This web site’s co-sponsorship of the movie Christmas in Connecticut (1945) at the Michigan Theater on November 29, 2009 was the climax of a week of quality moviegoing at the Michigan that helped justify my investment in the theater.
Leading up to Christmas in Connecticut was a showing of the musical drama West Side Story (1961), one of my very favorite movies to see on a big screen (which I’ll be able to do again at the Redford Theatre in January). I also enjoyed Carey Mulligan’s breakout, star-making performance in An Education, as well as the tender, nuanced Japanese film Still Walking (which I first saw earlier this year at the Detroit Film Theatre).
The co-sponsorship of Christmas in Connecticut included a display that I set up in the Grand Foyer of the Michigan on November 23. This display included publicity for the Detroit Film Theatre, Michigan Theater, and Redford Theatre. It also had a posterboard display of newspaper advertisements of Christmas movies from the 1940s.
I had great fun researching the movies that I included in this display, which included Christmas in Connecticut and three other movies that the Michigan is showing in December—The Shop Around the Corner (1940), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), and Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Also included were Holiday Inn (1942), Meet Me in St. Louis (1945), The Bishop’s Wife (1948), and Holiday Affair (1949).
Most of the movies made their Ann Arbor debut at the Michigan, showing how the theater had established itself as the main place to see a movie in the city after opening in 1928. One interesting exception was It’s a Wonderful Life, which opened at the State, while the Michigan showed the MGM all-star musical Till the Clouds Roll By.
Also intriguing was the non-Christmas way that many of these movies were publicized, on release dates that were far away from December 25. For example, The Bishop’s Wife (starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven) was released in Detroit in May 1948 and in Ann Arbor in July 1948. It was promoted as a romantic comedy with the tagline “Have YOU heard about CARY and The Bishop’s Wife?” Miracle on 34th Street arrived in Detroit in August 1947 and in Ann Arbor in October 1947.
Because of all the newspaper research that I had done for Christmas in Connecticut, when the film started I felt like I was back in 1945, watching the movie at the Michigan after reading about it in ads and articles in the Ann Arbor News. World War II had just ended, the Detroit Tigers had just beaten the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, and here was this new Christmas movie at the Michigan, with Barbara Stanwyck, who was really good last year in that crime drama, Double Indemnity.
Many thought that Stanwyck should have won an Oscar for her very unsympathetic role in Double Indemnity, which she followed up with a completely different image in Christmas in Connecticut. It was a joy to watch Stanwyck at the top of her craft—her timing, the modulation of her voice, the unique way she would lower her head to make a point, her assertive presence as she walked across the screen, and, maybe most of all, that small, expressive smile and those sharp, friendly eyes.
Christmas in Connecticut has become a lesser known holiday classic, behind more famous films like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. However, it opened to mixed reviews in 1945, with Detroit News movie reviewer Al Weitschat writing, “Any resemblance to reality is strictly accidental in this feathery fiction dreamed up by scenario writers at the Warner Brothers studio. It’s one of those concoctions born of the premise that anything goes for a laugh.” It didn’t help that Christmas in Connecticut opened up in Detroit against the much better-reviewed Wonder Man (with Danny Kaye).
But 64 years later, it’s easy to appreciate the witty script, with its endless string of one-liners for Stanwyck, co-star Dennis Morgan, and a sterling cast of supporting players who included S. Z. (Cuddles) Sakall, Sydney Greenstreet, Una O’Connor, and Reginald Gardiner. They really don’t make them like this anymore—another reason for its appeal.
I felt very happy listening to the large Michigan crowd laughing at this movie, knowing that I had helped make it possible for them. It felt like a Christmas gift to my fellow Michigan patrons. And after the movie, it was a pleasure to see people milling around the display, picking up publicity for the Detroit Film Theatre, Michigan Theater, and Redford Theatre.
All in all, to borrow a memorable phrase from Christmas in Connecticut, it was a very “hunky dunky” day.
Copyright © 2009 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.