Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Christms 2018: December 9th

Christmas in July (1940)

I have always assumed Christmas in July to be a purely cynical event, an invention by gift card companies who needed to sell any leftover Christmas stock from the previous year. The term apparently is older than that. It dates back to at least 1892, in the French opera “Werther.” The idea would resurface in 1935, seemingly being celebrated by the Girl Scouts. The idea of having a second Christmas in the heat of summer was further popularized by Preston Sturges' 1940 film “Christmas in July.” This was only Sturges' second film but he was already an Oscar winner, having won the first Award for Best Original Screenplay for his first film, “The Great McGinty.” This film would further establish Sturges' reputation as Golden Hollywood's master of screwball comedy.

Jimmy MacDonald is a humble office worker for a coffee company. He lives with his loving girlfriend Betty and his mom in a crowded apartment complex. He dreams of becoming rich and constantly enters contest. His latest entry is into a contest to write a new tagline for Maxwell, a rival coffee corporation. The judges for the contest are struggling to name a winner, despite Mr. Maxwell's insistence they pick one. At that time, Jimmy receives what appears to be a letter declaring him the winner. Believing himself newly rich, Jimmy goes about buying a number of pricey gifts. Such as an diamond engagement ring for Betty, new furniture for his mom, and toys for every kid in the orphanage. Not everything is as it appears to be though.

Sturges would adapt “Christmas in July” from his own stage play, “A Cup of Coffee.” Supposedly a lot of dialogue was changed, save for the opening exchange between Jimmy and Betty. That fast paced conversation, based around how truly awful his idea for a tagline is, is fast paced and funny. That kind of humor, people bickering in adorable ways, characterizes much of “Christmas in July.” Mr. Maxwell's frustrated interactions with his contest judges are a source of frequent comedy. So is Jimmy's uptight boss reacting to the news of his win. There's other personable bits of comedy, such as the couple nosily navigating the rooftops of their home. Or the broad interactions Jimmy has with his mom and her various neighbors.

Despite the title, “Christmas in July” doesn't actually have anything to do with Christmas specifically. (It is set in July.) However, themes of charity and giving echo throughout the entire movie. It's notable that Jimmy, after learning he's supposedly rich, does not buy anything for himself. The closest he comes is marrying his girlfriend but that's something she desperately wanted. He uses his wealth to make other people happy, buying his mom a fancy sleeper-sofa, getting gifts for disadvantaged kids. “Christmas in July” seems to suggest that this is what any upright person would do if they suddenly came into a lot of money. And what could be more Christmas-y than charity motivated strictly out of kindness? The joy that giving a gift can provide?

That sweetness is really what drives “Christmas in July,” even more than its comedy. This becomes most apparent at the end. After Jimmy learns that he didn't win a bunch of money, he has to break the news to his boss, who gave him a promotion strictly due to the contest. At that point, Betty launches into a monologue about people deserving a chance to prove themselves. Once again, that absolute sincerity is what makes the film truly special. That extends to the cast as well. Dick Powell is hilarious as someone committed to his ridiculous ideas, no matter how often their oddness is pointed out. (Watching him try to explain his bizarre tagline is a comedic highlight of the film.) The pure effervescent sweetness of Ellen Drew is also essential to the film being as believable as it is.

In other words, “Christmas in July” is a perfect refutation of the cynical, market-driven attitudes behind most Christmas in July celebrations. It's a film about kindness and hopes. It's also fairly funny with two extremely likable lead performances. The film is rather short too, only running seven minutes over an hour. I definitely need to check out more of Preston Sturges' films now. He's a bit of a blind spot for me. Though its connected to the holiday is tenuous, “Christmas in July” still makes a good addition to anyone's December marathon. [8/10]

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: I'm Dreaming of a White Ranger

During the second season, which was also the peak of “Power Rangers” popularity, Saban produced a quickly thrown together Christmas special called “Alpha's Magical Christmas.” It sucked. The kiddie karate/kaiju/robot pop culture phenomenon wouldn't get a proper Christmas special until season three. The perfectly entitled “I'm Dreaming of a White Ranger” begins with Angel Grove's favorite team of multicultural teenagers throwing a holiday functions for local kids. At the same time, lunar supervillain Lord Zedd thinks of a new scheme. He'll brainwash all the world's children with a hypnotic toy. He'll accomplish this by taking over Santa's workshop and forcing him to make the toys. Zordon immediately deploys the Rangers to save the day but, due to the interference of holiday magic, the teens have to fight without their powers.

As far as action goes, “I'm Dreaming of a White Ranger” is definitely among the lamest “Power Rangers” episodes. There's no morphing sequences, as the Rangers never put on their super suits. The MegaZord never puts in an appearance, as there's no city-destroying giant monster to fight. There are some fight scenes but don't get your hopes up. Rito, Lord Zedd's idiotic brother-in-law who is also a commando-print skeleton for some reason, captures Santa's workshop. Goldar and an army of Tengu Warriors – bird ninjas – are sent to assist. The Rangers and Santa elves do not defeat the baddies through high-kicks and gymnastics though. Instead, they clobber their enemies with the power of slapstick comedy.

Shit like this reminds you that “Power Rangers” was a show for the five-to-seven crowd. However, “I'm Dreaming of a White Ranger” does have some unintentionally comedic value. Zedd's mind-control toys are pretty clearly electric dreidels. Keep in mind that Zedd also danced to “Hava Negila” at his wedding. So is revenge on the gentile world as much Zedd's motivation as world domination? As if you ward off any accusations of antisemitism, the Angel Grove holiday celebration also includes a Star of David and “The Hanukkah Song.” (Series producer Haim Saban is, of course, extremely Jewish.) The sappiness of the community center subplot, involving a little girl who misses her dad and Kimberly missing her mom, bleeds into overwrought melodramatics very quickly. Which might make you chuckle, if you have a black and dried-up heart like me.

It must be said that Amy Jo Johnson and Jason David Frank – our Pink and White Rangers, respectively – are appealing young performers, nicely capturing the pure wholesomeness of their heroic characters. Watching them flirt with each other inside Ernie's Juice Bar is pretty cute. Otherwise, “I'm Dreaming of a White Ranger” is unlikely to be among any one's favorite episode of this nostalgic series. [4/10]

No comments: