Film Noir Series: Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Christmas in Connecticut is the exceptional film in this course on film noir, a buoyant and chipper Hollywood film from 1945 that provides a striking counterpoint to Double Indemnity, the subject of my last entry. Though both share the considerable talents of actress Barbara Stanwyck and costume designer Edith Head, the two are otherwise a study in contrast. Where Christmas in Connecticut’s low-stakes romantic comedy plays out under baking high-key studio lights, Billy Wilder’s noir picture masks its sets, characters, and situations in darkness. As is the norm in the classical Hollywood film, the camera, sets, and script are calibrated to give the audience a firm sense of time and place. Events follow in an orderly sequence toward a conclusion the audience can sense far ahead of the conclusion. Characters telegraph their emotions and relationships through facial expressions and costuming. To digress slightly on the latter, I noted that one of Stanwyck’s costumes in Christmas in Connecticut was an otherwise plain-looking dress that featured a chain-link feature that wrapped around her shoulders–an elegant visual touch displaying much more subtlety than the rest of the film.
Both Double Indemnity and Christmas in Connecticut have the air of predetermination about them, though this is expressed in different ways. Whereas the former uses Neff’s confession to cast a pall of doom on the proceedings, with the additional benefit of providing the audience an admittedly unreliable anchor in the midst of all the deception, the latter’s plot gracefully guides people into preset roles. The characters are portrayed optimistically, making choices of their own free will, accepting and dealing with the consequences of those actions, and eventually finding resolution in the most conventional of ways. Mistakes and even deliberate deceptions are excused by the film’s fundamental faith in their human decency, which looks almost laughably sterile in comparison to the foul, caked-on depravity that coats every shot in Double Indemnity.
On one final note, I find that characters’ relationships to their professions and careers are quite different in each of the films, and those professions themselves tend to lend themselves ot the theme. While Christmas in Connecticut has much more in common with practical postwar prefabricated architecture and treacly lifestyle magazine stories than Double Indemnity. Sleazy and ethically grey insurance men make for far more respectable denizens of the claustrophobic, “accident”-prone world of noir than contended bourgeois careerists. It is worth noting, in passing, that Barbara Stanwyck seemed to be somewhat typecast as women with voracious tastes in consumer goods.