What good are contests, muses the plutocrat, "all they prove is that youíre making too much money in the first place." For the young couple (Dick Powell, Ellen Drew) waiting for the winner to be announced, however, contests are a ticket out of tenement rooftops; for Preston Sturges, theyíre closer to a game of emotional Russian roulette. Exhaustion has begun to creep on Powellís perennial go-getter, and his managerís (Harry Hayden) little monologue on embracing mediocrity is starting to sound reasonable. Co-workers prank him with a phony telegram: Maxford House Coffee has just picked his slogan and awarded him $25,000. The hoax snowballs -- Powellís dissonant jingle ("If you canít sleep at night, it isnít the coffee, itís the bunk") suddenly becomes gold-plated, and, elated with this "commercial insurance," the company president (Ernest Truex) promptly kicks the clerk upstairs to the adverting department. Prize money fills the streets with gifts, capitalism giveth and capitalism taketh away. "Iím not a failure, Iím a success," people tell themselves, and Sturges is there with his severe long takes, peeling back the comedy. A very barbed account of the American Dream as something between a shopping-spree bacchanalia and an uprising of tossed fruit, seemingly as cozy as The Gift of the Magi yet in reality more stinging than Revolutionary Road. King Vidorís dehumanizing office passes by on its way to The Apartment, a black cat crosses the squashed dreamerís path. Is it good or bad luck? "Well, that all depends on what happens afterwards." William Demarest delivers the punchline miracle. "Unhappy the land that needs miracles." With Raymond Walburn, Alexander Carr, Franklin Pangborn, Rod Cameron, Georgia Cane, Adrian Morris, Harry Rosenthal, Robert Warwick, and Jimmy Conlin. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce