|Christmas in July (1940)
Run time: Passed | 67 min | Comedy, Romance
Director: Preston Sturges
Writers: Preston Sturges
Stars: Dick Powell, Ellen Drew, Raymond Walburn
A workplace practical joke goes awry when an office clerk (Powell), believing he has won a $25,000. prize, takes his girlfriend on an extravagant Christmas shopping spree–in the middle of July! A classic gift of laughter that is perfect for every season.
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Not as well known as "The Lady Eve" or "The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek," "Christmas in July" was an unusual film for the writer-director Preston Sturges: it’s more wistful, less frenetic. Though it’s filled with a myriad of those wonderful character actors that Sturges loved to use to fill the frame (including Franklin Pangborn and William Demarest), it’s touching in its regard for the struggling young couple (played by Dick Powell and Ellen Drew) who get swept up in the idea of winning a slogan contest ("If you can’t sleep, it’s not the coffee, it’s the bunk!"). The romantic mood seems to be set in the Depression era, reminiscent of the scripts that Sturges wrote for those Depression comedies "The Good Fairy" and "Easy Living": innocents get swept up in mistaken identities and come out winners anyway. Maybe it’s not as manic as his classic romantic comedies, but it has its share of hilarious moments and it’s full of charm.
Could this be one of Preston Sturges’s most profound comedies?
In addition to being one of the funniest and most underappreciated. In "Sullivan’s Travels," Preston Sturges has the
Joel McCrea character speak admiringly of fellow director Frank
Capra. In "Christmas in July" possibly Sturges was trying to teach
Capra how to handle sentiment without falling into sentimentality —
the scene where Dick Powell is handing out presents to his
neighbors, and he gives a doll to a crippled girl in a wheelchair —
a remarkably tender moment in the midst of a hectic scene — done
with just the right touch, One of my favorite lines occurs when
bug-eyed Raymond Walburn sarcastically tells contest-winner
Powell, "I can’t wait to give you my money!" Sturges also shows
that you can have plot complications without resorting to villains —
no Capraesque class warfare here — rich and poor are equally
lovable — even gruff William Demarest.
This may be my favorite Preston Sturges film. It’s as well written and well crafted as anything he made after it. Sturges had a knack for creating unique characters and throwing them into even more unique situations.
Jimmy MacDonald is absolutely determined to make money the easy way; by winning a contest. A few of his coworkers, aware of his desperation to win an upcoming contest, decide to send him a telegram in order to make him believe he’s won the recent contest, along with the enormous cash reward. What begins as a cruel little joke (to find out how Jimmy would react to winning) becomes something much bigger. It wouldn’t make sense for me to explain the plot any further; much of the enjoyment in watching the film comes from how it unpredictably unfolds.
"Christmas in July" is rather unusual in comparison to some of Sturges other movies, namely his two most famous films, "The Lady Eve" and "The Palm Beach Story". It contains more pathos and less sexual innuendos, but it never becomes cheap, manipulative melodrama. It’s also quite short in comparison to his other movies, but it’s all the better for it.
On the surface this effort from the brilliant Preston Sturges looks like a standard sugar coated feel good movie, but strip away the outer skin and you get a delightful collage of comedy, romance, satire, drama, and nudge nudge observations about hunger of wealth and all the spin offs that wealth creates.
I don't deem it unfair to state that the films core plot of frivolity may not be to everyones taste, but to me personally it ticks all the boxes for a joyride with more at its heart. The pace of the film is more in keeping with screwball comedies of the great era, but that is not to say that the film doesn't shift down a gear for poignant reflection, because it does , but ultimately the film is full of hilarity from many quarters, that is acted out accordingly from a sparky cast, and of course directed by a deity .
A joyous winner that prods you in the ribs and gives a cheeky wink along the way 9/10.