No, your eyes don’t deceive you. We aren’t talking about the 1945 Barbara Stanwyck version of this movie which I absolutely adore! No, we’re talking about the time Arnold Schwarzenegger decided he should remake that movie. There are so many “why’s” and “what were they thinking’s” associated with this movie that I just don’t know what to do. This is on par with any of my Biopic Theater entrants. Let’s take a deep breath and dive into this weird Christmas trainwreck.
Janet Brownell, a veteran of television movies, is credited with the teleplay and borrows little more than the basic outlines of the original story. Elizabeth Blane (Dyan Cannon) is the successful hostess of a prominent cooking show on television who, presumably, has everything, including a family. She’s offered a chance a primetime special that would require her to host park ranger/hero Jefferson Jones (Kris Krisofferson). Elizabeth is interested in the opportunity, but has to admit she lacks a home, a husband, and any other family. Her program manager, Alex (Tony Curtis), though, doesn’t want Elizabeth to worry and proceeds to get everything together to pull off the television special.
I honestly don’t know where to start. Actually, let’s start with what works and that’s Dyan Cannon. Cannon, like Stanwyck before her, has a tenacity and effervescence that’s incredibly fun to watch. The script removes much of Elizabeth Lane’s (I’m REALLY curious why they felt the need to change Elizabeth’s last name to “Blane” in this movie, but Jefferson Jones was fine) motivations from the original film. There she was a struggling writer but had made enough success to buy a mink coat. Here, she’s changed into a weird shopaholic who, despite living in a penthouse in New York, acts like she has money problems. Said money problems apparently come from her obsession with Precious Moments-esque figurines? Pointed jokes about Cannon’s age are also included, which is laughable when she looks at least a decade younger than her male co-stars and yet they aren’t perceived to be drawing Social Security.
The inability to cook is still retained, but the script also removes Elizabeth’s original intentions of just not actively seeking a husband or a family which, in 1945, was really progressive. In this version, Elizabeth is a widow who hasn’t wanted to remarry. This plot transition could have yielded some interesting moments, and Cannon certainly sells the concept of a woman too lovesick to move on from her deceased lover, but the script never goes into detail, content to pack in characters with such big personalities that the whole thing becomes a goulash of insanity.
And make no mistake, this movie is crazy as hell. It’s safe to assume neither Schwarzenegger or Brownell saw the original movie, merely took the plot synopsis off someone who described it to them and made a movie. Kristofferson’s Jefferson Jones is practically a caricature of Schwarzenegger that it’s amazing the Terminator star didn’t just decide to play the part himself. Jones is a park ranger who spends his days working out, chopping wood, and generally reminding you that his cologne is DEFINITELY Eu du Masculinity. He goes out to save a little boy during a snowstorm and is stranded for a week – though a previous scene says 6 hours so time must be wibbledy here – only to come back to his Unabomber cabin being burnt to the ground. Convenient. The only thing that survives: a copy of Elizabeth’s cookbook that was meant to go to this sister. Yes, this Jefferson Jones doesn’t even know Elizabeth Blane, yet is presumed to be a super fan.
I mock Dennis Morgan in the original film a lot. Mostly because he’s only interested in a woman who can cook for him. But what keeps his charm afloat is his love for Elizabeth’s writing. He is a fan, so the humor is derived from her going against the persona she’s invented; this discussion of persona is also what makes the movie so complex for being a 1945 rom-com. Kristofferson is just boring. There’s zero chemistry between he and Cannon. You’ll never believe that a woman like Cannon would give up her career to live in Colorado with this guy. (He is the worst Norman Maine after all!)
The remaining cast is a grab-bag of horrors, ranging from terrible to “Dear God what fresh hell is this?” Tony Curtis takes on the Alexander Yardley role originally played by Sidney Greenstreet, and the only reason to pick Curtis must have been that he was one of the few studio era actors still living. (Dennis Morgan was still alive in 1992, for what it’s worth.) Curtis’ Yardley is the element that’s aged the worst in this movie, and I’m not talking about Curtis himself. His take on Yardley is an HR department’s dream. Not only does he force the special on Elizabeth, he forces himself on Elizabeth, telling her he’s playing her fictional husband (and all that that implies). Watching Curtis try to drag Cannon up to the bedroom against her will is one of the most uncomfortable scenes you’ll watch in a long time.
Kelly Cinnante and Gene Lythgow play Josie and Tyler, Elizabeth’s personal assistant and chef (the S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall role) and her boyfriend, respectively. The movie uses them to give off a feel evocative of popular ’80s and ’90s Christmas movies wherein family comes together to scream at each other. The hijinks are non-stop and at times it just becomes a yelling fest that you could care less about.
I don’t have a pithy close-out for you. All I can say if you absolutely have to watch this version, just enjoy Dyan Cannon. That’s it.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.