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November 19, 2019

Christmas in July

xmas in july.jpg

Preston Sturges - 1940
KL Studio Classics

I will attest to the truth of that prize winning slogan, "If you can't sleep at night, it's not the coffee. It's the bunk". There has been more than one occasion when I've gotten up in the morning, sipped two mugs full of Italian Roast, only to nap for as much as an hour afterwards.

Sometimes I feel like we need Preston Sturges more than ever. What makes Christmas in July continually endearing and enduring is the sense of optimism. The film takes place in a world of second chances and well-intended foolishness. That Paramount studio version of New York City's Lower East Side is relatively multi-culti for a film of its time. This is still Depression era America, where Hitler and Mussolini are punchlines, one could do one-stop shopping in a department store for diamond rings and children's toys, and businessmen may not be generous financially, but may be so in spirit. Above all else, it's so nice to revisit a comedy that is actually funny.

At age 35, Dick Powell was a bit mature to be playing the "young man with ideas". He brings with him some of the earnestness, ready to please attitude from his Warner Brothers films. Powell's unruly hair in his first scenes provides a compliment to his boyish spirit and certainty that his pun based advertising slogans are his key to a brighter future. As the dedicated girlfriend, contract player Ellen Drew takes the first couple of pratfalls and gives an excuse to display one of her legs. Now as then, most of the laughs involve the supporting players, especially Raymond Walburn as the clueless tycoon, constantly exasperated by William Demarest, the belligerent company employee who holds a coffee company in limbo in the deciding vote in a contest determining the winning slogan.

I don't think I can offer any insights into Christmas in July that haven't already been explored by others. But what is nice about the blu-ray is watching it with the English SDH subtitles. Sturges' films have been lauded for their wit, for Sturges' way with English as a spoken language. Sometimes remarks go by so fast that it's nice to verify what characters are saying. In addition to the puns, there is the use of homonyms, and some dated and not so dated vernacular expressions. I don't recall anyone still using the expression, "bread and butter", at the time I first saw Christmas in July on television one night in early Seventies. I am a bit more confident about a scene where a condescending salesman, alerted to Powell's newly acquired wealth, suddenly slides into slang, telling a coworker to "get a groove on". The other advantage to multiple viewing is to catch little gags, such as the window of a Jewish delicatessen named after the Sturges stock company actor who plays the character, Mr. Zimmerman.

Same Deighan's commentary consists in part of quoting other film historians on Sturges and this film. Aside from mentioning that the story is a reworking of an unproduced play by Sturges, "A Cup of Coffee", and the proposed casting of a different actor in Powell's role, there is very little about the production. The short running time of 67 minutes means the film never wears out its welcome, but it is quite short for an "A" movie. Christmas in July opened at the Rivoli in New York City, one of the city's great picture palaces. (Cleopatra played there in 1963.) While it's more fashionable now to feel snarky about New York Times film critic Bosley Crowthers, his take on Christmas in July - "the perfect restorative, in fact, for battered humors and jangled nerves" remains true.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 19, 2019 07:02 AM