Friday’s Wall Street Journal reported that the films of “capitalist comic” Preston Sturges have just been released in a seven-disc boxed set, including four Sturges films on DVD for the first time. One of the newly released films is “Christmas in July,” a movie having nothing to do with Christmas.
The film was both written and directed by Sturges, a director known for the subgenre of “screwball” comedies that he perfected with what his admirers came to call “the Sturges touch.” He is perhaps best known for “The Great McGinty,” “The Palm Beach Story,” “The Lady Eve” and “Sullivan’s Travels,” the last of which the Coen brothers paid homage to in the title of their Depression era comedy “O Brother Where Art Thou?”
I had never even heard of “Christmas in July” when I originally saw it a few years back on Turner Classic Movies. The film stars Dick Powell as Jimmy MacDonald; Powell is outstanding. But the most striking thing about the film is the hilarious script. The opening five minutes (the whole movie is only 68 minutes long) consists of 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 the Powell character 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.
Mark Steyn draws on the title of a 1944 film — “Four Jills in a Jeep” — to frame his Chicago Sun Times column today. The film doesn’t have anything in common with Sturges’s films, but the theme that informs Steyn’s column is pure Sturges: “It’s the bunk!”
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