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Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges (Wisconsin Studies in Film) Paperback – November 30, 2008
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Though Sturges was often labeled as only an action director, author Glenn Lovell demonstrates that he was much more than this since he placed equal emphasis on incisive characterizations. In his most popular movies -"Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," "The Magnificent Seven," "The Great Escape," etc. - it is not only the superb action sequences but also the careful development of characters and relationships that elicits emotional involvement from audiences and makes the films so memorable. On the other hand, the book doesn't gloss over the director's failures which reveal that he was not suitable for either soap opera ("By Love Possessed") or comedy ("The Hallelujah Trail").
The author provides astute and insightful critical analyses of the director's major films. He explains why Sturges' best-known movies remain enormously entertaining while his detailed accounts of others that were initially unappreciated ("The Old Man and the Sea," "Hour of the Gun," "The Satan Bug," "McQ") suggest why they have since grown in prestige and/or popularity. And more significantly, he proves how influential Sturges was to other directors, many of whom today acknowledge their debt to him.
This well-researched book contains anecdotes behind the making of the movies that are fascinating, particularly regarding egotistical stars. Steve McQueen's tantrums could have destroyed "The Great Escape" if not for the skills of Sturges and his screenwriters. Frank Sinatra and Clint Eastwood made certain that Sturges knew that they controlled their respective productions; this control impaired the quality of the films ("Sergeants 3," "Joe Kidd") which suffered due to their interference. Charles Bronson was grateful for a bit role in a 1951 Sturges movie and years later was again indebted to the director for three significant supporting roles; but by 1973, he had become a superstar who flaunted his contractual right to approve of Sturges as director for "Chino."
In contrast, Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, James Garner, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and Ernest Borgnine, among others, were total professionals who for the most part trusted the director and made his job easier for him. This was appreciated by Sturges, a modest man who rarely had a critical word for anyone except himself. Though not without personal flaws, he just wanted to make movies and for this, filmgoers should be very grateful.
In preparation for "Escape Artist," the author met with Sturges several times and interviewed dozens of people with whom the director worked as well as his family members. As a result, this is a comprehensive and intelligent study of one of cinema's most underrated directors who was also a skillful creator of pure escapist entertainment.
Starting out as an editor alongside Robert Wise and Mark Robson, Sturges knew how the pieces all fit to make a great movie. Unfortunately as is so often the case in HOLLYWOOD, Sturges had to contend with bad casting, bad producers and bad writers, who just seemed to get in the way and screwup a good many other of his pictures. You'll learn all about that and so much more in this fitting tribute. It was John Sturges that was the catalyst for the careers of Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. He had a talent for sensing up'n coming actors and he knew how to get the best from them -usually without them even knowing it.
As the book title reads, Sturges was an escape artist in that he didn't dig the HOLLYWOOD "scene". The studio politics and the partying were left far behind, as Sturges sought the outdoor life of Mexico and Hawaii. To make his escapes even more faster, he was a lover of fast cars and owner of so many Porsche's. Robert E. Relyea a man who knew Sturges well and a contributor to this book, also documents more about his friend in his book NOT SO QUIET ON THE SET. It's a good supplement and it will give you even more detail behind the scenes of so many Sturges classics.
Sturges is and was known for his tough guy movies, men on a mission movies, and by staying within the action/adventure genre, he worked with a wide variety of actors including Steve McQueen, John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Frank Sinatra and many more. The stories about the actors is worth it alone. If you're a long-time fan of Sturges movies like me, or just discovering the director, definitely give this book a try. It's well-written, an easy read, and informative. Don't miss out on "Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges."