Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Christmas in July (1940)

Tonight was my first-ever viewing of CHRISTMAS IN JULY, a seriocomic tale written and directed by Preston Sturges.

Jimmy (Dick Powell) is stuck in a dead-end job, not even making enough to marry his girlfriend Betty (Ellen Drew, in a sweet performance). Then Jimmy is led to believe he's won a contest creating a new ad slogan for a coffee company. Over the course of a single day Jimmy's life changes for the better, and in turn Jimmy is able to bring joy to his hard-working family and friends. As the day goes on, Jimmy experiences unexpected twists and turns, which culminate in a satisfying conclusion.

This film is by turns funny and touching, exploring themes such as hope, self-worth, and the adulation that comes with celebrity. It has moving lead performances by Powell and Drew; Powell in particular shows here a depth of feeling and poignance not usually seen in his lighthearted musical comedy roles of the '30s.

Ellen Drew is said to have been discovered by actor-agent William Demarest (who appears in the film) when she was waitressing at C.C. Brown's ice cream parlor on Hollywood Boulevard. I have happy memories of visiting C.C. Brown's when I was growing up. Although the restaurant is gone, apparently their chocolate sauce lives on. (I always got the caramel sauce, myself!)

The supporting cast includes Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, Alexander Carr, Ernest Truex, Harry Hayden, Rod Cameron, and Kay Stewart. Sheila Sheldon, who has a brief but noteworthy scene as a wheelchair-bound little girl in Jimmy's neighborhood, appeared in three other Sturges films in her brief career. Sturges himself has a cameo in the movie.

The movie runs a short 67 minutes.

I watched the film on a very nice VHS print. It's also available on DVD as part of the The Preston Sturges Collection.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY can be seen on cable on TCM.

April 2015: I had the chance to see this movie again at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

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