re calling to us, not to give up but to keep on fighting, to keep on pitching. Oh, don’t you see darling? This is no time to give up.

Honestly this movie has a lot more flaws than most on this list (the heavy handed politics borders on farce at times, but I’ll admit Capra had an enemy to deal with where subtlety was not called for).   But if you ignore those weaker aspects of the movie and focus on Stanwyck and Cooper it is a very moving and powerful tale.

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Best Films of Christmas #15 Remember the Night

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In the word of screenwriter Preston Sturges, “Love reformed her and corrupted him.”

Remember the Night is an often forgotten Christmas film, which is a shame as movies with Barbara Stanwyck are always great (in fact this is the first of three on the list).

Now since I’m going to bet no one knows the plotline to this film (as opposed to just about all the other films on this list which we know almost by heart) I’m going to reveal some spoilers.  The movie follows Stanwyck’s character Lee Leander, a thief who is caught stealing an expensive diamond necklace only a few days before Christmas.  Enter Fred MacMurray’s character John Sargent, New York City Assistant D.A.   Knowing that a jury won’t convict her only a couple of days before Christmas he gets the trial postponed until after the New Year so that he can get a conviction.  While clever he is not heartless and asks the local (and rather shifty) bail bondsman to bail her out so that she can be out of prison.  Said bail bondsman, thinking that Sargent has more lascivious reasons than just Christmas charity, brings her to Sargent’s apartment after baling her out.  Sargent, who is just desperate to just leave for his mother’s home in Ohio, convinces Lee that he has no intention of taking advantage of her, but he decides she deserves a good meal before he leaves.  At dinner he finds out that she has no where to stay other than prison…except her mother’s in Ohio.  By now you can see the trip to Ohio they will both take, how her mother doesn’t want to have anything do with her and how our beautiful thief ends up spending Christmas with her prosecutor and his family.  Each step in this story is motivated by Sargent’s desire to show a good and charitable Christmas spirit (except for that desire to convict her).

It should come as the exact opposite of a surprise that it just happened one night that these two fall in love.

Besides the obvious fact that this movie takes place at Christmas, it is a Christmas film because it is about seeing the best in everyone, about forgiveness and about redemption.  In this film everyone behaves in a way that is directed to show the best within us and that no one is beyond hope.

(Am I the only one who feels that as movies have gotten worse over the decades, trailers have gotten consistently better?)
(And my conservative beliefs are soothed by the fact that the only truly vicious people are shown to be government agents who wished to nickel and dime people with unjust regulations and a low class welfare recipient.)

I’m not going to say this is the most original story of all time (although it being made in 1940 does kind of make it more original than it may seem).

All in all a great Chirstmas film.

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