Barbara Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a gal who writes a column for a magazine extolling the virtues of a traditional home in the country and who provides recipes and babbles about her family. The funny part (not ha-ha funny of course) is that she lives in the city, has a Hungarian chef named Felix do all the cooking, and doesn’t have a family beyond the stuffy architect suitor (John) she loathes. Her editor knows all this, but her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) doesn’t and would fire her in a minute if he ever found out.
The movie begins with two sailors on a raft with little food. If you threw a priest and a hooker in there with them, you’d have the makings of a pretty good joke, but as it is, this is merely all set up for Liz’s big Christmas problem.
The set up goes like this: rescued sailor pretends to love nurse so he can get good food at the hospital, nurse falls for sailor and wants to marry him, sailor whines that he’s leery of that because he never had a real home so the nurse writes to Liz’s publisher asking for sailor to get a real home cooked dinner at Christmas in hopes that this will somehow trick him into marrying her.
The publisher tells Liz that she’ll be hosting this sailor at her idyllic country home and cooking him dinner. Liz spazs out because she doesn’t know how she’s going to pull this off and she just bought a mink coat!
A ridiculous beginning to be sure, but at least it had the kind of frantic energy these types of movies require to be successful.
Any energy the film had completely evaporated though once all the plot had been explained and all that remained was for the characters to be put be through their paces.
Nothing particularly exciting or unexpected occurred once we received our screwball marching orders and everything was so subdued that the scene with the most tension was when Liz had to flip a flapjack in front of everyone as if that would either prove or disprove her domestic goddess status.
So how does Liz decide to trick her way out of this one? (Because we all know that in these types of movies, simply saying “sorry, I’m out of town” or “no” is never an option when presented with situations that could blow up in your face.)
The boring architect that keeps harassing Liz to marry him just happens to have a country home in Connecticut that is precisely the type of place that she would need to host this sailor.
Now, I was never sure exactly why Liz and this guy John hung around together since she pretty much tells his snooty ass to get lost and her real pal Felix the chef didn’t like him, but I was even less sure why this whole scheme demanded that she marry this guy on Christmas Eve!
But what of the sailor? As you have surely guessed by now, he’s be one of those hunky sailors who can play the piano and sing and is a natural with babies and who doesn’t talk about plumbing all the time. You know, since that’s everything John is not.
His and Liz’s courtship is rather boring even though it plays out over just two days (Christmas Eve and Christmas) and the “highlight” involves them accidentally stealing a sleigh and getting tossed into jail.
Of course, they’re promptly released and laugh about it and get home the same day, so it wasn’t really worth mentioning except that in the meantime Liz’s baby was kidnapped! Except that that was all a mistake because it was really just the publisher seeing the kid’s real mother coming to pick her up after her shift down at the factory.
The supporting cast doesn’t do Stanwyck any favors in this one either. You’ve got the sailor played by some guy we never heard of or even recognize, but that’s okay because his role doesn’t call for him to have a personality beyond “great guy” and that’s exactly what he brings to the role.
Sydney Greenstreet’s menacing presence and voice as the publisher are used merely to bellow whenever he wanders into scenes and anytime he and John have a scene together things just sort of die.
The only character that comes close to fulfilling his wacky potential is Felix, the guy who can really cook.
Felix is one of those screwball characters with an accent. Guys with accents are frequently used in these farces because people who talk funny are one of the great shortcuts in comedy.
Of course, when you’re doling out all the good lines to Felix, you should probably have his accent not be so thick that I miss half of what he’s saying. And he’s wasted messing around with a judge who keeps coming by to marry John and Liz.
The movie doesn’t even manage to rouse itself for the finale when Liz’s publisher discovers her deception. There isn’t any buildup to him finding out, not much fallout (oh, he fires her, but Felix tricks him into doubling her salary), and we couldn’t care less if John finally figured out that Liz loves the sailor what with her hating John all along anyhow.
Then, like a kick in the head, that stupid nurse that started it all appears! But that was pointless because she eventually announces that she’s married to the other sailor who was on the raft!
The last third of this thing lurched here and there like a stolen sleigh being driven over Sydney Greenstreet. Keep the receipt for this one, because it’s headed back to the return line on the 26th.
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