Yesterday evening Robert Osborn, the dapper primetime host of cable television’s Turner Classic Movies, selected three movies as his favorites for Christmas Eve. The first of the three was “Christmas in July,” a movie having nothing to do with Christmas.
The film was written and directed by Preston Sturges, a director known for the subgenre of “screwball” comedies that he perfected with “the Sturges touch.” He is perhaps best know for “The Great McGinty,” “The Palm Beach Story,” and “Sullivan’s Travels,” all of which I have seen and recommend unreservedly.
I had never even heard of “Christmas in July.” The film stars Dick Powell as Jimmy MacDonald; Powell is outstanding. But the most striking thing about the film is the comedy; it is hilarious. The opening five minutes (the whole movie is only 68 minutes long) is an intense dialogue between Powell and his girlfriend, full of love and hate, yearning and hostility, hilariously true to life.
The story turns on the Powell character’s entry into a coffee slogan contest whose winner is to receive the then life changing sum of $25,000. If he wins the contest, he can afford to marry his girlfriend and have a family. Made in 1940, the film powerfully reflects the Depression era in which Sturges wrote the play on which the movie was based. (The movie is obviously of historical interest as well; in those days, you see, financial considerations exercised a constraint on marriage and family.) The slogan he enters in the contest is “If you can’t sleep at night, it isn’t the coffee–it’s the bunk!” Powell’s enthusiasm for the slogan is another source of humor throughout the movie. By the end of the film, the slogan is unforgettable. If you’re looking for a movie to entertain you this holiday season, you could not do better than to track down a copy of this masterpiece.
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