If there’s one thing Jimmy MacDonald (Dick Powell) can’t resist, it’s entering a contest. He’s not exactly successful at winning them, but when he enters a big slogan writing contest sponsored by Maxford House Coffee, he figures he’s due to win big. The night the winners are set to be announced on the radio, the results end up being delayed by a stubborn judge. At work the next day, some of Jimmy’s co-workers leave a fake telegram on his desk telling him he’s won and the whole office gets caught up in his excitement. The grand prize is $25,000 so at last Jimmy can afford to marry his girlfriend Betty (Ellen Drew) and buy some nice things for his month.
Since Jimmy works for a rival coffee company, when his boss finds out he’s won the Maxford House contest, he promotes Jimmy from being a clerk to working in the advertising department. Before his friends can tell him he hasn’t actually won, Jimmy’s on his way to pick up his check from Maxford House. When Jimmy shows up claiming to be the winner, Dr. Maxford (Raymond Walburn) just assumes the contest judges have kept him out of the loop again and gladly signs the check. Jimmy and Betty go out and buy gifts for everyone in the neighborhood.
When Maxford finds out the judges hadn’t actually picked a winner, he stops payment on the check, sending the head of the department store out to find Jimmy and take back the stuff he bought. Humiliated, Jimmy doesn’t know if he really has what it takes to cut it at his new job because the only reason he had any confidence was because of that contest. Unbeknownst to Jimmy, over at Maxford House, the judges have finally picked a winner — him.
Christmas in July is one of Preston Sturges’ more under-appreciated movies. Dick Powell struck a perfect balance of being incredibly heartfelt and sincere without being saccharine. Sincerity without saccharine is exactly what Preston Sturges did best as well. Christmas in July is a wonderful, sharp, fast-paced (67 minutes!) lark. It’s a prime example of how much you can do with a fairly short amount of time.