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CHRISTMAS IN JULY (director/writer: Preston Sturges; cinematographer: Victor Milner; editor: Ellsworth Hoagland; music: Sigmund Krumgold; cast: Dick Powell (Jimmy MacDonald), Ellen Drew (Betty Casey), Raymond Walburn (Mr. Maxford), Alexander Carr (Schindel), William Demarest (Bildocker), Ernest Truex (Mr. Baxter), Franklin Pangborn (The Announcer), Harry Hayden (Mr. Waterbury), Rod Cameron (Dick), Harry Rosenthal (Harry), Michael Morris (Tom), Georgia Caine (Mrs. MacDonald), Byron Foulger (Mr. Jenkins); Runtime: 67; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Preston Sturges; Paramount; 1940)
“filled with clever zingers on the American Dream.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer-director Preston Sturges (“The Great McGinty”) second feature is an hilarious slapstick satire on capitalism and the American success story. Sturges’s stock company plays the loony scenario to perfection. It has the ambitious but low-paid young office clerk at the Baxter Coffee Company in New York City, Jimmy MacDonald (Dick Powell), dreaming he can win the advertising contests he regularly enters and getting enough money to give his poor widowed mom (Georgia Caine) all the house furnishings she can’t afford, marry his sweet fiancée Betty Casey (Ellen Drew) and move out of his tenement in the crowded East Side slum. A radio show offers a prize of $25,000 for a slogan for Maxford Coffee, a rival of the company he works for, and plans to announce the winner on their radio show that night. Jimmy sits on the rooftop of his tenement and tries to convince Betty that his slogan, really a pun, “If you can’t sleep, it isn’t the coffee; it’s the bunk,” is clever enough to win.

Bildocker (William Demarest), the foreman of the jury picking the winner, informs the coffee owner Maxford (Raymond Walburn) that they can’t decide who won and the radio announcer (Franklin Pangborn) ends the show without announcing a winner. The next morning Jimmy reports to work, but is so anxious to find out what’s going on with the contest that he phones the radio station. Three of Jimmy’s fellow office workers, Tom, Dick and Harry, overhear his conversation and send a prank Western Union telegram to Jimmy that he won. The joke gets out of hand, as Jimmy’s boss Mr. Baxter (Ernest Truex) is impressed he won and promotes him with a raise to the advertising department and gives him his own private office with co-worker Betty promoted to be his secretary. Jimmy tells his proud girlfriend “You see, I used to think maybe I had good ideas…but now I know it!” After showing Mr. Maxford the telegram, Jimmy is given the check and immediately splurges on gifts for those close to him, including buying toys for the children in the neighborhood; he buys everything on credit. When Bildocker tells Maxford he never sent the telegram, there’s a stop payment order and the store owner (Alexander Carr) comes to Jimmy’s neighborhood to repossess his goods while the crowded neighborhood is celebrating. When Maxford also comes to tear up the check and say nasty things about Jimmy, he’s greeted with fruit and fish thrown at him by the angry crowd.

Though a minor film with not anything big to say about Big Business, this undervalued film nevertheless is energetic, smartly done, filled with clever zingers on the American Dream and a lot of fun.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”