I’m a sucker for Christmas movies, especially the classic ones from the 1930s through the 1950s. Give me Nick Charles swilling martinits and shooting balloons off the Christmas tree in “The Thin Man” or Glenn Miller’s orchestra catching a sleigh ride through “Sun Valley Serenade” and I’m in back in the spirit.
The first is the 1945 charmer, “Christmas in Connecticut,” in which a recently returned war hero (Dennis Morgan) is rewarded for his efforts by getting to spend Christmas with a highly popular food writer (Barbara Stanwyck). The only problem is, she can’t cook.
Obviously, her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) doesn’t know that. Instead, he recites litanies of dishes she’s written about as if he were chanting prayers. And the ecstatic look on his face as he goes over her Christmas menu, “Roast goose brunoise with walnut stuffing, celery soufflé and real old-fashioned plum pudding,” is genuinely funny. But it’s topped by the horror he exhibits when he learned his own Christmas dinner prospects, prescribed by his doctor: “Mashed prune whip, creamed turnip fluff. He expects me to eat these barbaric atrocities! Well, I won’t.”
The food fun goes on from there to include flipping flapjacks and a small confrontation over Irish stew vs. Hungarian goulash, but I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Pour yourself a cup of eggnog and enjoy every savory morsel.
(By the way, the movie was remade by Arnold Schwarzenegger with Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson, but the results felt more like leftovers.)
The other Christmas movie with a smorgasbord of great lines, not to mention some wonderful food shots, is “The Ref,” a 1994 comedy starring Kevin Spacy and Judy Davis as an unhappily married couple and Dennis Leary as the jewel thief who takes them hostage on Christmas Eve.
Leary’s character is hungry, but, for some reason unexplained in the script, everything he tastes, from a Christmas fruitcake to a Scandinavian feast, tastes horrible to him.
He’s not the only one. A drunken Santa is chided by a small child for drinking Champagne instead of milk, which makes Santa mean. “Look, Santa can’t drink any more milk tonight,” he snarls at the startled kid. “Santa has a lactose intolerance. It gives him horrible gas pains. You want to see Santa farting down everyone’s chimney?”
Yes, the dialogue is raw, raunchy and downright hilarious, but not even Santa Claus getting knocked unconscious can keep the Christmas spirit from triumphing in the end.
And that’s what a great Christmas movie is about. That and maybe some of what they dine on in “The Ref”: “Roast suckling pig, fresh baked kringlors with a honey pecan dipping sauce, 7-day-old lutefisk and lamb gookins …”