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Reviews — Dec. 20

Dec 23, 2013


DVD

“Christmas in Connecticut” is a holiday film that has a lengthy setup – it actually starts in the middle of a naval battle – but then moves into a snappy comedy of errors set in a luxurious Connecticut farmhouse complete with a blanket of snow to complete the picture of Norman Rockwellian American Christmas.

Barbara Stanwyck, as adept at comedy as she was at drama, stars as working-class columnist who has convinced the nation that she’s a Martha Stewart-esque housewife. This deception is put to the test when her publisher (who has been fooled himself) insists that she and her husband (she’s unmarried) host a WWII veteran for Christmas at their idyllic Connecticut farm (she actually lives in a New York apartment). It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that she falls in love as soon as the poor fellow shows up on the front porch.

The film is all Stanwyck’s, as she juggles a series of increasingly elaborate lies (she also pretends to have a child, never mind how) to deceive both her publisher and the soldier. If I were handing out an Oscar for best actress for any of the four films I’ve reviewed since Thanksgiving, she’d get it. It’s a fun romantic comedy, and even exciting in its own way.

“Christmas in Connecticut”(1945) Directed by Peter Godfrey. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner, S.Z. Sakall and Una O’Conner. 102 minutes. Unrated.

 

BOOK

It took me several days to read “Stolen Innocence,” Elissa Wall’s memoir about growing up in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints and being forced by self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs to marry her first cousin when she was 14.

Not that it’s difficult to read: Co-authored by professional writer Lisa Pulitzer, it’s well-written and engaging, even though some passages sound like testimony prepared for court. But in another sense, it’s very difficult to read how Jeffs coerced his followers into doing whatever he told them to do — especially when we now know that many of the faithful continue to blindly follow him, even though he’s now guiding them from inside a prison cell.

The FLDS is an offshoot of the mainstream Latter-day Saints that practices polygamy, with the idea that a man must have multiple wives in order to take his rightful place in the kingdom of heaven. Women, considered little more than property, are expected to produce babies and do whatever the men tell them to do. Marriages are arranged by the prophet, the man whom FLDS members believe speaks with the voice of God.

When Wall was a child, Rulon Jeffs was the prophet and Warren, his 14th son, was principal of Alta Academy, the private school where FLDS children learned theology and not much more. When the aging prophet suffered a stroke, Warren stepped forward to speak for him, effectively taking over the church.

As the years passed, Warren Jeffs became more powerful and more rigid. He broke up families by moving women from one husband to another; he kicked out anyone who questioned him or broke his impossibly strict rules about having no contact with non-FLDS people, watching television or listening to secular music, or wearing clothes other than the old-fashioned outfits he prescribed.

And, invoking the name of God, he began marrying off underage girls, including Wall.

Wall eventually escaped her marriage, which was a nightmare of physical, sexual and mental abuse, and left the FLDS. She also testified against Warren Jeffs, helping to put him into prison.

Her memoir is an important book that offers a unique look into a secretive society.

 “Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs,”by Elissa Wall, 2008, William Morrow

 

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