Such is the mythic quality of the December festivities that when Good Fortune happens during any other month, it can be difficult not to reach for the glittery Yuletide vocabulary to capture the sense of celebration
THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR?
Betty Casey (Ellen Drew) and her finacee, Jimmy MacDonald (Dick Powell are snuggled up in the back of a car and surrounded by a mass of parcels, and heading home to their low-rent street. They cannot believe their luck of having just won $25,000 in the Maxford House Coffee slogan competition: it has changed their lives overnight. (Compare this with the then massive £6000 that is withheld from George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life (1946))
“Oh, I’m so happy,” announces Betty. “I feel kinda good myself,” her beau agrees. “Can you see the faces on everybody when we get there?” “Yeah. Like Christmas in July.” He hugs her: “Happy New Year.” “It will be a Happy New Year from now on,” Betty agrees, “…everything new. Clean. Different. Just that, Jimmy. No more worry.” She turns to him: “That’s the only terrible thing about being poor. What kind of a house are we going to have?”
Office workers Betty and Jimmy’s cup would runneth over – if only the announcement that they had won the prize was not a complete prank foisted on them by Jimmy’s workmates. Which has since got terribly out of hand when the couple were handed a cheque by the coffee company’s confused C.E.O, and it was then honoured by Shindell Bros Department Store before the couple had even visited their bank.
Harshness Not Heart Of The American Dream
There is a desperation at the heart of Christmas In July (1940). The entire city seems to be excited at the possibility of winning, not least Jimmy who is very aware of his mother’s struggle and lack of luxury. He knows full well that the American Dream of working hard and being honest does not necessarily lead to a less harsh life. (Baxter & Co’s regimented office set-up where Jimmy works is not so very different from that of The Apartment (1960).) Jimmy wants more for himself, Betty and his family but is very aware that there is slim chance of that happening once he is wed and starts a family – and thereby loses Betty’s income.
Preston Sturges’ Christmas In July is a wishful thinking movie for those with not a lot to look forward to, and who have been told that what matters is that their keeping their noses to the grinstone their entire working lives. It is effectively a ‘modern’ view of the life of A Christmas Carol;s Bob Cractchett had Scrooge not had a change of heart. Only winning the lottery of the hope of others’ charity brings any change.
Interestingly, the couple’s immediate instinct once they have the money is to buy presents for everyone in their street. The first present Jimmy hands out is a parcel containing a beautiful dool for Sophie, a little girl in a wheelchair. The couple’s presumed good fortune is to be shared. (Although Betty’s quick switch of subject in the car to tohughts of a new house suggests that any selflessness might well be shortlived.)
A fist fight with the department store owner turns up to claim back his property brings some lightness, but Sturges’ ending is too cosy a cop-out. The film, for all its relevance to 21st Century austerity and in-work fincancial struggle, has aged.