Christmas in July (1940): Preston Sturges Screwball Comedy

Between 1940 and 1947, the very prodigious and prolific Preston Sturges made a succession of sophisticated screwball comedies, featuring the best players in the industry.

His first effort as a director, after writing screenplays for almost a decade, was “Christmas in July,” a modest, sweet, and short comedy (only one hour a long).  Dick Powell plays Jimmy MacDonald, an office clerk dreaming of better things, while Ellen Drew is his more pragmatic girlfriend, Betty Casey

MacDonald convinces himself that his fortune will be made if he can win a slogan contest sponsored by a coffee company. His contribution: “If you can’t sleep at night, it isn’t the coffee, it’s the bunk!”

Three of MacDonald’s fellow workers decide to have some fun with him. They fake a telegram which announces that he has won the contest. The deception snowballs to the point that even the head of the coffee firm (Raymond Walburn) labors under the misapprehension that Powell has won.

When the painful truth is revealed, MacDonald finds himself broke and jobless, as he went on a spending spree, before realizing it was a practical joke.  But at least he has retained the love of his wife.

William Demarest, a regular presence in all of Sturges’ films, is cast as Mr. Bildocker, as the foreman of the “jury” that’s judging the slogan contest.  Also shining are Franklin Pangborn as a prissy radio announcer, Raymond Walburn as the dyspeptic Maxford, and Frank Morgan as a boisterous policeman.

At the time, though hilariously funny, the comedy was underrated, perhaps due to its short running time and presumably frivolous nature.  Nonetheless, “Christmas in July” reveals Sturges as a witty director with penchant for dizzying dialogue, frantic pace, and a unique ability to combine elements of farce, slapstick and pathos, resulting in a charming comedy full of funny wisecracks, puns, and double-entendres.

Credits:

Running time: 67 Minutes.

Directed and written by Preston Sturges.