Preston Sturges - The Filmmaker Collection (Sullivan's Travels/The Lady Eve/The Palm Beach Story/Hail the Conquering Hero/The Great McGinty/Christmas in July/The Great Moment)
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Sturges was already an established playwright and screenwriter when he cajoled Paramount into letting him direct one of his own scripts. The Great McGinty won him the 1940 Oscar for best original screenplay, the raffish tale of a bum (Brian Donlevy) who ingratiates himself with the political machine of a heartland city by successfully voting 37 times in one election, then rises to become "reform" candidate for governor. The film is a glowing example of Sturges's penchant for filling the foregrounds as well as backgrounds of his movies with flavorful, mostly nameless character actors and according each of them star status, if only for one world-class line of dialogue. They and Sturges stood by one another throughout the cycle, and the result was a richness variously--and aptly--likened to Dickens or Bruegel.
Christmas in July (1940) followed, a sardonic but big-hearted comedy about a young working-class couple (Dick Powell and Ellen Drew) duped into believing one topsy-turvy afternoon that they've struck it rich by winning a slogan contest. Then came the film widely regarded as Sturges's most side-splitting, The Lady Eve (1941). Barbara Stanwyck is merciless--and breathtakingly sexy--as a second-generation con artist who targets brewing heir Henry Fonda, a clueless amateur herpetologist who has spent entirely too much time up the Amazon.
Then again, there are people who name Sullivan's Travels (1942) among the best films ever made. Joel McCrea plays a successful director of Hollywood comedies who decides he must make a social-consciousness allegory, O Brother Where Art Thou? His exploratory road trip disguised as a hobo, with starlet Veronica Lake for companionship, combines Hollywood satire with starkest drama verging on horror. The film is utterly unique and shatteringly powerful.
The Palm Beach Story (1942), a return to screwball comedy, dances a goofy tarantella on the American obsession with wealth. There are a couple of dozen millionaires at large in this movie, every one of them insane: Robert Dudley as a comic deus-ex-machina ("the Wienie King"), a railroad club car filled with Sturges stalwarts ("the Ale and Quail Club"), and '20s crooner Rudy Vallee ascending to character-actor immortality as the devoted suitor of Joel McCrea's runaway wife, Claudette Colbert. At that point (still in 1942) Sturges embarked on his most tortuous project, Triumph over Pain, the fact-based chronicle of the Boston dentist (Joel McCrea) who discovered the use of ether for anaesthesia. Instead of being canonized, he was destroyed. Sturges, whose 1933 screenplay The Power and the Glory had anticipated the fractured time scheme of Citizen Kane by eight years, tried for even more complicated narrative-in-reverse here--and also studded the tragic story with startling bursts of slapstick humor. Paramount recut the film drastically and changed the title to The Great Moment; the fitful results would not be released till two years later.
Meanwhile, Sturges scored a pair of best-screenplay Oscar nominations in 1944 for The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero, two small-town comedies starring Eddie Bracken as a nebbish ill-made for heroism yet obliged by wartime circumstance to rise to the occasion. Each of these films is a comic masterpiece, each asking discomfiting questions about cherished, arguably destructive American values, yet finding its own cockeyed way to affirmation. Miracle isn't available here, but Hail the Conquering Hero casts a lingering spell, beyond satire. To quote its last line: "You got no idea." --Richard T. Jameson
Top Customer Reviews
So to complete your collection, be sure to purchase "Miracle," because it's the finest transfer of any of Sturges's films. I, too, like another reviewer, would have appreciated a clean copy of "The Sin Of Harold Diddlebock," also known as "Mad Wednesday," as it has languished in the public domain for a long time.
Universal still doesn't believe in extras and that's a shame. We could have used interviews, documentaries, scripts, and perhaps the many feet that were left on the cutting room floor for "The Great Moment." I recommend the three Criterion Sturges films because of the extraordinary special features that are a hallmark of Criterion. But, again, let's give appropriate credit to Universal for doing its best for us fans and Sturges's masterworks.Read more ›
Overall the films in the "Preston Sturges Collection" look quite good although "The Great McGinty" looks a bit gritty at times but still looks quite good. Blacks are pretty solid and the condition of the prints look pretty good with Universal clearly putting digital clean up into some of these films. Keep in mind also that the source material varies in age with the oldest film here being 66 years old. "Sullivan's Travels" compares favorably to the Criterion edition although I'd suggest fans keep that edition since "ST" has no notable extras as part of the package. Audio sounds crisp and clear which is important as Sturges' verbal wit is almost as important as the slapstick comedic set pieces that decorate his films like icing on a cake.
Although this isn't a special feature it is a trend in the right direction for Universal. Many of their "tribute" collections have had as many as five films crammed onto one dual layered dual sided disc.Read more ›
First in the set is The Great McGinty, which stars Brian Donleavy as a man who goes from being a bum to a governor, only to have it all crash down on him. This is a decent enough comedy about the world of politics. It's advertising that's parodied in Christmas in July, with Dick Powell as a man who thinks he's won a contest to come up with an advertising slogan. It's all the result of a practical joke that gets way out of control before its exposed.
Things really pick up with the next three movies. The Lady Eve has Henry Fonda as a wealthy yet clumsy young man targeted by con artist Barbara Stanwyck. Unfortunately for her, she actually falls for him, but when he finds out her true profession, she must engage in an even bigger con to win him back.
Sullivan's Travels, considered by many to be Sturges's best picture, as Joel McCrea (in the first of three roles in Sturges movies) as the title character, a big-time movie director who makes great comedies but wants to make a message picture. He decides to live the life of a hobo to see how the poor live; at first, this is rather comic but at a certain point things turn much more serious, teaching Sullivan a lesson he wasn't expecting.
Things lighten up in The Palm Beach Story, with the antics even occurring in the opening credits, As McCrea and Claudette Colbert get married. Five years later, things are on the rocks as they are broke.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
One of the greatest comedic works. I bought this collection as a gift, and know that he'll get belly laughs from these great movies. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
ORIGINAL NARRATIVES ARE COMBINED WITH FINE CASTING AND SKILLED DIRECTION AN CINEMATOGRAPHY..Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
Preston Sturges wrote and directed eight of the funniest comedies ever made. Seven of them were for Paramount, between 1940-1944, and six are in this set. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Doug Molitor
Preston Sturges was the master of the slapstick and socially relevant comedy in the depth of the depression. The Lady Eve is among my favorite films of the era.Published 14 months ago by Peter Ashlock
I love old movies & I get them as often as I can. I watch them with girlfriends, grandkids, & when I am alone. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Mary L. Gary
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