Christmas in July (1940)

Preston Sturges | 1hr 7min

Not much about Christmas in July is terribly festive, but it is a fitting title nonetheless given how much Preston Sturges fills the film with his own brand of wholesome benevolence. Our hero, Jimmy MacDonald, is an office worker lost in a sea of desks. He has his eyes firmly set on the American Dream, and then one day a prank gone wrong sees him believe he has won $25,000 cash in a slogan competition for a coffee company. The instant that he believes in his own success, his entire attitude changes. His sudden boost in confidence is enough to earn him a promotion, an office, and a personal secretary, with even the executive of the company running the contest believing that he is the real winner. As for the actual slogan itself – it is nothing less than lame, wordy, and confusing.

“If you can’t sleep at night, it’s not the coffee, it’s the bunk.”

And yet there is something endearing about Jimmy’s whole-hearted conviction in the cleverness of his quip. Within Sturges’ world of naive, incompetent businessman, such self-assured belief is infectious, as the slogan’s apparent success spurs on a surge in popularity until everyone who once saw it as a meagre attempt at humour convinces themselves of its brilliance. After all, it won a contest judged by a board of professionals. How could it not be? Even Jimmy’s own boss uses it as the basis of his own judgement.

“I think your ideas are good because they sound good to me. But I know your ideas are good because you won this contest over millions of aspirants.” 

The comedy in Christmas in July is a little more low-key than the usual Sturges outing, especially since the focus isn’t so much on the slapstick or zany antics than being a satire of American success. But his trademark commitment to running gags and expeditious pacing is present even this early in his career, and the faith individuals place in mainstream opinions rather than thinking for themselves is a perfect target for a director with such a skill in crafting farcical escalations. A more cynical film would make Jimmy a selfish egomaniac, but here he is a sincerely good, compassionate man, and as such it isn’t hard to get behind his stroke of good fortune, or conversely fear his inevitable downfall. It may not belong among his greatest works, but thanks to Sturges’ comical screenplay, Christmas in July strikes an easy tonal balance of skepticism towards corporate America and a comfortable, agreeable comedy.

Christmas in July is not currently available to stream in Australia.


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