Christmas in July ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Preston Sturges' second film is a brief, hilarious, emotionally eclectic story (based on his own play) and an enormous improvement on his first, The Great McGinty. A prank is played on a hard-working office joe who's trying to maintain hope for the future for himself and his girlfriend (a fellow employee of the same coffee company) despite a paucity of reputation-making Good Ideas. That is, unless he wins the $25,000 slogan contest being sponsored by a rival corporation. It sounds simplistic, and it's a fast-moving breeze to watch, but deep down it's Sturges as a sort of verbose Frank Borzage -- the dialogue crackles, the jokes are solid, the situations engagingly absurd, but the characters are far more believable and the sincerity far more obvious than in the average classic Hollywood comedy. Capra might have delivered it as a paean to the working class, but Sturges sees something more universal -- and harder to pin down -- in his story, something communicated in the palpably temporary joy of the midsection, even if it does often betray the influence of Capra despite a much quicker, snappier sensibility. The cast of less-than-huge stars is led by Dick Powell and Ellen Drew, both naturally personable, and highlighted by William Demarest, Ernest Truex and Raymond Walburn as authority figures meant to be both recognizably human and obviously benign forces of evil to be subtly undercut by the freewheeling scrappiness of the events taking place arond them. As in all of his best scripts, Sturges is unable to hide the sheer joy he feels at jumping around in a world of his own making. The only serious flaw is that the final ironic twist somewhat ruins the Being There-like "emperor's new clothes" joke of the whole picture, but then again that final glare from the black cat implies that maybe the mess of real life just isn't meant to make much logical sense. A delight.