Christmas in July (1940)

Preston Sturges’ second directorial effort, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, came out the year before the farcical romance The Lady Eve (1941) put him on the map. Had his second film been that big a winner it might have sent him in a different direction. This kinder, gentler Sturges film focuses on the dreams of the working poor: coffee company clerk Dick Powell enters a slogan contest for a rival manufacturer. As a prank, some friends send him a telegram telling him he’s won the $25,000 grand prize, which sends him on a spending spree and leads him to propose to girlfriend Ellen Drew, only to discover it was all a joke. Of course, nobody’s complaining about the direction Sturges’ career went in, and his more farcical films like Sullivan’s Travels (1941) and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) are among the high spots of Hollywood filmmaking. Nonetheless, this earlier film has much to recommend it, from the sweet romance between Powell and Drew to the heartbreak when he sees his dreams dashed. It still bears the unmistakable Sturges touch as well, with eccentric characters, a bitingly comic view of materialism and the presence of some of his favorite supporting players, including Raymond Walburn, William Demarest and Franklin Pangborn.

(d. Preston Sturges, 67m, 35mm)