Saturday, October 31, 2009

Preston Sturges Retrospective 3 - THE GREAT McGINTY (1940)

If it wasn't for graft, you'd get a very low type of people in politics, men without ambition, jellyfish!

THE GREAT McGINTY was the movie that made Preston Sturges an auteur: it's the movie in which he moves from being a screen-writer to a writer-producer-director. Already we can see some of the thematic concerns that will colour his great films: unlikely romances; social and political injustice; all pinned on a narrative arc that strains credibility. The fact that Sturges chose to hang his narrative on a character that would typically be a Hollywood villain still seems daring. After all, the McGinty of the title is a muscle-bound homeless bum with little elegance and less charm. He's plucked from the soup-line by a mobster looking for someone to vote illegally and rises through the ranks to become a stooge gubernatorial candidate. Sturges' depiction of the machinations of politics is cynical, astute and stands sharply in contrast to the sugar-gum optimism of MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. In Sturges film, we know up front that when McGinty does finally try to do the right thing, inspired by his wife-of-convenience turned actual lover, he's going to end up on the run. I love the fact that Sturges skilfully manages to combine rather dark material with genuine light-hearted comedy: a truly amazing balancing act. But there's no denying that this film does not reach the same high standards of witty one-liners, nor physical comedy, as SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS or THE LADY EVE. The movie is a daring and assured debut with one or two dialogue scenes that are superb - but it remains a promise of greatness to come rather than the finished product.

THE GREAT McGINTY was released in 1940. It won the Best Writing, Original Screenplay Oscar, beating Charlie Chaplin's superb THE GREAT DICTATOR.

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