Monday, August 15, 2011

Christmas in July | 1940 | Part 2

My initial post on Christmas in July wasn't my most comprehensive work, and so I have decided to circle back and try to actually contribute something to this study I created.

I have two things to say about this film:

This Sturges comedy feels like Screwball, but doesn't hit the classic markers in an obvious way.  There are class struggles here, but the posh, heavily drinking, NYC society isn't present - which is kind of what I think of when I think of Screwball.  I'm learning there's more to Screwball, but I think I'm always going to note when the drunk East Coast elite are absent in a film considered to be part of the genre.

I have a feeling this is Screwball in disguise, similar to Hail the Conquering Hero.  I called that one "Screwball Victory Garden-Style," which I imagine could make Christmas in July a "Dry Screwball" (Yikes! That sounds unpleasant!)

I don't think there's a single cocktail in this film, and cocktails normally figure large in Screwball.  The way folks today are always mooning about NYC being a character in their TV show or movie, cocktails could be considered a character in Screwball.  Not really, but you get the point - they're significant.

Off the top of my head, though, there is one other Sturges comedy that's a dry drunk, Sullivan's Travels.  I haven't watched that one for this blog yet, but I don't recall a lot of drinking, and I believe it hedged more in the direction of Capra (social conscience) and less the direction of Ernst Lubitsch or Leo McCarey (romance, fun, frivolity).

Hmmm...  Maybe Sturges' films are less across-the-board Screwball than is commonly believed.  The contents of The Palm Beach Story are straight-up screwball - cocktails and all, but then there's Sullivan's Travels, Hail the Conquering Hero, and Christmas in July.  Or maybe they are all solid Screwball, and my amateur impression of the genre is getting in my way.

This is where the "study" portion of this blog comes into play.  I've got to watch the rest of Sturges before I can confidently theorize, so this is really just filed notes about this film, Sturges, etc.  There's something definitely Screwball going on with his films, but maybe it's a distinct subsection.

Even though this is more field notes than formal presentation seeking grant money, I want to feel like I've done all I can and so here's a quick list of ways Christmas in July does hit Screwball marks:
Urban setting?  Check.
Preference for child-like worldview?  Check.
Class conflict?  Check.
Lead is a comic anti-hero?  Check.
Art and Fart?  Check.

Off the topic of Screwball, this movie has two scenes that address some questions I've been kicking around myself:  Are you a failure if you don't reach your ambitions?  And if you are a failure in one arena, how do you absorb that into who you are and get on with your life in the most fulfilling manner possible?  Also, how much of who we are is defined by what we do, and is any of it the product of some larger machinations (random or otherwise).  In other words, are you battling yourself, an indifferent world, or both?  Or is there some kind of order to the world and it doesn't matter what you do if you happen to live in a universe where your specific collection of DNA and what not just won't ever thrive (or always will).  And, since you can't know that, do you battle on or do you read observable trends of your life and scale your goals appropriately?

The first scene is below, specifically about 1:30 into the clip.  The second scene, and second clip below, is at the end of the film when Jimmy McDonald (Dick Powell) and Betty Casey (Ellen Drew) are arguing for Jimmy's boss to let him keep the promotion he earned on the basis of winning a slogan writing contest, a contest he thought he won because his co-workers sent him a prank telegram informing him of his win, but he didn't actually win, but then he ends up winning after all.  (I didn't write a plot summary in this post or the last one on this film, for now, go here).  Jimmy and Betty's arguments are earnest and contain everything I secretly believe.  But I have spent some time outside of theaters and off my sofa, so I'm aware that these are the kind of ideals that only ever find practical application within the constructs of screenplays.  Because they're all "deep dish" and "high falutin'" (per Jimmy's Boss).

On second thought, I walk the talk whenever possible, so it stands to reason that other people do too.

Which is how the movies get you.

On the screen you see characters listening to their "better angels," and as you watch, you maybe reminisce about how you once did the same.  And then, if you're honest with yourself, you remember that you're not that unique and most every thought you've had has already been had by lots of other people.  And so you're witnessing a sort of proof that there are other people trying to be decent and do better for themselves and others.  And so you keep watching movies, to be reminded that you're not alone and that there's hope.

At least, that's how the movies get me.

Released:  1940
Writer/Director:  Preston Sturges
Producer:  Paul Jones, Buddy G. DeSylva
Leads:  Dick Powell, Ellen Drew, William Demarest
Genre:  Romantic Comedy