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Sturges Has a Merry 'Christmas in July'

May 30, 1991|ELENA BRUNET

In "Christmas in July," a typically zany comedy by Preston Sturges, office clerk Jimmy McDonald (Dick Powell) enters a slogan contest for Maxford House Coffee and is sure he has won the first prize of $25,000.

" 'If you don't sleep at night, it's not the coffee, it's the bunk!' Do you get the play on words?" he eagerly asks his girlfriend (Ellen Drew). Three of his co-workers get sick of Jimmy's obsessing over the contest. "I wonder," one of them says, "what (he) would do if he ever did win."

They decide to play a practical joke on him, to send him a telegram with mock congratulations: "We take great pleasure in informing you that your slogan has won. . . . Kindly call and pick up the check." And off he goes to make his claim.

But the jury hasn't come to a decision. It's deadlocked 11 to 1--thanks to a stubborn shipping department worker played by William Demarest. Mr. Maxford doesn't know that, though, and when Jimmy shows him the telegram, he hands the money over.

All hell breaks loose when Mr. Maxford discovers he's given the prize money away prematurely to some guy off the street.

Meanwhile, Jimmy has bought out the local department store: a present for everyone, a ring for his girlfriend, a davenport that turns into a bed at the turn of a crank for his mother, a doll for the lame girl in the neighborhood. (He even gets a promotion to the advertising department of his own office, a rival coffee company. He's got a slogan all ready for its brand of coffee as well: "Baxter & Sons, the Blueblood Coffee--It's Bred in the Bean!")

When Maxford tries to take back the check, and the merchants come to collect the presents, "Christmas in July" turns slapstick, like a riot in an FAO Schwarz store.

Besides the horseplay and ludicrous fun, the movie offers the great banter, one-liners and insults ("I've seen better heads on . . . umbrellas!") that were Sturges' trademark. The exchanges come so fast that you may have to see the movie a couple of times to catch all the digs.

"Christmas in July" (1940), written and directed by Preston Sturges. 67 Mins. No rating.

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