CHRISTMAS IN JULY was part of a one-two punch in 1940 for writer-director Preston Sturges that launched his stellar 4-year run of nine comedy hits. He scored first with The Great McGinty (his directing debut), and that one nabbed him a Screenplay Oscar. This followup also pulled admiring reviews and did good business, a gross of $2,900,000 putting it in 56th place among 1940’s crowd. *
“If you can’t sleep, it isn’t the coffee. It’s the bunk.”
Office worker ‘Jimmy MacDonald’ (Dick Powell) laments to his sweetheart ‘Betty Casey’ (Ellen Drew) that his $22 a week (about $395 in 2019) doesn’t bode well for their future. His brainstorm ideas don’t click until suddenly one of them appears to hit the jackpot when his pun for a slogan contest wins a $25,000 prize (that’s a helpful $450,000 in 2019), which the giddy couple begin to lavish on their family and neighborhood. But, hold the hoopla, some joker pulled a fast one…
Sturges first wrote this as a play in 1931, calling it “A Cup Of Coffee”, but he had to bide his time as a screenwriter until he was finally able to bring it to screen under his own direction (along with the zippy dialogue, he helped invent that fabulous gadget sofa). Like Capra, Sturges mixes social observation in with his jokes, and this bright lark zips by in 67 quick and entertaining minutes. Powell and Drew make a good team.
“I used to think about $25,000 too, and what I’d do with it. That I’d be a failure, if I didn’t get a hold of it. And then one day I realized that I was never gonna have $25,000, Mr. MacDonald….And then another day… uhh… a little bit later – considerably later – I realized something else – something I’m imparting to you now, Mr. MacDonald. I’m not a failure. I’m a success. You see, ambition is all right if it works. But no system could be right where only half of 1% were successes and all the rest were failures – that wouldn’t be right. I’m not a failure. I’m a success. And so are you, if you earn your own living and pay your bills and look the world in the eye. I hope you win your $25,000, Mr. MacDonald. But if you shouldn’t happen to, don’t worry about it.”
With Raymond Walburn, Alexander Carr, Ernest Truex, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Georgia Kane, Adrian Morris, Rod Cameron and Torben Meyer.
* 1940 was almost as flush as 1939 with class-A films, especially comedies. Aside from Sturges double, look at this slaphappy crowd: The Philadelphia Story, The Shop Around The Corner, The Bank Dick, One Night In The Tropics, His Girl Friday, The Ghost Breakers, My Favorite Wife, The Great Dictator, My Little Chickadee and Road To Singapore.
** Pretty 24-year-old Ellen Drew had appeared in three dozen films since 1936 before getting a swell boost up with this role, and then enjoyed a run of second-string success that lasted another decade. Co-star William Demarest had “discovered” her working at an ice-cream parlor, and helped get her career going. According to Ed Sullivan, Demarest’s opener was the classic “You ought to be in pictures”, to which Ellen flipped back “I’ve heard that line before. What do you want, vanilla or chocolate—or maybe raspberry.”