Christmas in July (1940)
March 22, 2021 9:57 PM - Subscribe
The city is breathless waiting for the results of the Maxford House Coffee Slogan Contest; first prize: a staggering $25,000. Jimmy MacDonalad, a $20/week clerk and serial slogan contest entrant, thinks he's got it locked in this time with his entry -- If you can't sleep, it's not the coffee, it's the bunk! (It's a pun, you see.) With the prize money he and his girl Betty can finally get married. Who knows what wackiness might ensue if some of the fellas forged a fake telegram telling him he'd won? Written and directed by Preston Sturges.
It may have been Shrove Tuesday in November for some folks yesterday, but it was "Christmas in July" for those who caught the new picture at the Rivoli. And a joyous occasion it was, too. For this trick and wrily titled film, which is another of those one-man creations by Preston Sturges for Paramount, is just about as cunning and carefree a comedy as any one could possibly preordain—the perfect restorative, in fact, for battered humors and jangled nerves. As a post-election jog to national sanity, we recommend "Christmas in July." Maybe you already know Mr. Sturges from "The Great McGinty" and "Remember the Night." If so, you are aware how he can take a thin idea—a trite idea, even—and elaborate upon it with such fresh and eliptical fun that it suddenly seems important. Thus, when we tell you that his hero in the present instance is a $20-a-week clerk who hopes to win a slogan contest paying $25,000, that the whole story has to do with nothing more than the things he does when he is deluded into thinking he has won it, then you'll appreciate the wonder of the Sturges sleight-of-hand. Out of such gossamer, really, he weaves a delightful comic fabric before your eyes. How does he do it? Well, through the creation of solid comic characters, for one. His hero—and inevitable heroine—are just nice, honest youngsters, that's all. They want a break, so they can get married. But against them are arrayed such a scatter-brained lot of practical jokers, business tycoons and slightly off-center store clerks that the attainment of the break becomes a gantlet. Then Mr. Sturges contrives some wholly bewitching surprises. Details are worked out with elaborate ingenuity. Things pop when you least expect them. He keeps you laughing with, not at, his youngsters. And his performers are directed to perfection. Dick Powell and Ellen Drew, neither of whom has ever been especially notable for dexterity, emerge as a couple of nimble and captivating babes in a madcap wood. Raymond Walburn plays a big coffee merchant as though he were almost ripe for the nut-house. Almost, but not quite—that's the secret. And ever so many other characters are given subtly distorted shape by Ernest Truex, Alexander Carr, Julius Tannen and—well, the rest of the cast. As a creator of rich and human comedy Mr. Sturges is closing fast on the heels of Frank Capra. If you wish a really good way to spend some election winnings, we suggest that you take your friends—especially the loser—to see "Christmas in July."Currently streaming on the Criterion channel.
-- Bosley Crowther, NYT, 1940, best read aloud in old timey news voice.