Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
The title says it all...
on January 7, 2012
I am a big fan of Sturges' comedies, and I still watch several of his films on a yearly basis. I was curious to know what happened to Mr Sturges in the late 1940s that effectively saw one of the most commercially successful directors in Hollywood become unemployable within 5 years of his greatest hit.
I was familiar with the short bio of Sturges as the wunderkind who ran afoul of the powers that be, and suffered the consequences. However, the story is much more complex than that, and so we have a full-length biography providing a sympathetic, but balanced view of Sturges' career. The author gleans most of the information on Sturges childhood and early adult years from Sturges' own autobiography. But once we get into Sturges career years, Mr. Curtis exhibits his research skills, and provides a pretty extensive amount of corroborating material for most of the books facts and theses. Many of Sturges contemporaries were still alive at the time the book was being written which allowed the author to personally interview many of these people.
Sturges' career was an interesting mix of talent, bravado, egomania, eccentricity and luck; and despite the legend of the genius in theater and film, he had a pattern of brilliance interspersed with mediocrity( or worse) from his beginning as a self-made playwright. His move to Hollywood was motivated by failures in the theater. He had an early screenplay hit with the "Power and the Glory"(1933), but he was as much as a journeyman Hollywood writer ( albeit a well-paid one) as anything else through the 1930's. What he had in spades was an incredible confidence in his own material, and a desire to direct that material exactly as he had imagined it.
He got his chance in 1939 and made good on his promise to deliver a hit, under budget, on time and with a "B" cast(The Great McGinty). Over the next 4 years, he went on to turn out 5 more commercial and critical successes before his run-ins with studio head Buddy DeSylva made him leave Paramount. He would never direct a commercial hit again.
Mr. Sturges' subsequent fall from grace was as much a result of his own egomania and eccentricities as a studio system run by moguls and corporate half-talents mostly interested in preserving their fiefdoms. By the early 1950s, he alienated almost everybody who had been a friend, colleague, or collaborator in his life.
I enjoyed this book tremendously. While giving Sturges the benefit of his writing ad directing talent, the author lays out his failures and foibles for all to see. Of course, the difficulties of working in Hollywood also are highlighted, but clearly many other talented directors ( Wilder, Wyler, Hitchcock, et.al.) were able to navigate these difficulties for long periods of success, and Sturges was not. The film legacy remains to attest to the periods of brilliance. Great story, told well.