Case Number 05864: Small Claims Court


Warner Bros. // 1992 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // December 24th, 2004

The Charge

She's hungry for ratings. He's hungry for dinner!

The Case

Dyan Cannon stars as Elizabeth Blane, a television cooking show host with a lovely Connecticut home, an adorable family, and two grandkids to fuss over. Her husband is fond of fresh mint to garnish his potatoes, and he grows it in their backyard. She has her own smokehouse that her son-in-law built her for making turkey, but she also knows ways that you can get a similar effect in your own home. America adores her -- and the several books she has written on the fine art of cooking.

The trouble is, none of this really exists. Elizabeth can't cook toast without burning it, and she's a widow living alone in a posh New York penthouse apartment. She has no children to visit her, and there is no home in Connecticut. She hasn't remarried since losing her beloved husband, but she has a terrific assistant who does all her cooking for her and makes her look good, while she makes the fantasy of the perfect life in Connecticut look good for the audience.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, when park ranger Jefferson Jones (Kris Kristofferson) risks his life to save a child that wandered into a snowstorm -- leaving a fire that eventually burns his cabin down when he becomes stuck for six days in the wilderness -- he gains national attention as a hero. The only possession left from the fire is an Elizabeth Blane cookbook that his sister gave him for his birthday, but which he cares nothing about. However, when producer Alexander Yardley (Tony Curtis) sees the news coverage and figures Jones is a big fan, this gives him an idea: Bring the hero on the show, make it a holiday special, and do it live in the Connecticut home with the entire family! It'll be a ratings blockbuster!

Jones agrees, mostly for the 25 large the show is paying him for his appearance, which he has earmarked for rebuilding his cabin. Blane agrees, mostly for the increased ratings and money (she has a penchant for expensive curios). Blane convinces Prescott (Richard Roundtree), the head of the network, and they are off and running. Now, to hire the family and dress a house in Connecticut. Blane's assistant Josie agrees to play the role of daughter, and Josie's husband Tyler grudgingly agrees to be the son-in-law, even though it is keeping him from an important acting audition. Yardley, of course, is more than anxious to play the role of husband, as he has an obvious thing for Elizabeth, who does not return his feelings in the least. They rent a couple of kids from a local couple, and the stage is set.

You can pretty much guess the rest: Jones arrives a few days early to get to know the family (who all have to maintain the ruse in front of him), and he and Elizabeth hit it off right away. There are several "falling in love" montages, in which we see the two of them playfully falling in the snow while trying to chop down a Christmas tree, throwing snowballs with the family, square dancing with forced glee after sneaking away from a pre-production rehearsal, and so on. We know these are montages about falling in love because the same "montage theme" music plays for each one, and the two lovebirds are really, really happy. There is some mumbling about how there is a husband back at home who might be curious to know that someone is rolling around in the snow with his wife, but since we, the audience, know that she's not actually cheating, it's okay, right?

As holiday entertainment goes, this made-for-TV comedy isn't bad -- there are some genuine laughs, and Tony Curtis turns in a great comic performance as a ratings-hungry producer who is obsessed with the details of maintaining this cooking goddess fantasy -- but the problem is that there is just too much mediocrity for this movie to really be good, either.

Part of it is the abundance of cliché. The montages just scratch the surface; there must be other ways to depict two people falling in love. Although Cannon and Kristofferson manage to show some chemistry between them, this usually happens only in the quieter moments, when the two actors can look into each other's eyes or share those flirty "What is he thinking?" smiles with each other. The more blatant scenes, such as his helping her onto a ladder and checking out her ass, seem contrived and boring.

The other mediocre part has to do with the sound and picture quality. Sound quality is alternately tinny and muddy, and noticeably center-channeled. It doesn't sound much better than the mono French soundtrack that is also offered on this DVD. This may be due to poor ADR, but sound levels stay at a near constant no matter what the scene is...people sound exactly the same when they are talking through glass, on a studio set, outside in the cold, or in the living room. A similar problem exists with the image quality, which goes from being merely soft and somewhat out of focus to being actively grainy and dark at certain points. While the colors do come across very well, with some rich tones and a bright palette, this is hardly helped by the uniform lighting. Like the strangely even sound mix, the lighting is almost identical in every shot -- the studio kitchen is lit as brightly as the living room of the "real" house or the log cabin Jones lives in. When mood lighting is attempted in one of the later scenes, it seems to just make the room look darker. Finally, the principal actors are wearing so much makeup that their skin doesn't reflect any light, making them look matte and oddly smooth. All of these factors have an impact on the overall feel of the movie by failing to make any of it seem cozy or homey, which is supposed to be a big part of the whole "Christmas in a lovely Connecticut home" fantasy. The best way to sum it up is to say that it is "blandly competent" -- the image isn't so dirty or over-lit that your eyes are watering, but it doesn't create the proper atmosphere or mood, either.

On the bright side, the fake family provides some nice laughs. I like the scene where grandson Kevin (Jimmy Workman, Pugsley from The Addams Family) offers, for an extra fifty bucks, to pretend to have a nightmare and ask to sleep in Elizabeth's bed so Yardley will keep his groping hands off her. The son-in-law with acting aspirations has to stay in character for the part of a serial killer, so he's constantly threatening family members -- they know what he's doing and shrug it off, but Yardley doesn't know, and his reactions are funny. Curtis himself is excellent as a stressed-out control freak who wants to make a name for himself with the cooking show...and wants Elizabeth all to himself, as well. In a scene where he's trying to comfort Josie, who is afraid that Tyler will leave her over having to go to Connecticut instead of his acting audition, he turns the conversation around so that it's all about his ability to fulfill a woman's needs and his doubts about whether Jones would be suitable for Elizabeth. Then he sweetly turns back to her and says, perfectly sincerely, "Go blonde, and dump Tyler. C'mon -- give me a smile!" Even Kristofferson dabbles in a little physical comedy, as he tries to impress Elizabeth by making a pot of coffee and the maker starts spewing coffee everywhere, forcing him to clean it up before she can see it.

Other than two trailers, one for the original 1945 movie with Barbara Stanwyck and one for this feature, there are no extras on this DVD. Since this is the only feature film directing effort by Arnold Schwarzenegger, it would seem appropriate for there to be some commentary or at least a featurette. Even some liner notes comparing the two versions of the film would have been welcome, but we don't even get actor filmographies. For the record, the original story involved a popular food columnist, a writer for a magazine whose owner does not know she is faking her abilities. When he insists that she host a navy hero at her farm for Christmas, she has to scramble to put together a believable family and home life, or jeopardize her career.

My guess is that this movie will appeal mostly to families who would enjoy some family-oriented holiday entertainment. If you aren't particular about stage lighting and don't mind a little softness in your image, this can be a fun, lightly romantic picture that is appropriate for all ages. This is also one of Tony Curtis's better performances in his later years, where he is allowed to indulge the manic physical comedy that makes his performances so enjoyable. Fans of Dyan Cannon and a softer version of Kris Kristofferson will dig this feature, as well. Just don't expect award-winning dialogue -- "When I saw this beautiful tree, it reminded me of you" is hardly the compliment most women are looking for, after all.

Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)

* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb