Reviewed by Michael Scheinfeld

The great Preston Sturges wrote and directed CHRISTMAS IN JULY, an hysterically funny, short and sweet comedy about a man who goes on a spending spree after he thinks he's won a coffee-slogan contest, only to learn that the whole thing was a practical joke.

Jimmy MacDonald (Dick Powell), a lowly clerk at the Baxter Coffee Company, enters a $25,000 slogan contest for the Maxford House Coffee Company. But on the night the winner is to be announced on the radio, the jury is deadlocked because of an obstinate juror. The next day at work, some pranksters

make up a phony telegram and put it on Jimmy's desk, saying that he has won the contest. Jimmy immediately goes to collect his check from Dr. Maxford (Raymond Walburn) and promptly begins spending his newfound wealth.

CHRISTMAS was a little underrated in its time, perhaps because of its very brief running time and seemingly frivolous nature, but in retrospect, it emerges as one of Sturges's funniest and most purely enjoyable films. Sturges's customary frantic pace is even more dizzying than usual, the dialogue

is filled with hilarious wisecracks, puns, double-entendres and malapropisms, and in just over an hour, the film manages to encompass slapstick, satire, screwball comedy, pathos, and melodrama. As in all of Sturges's films, the story is really a fable about the pursuit of the American dream,

making wry observations about failure and success, and money and happiness.

One of the great pleasures of Sturges's movies was the stock company of superb character actors who were the heart and soul of all his films, and CHRISTMAS is packed with them. Besides the delightful William Demarest as Mr. Bildocker; there's Franklin Pangborn as a prissy radio announcer; Raymond

Walburn as the dyspeptic Maxford; and Frank Moran as a boisterous cop. CHRISTMAS IN JULY remains a wonderful present that's perfect for anytime of the year.