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Review: In 1940, Preston Sturges's success at writing for stage and screen emboldened him to make Paramount Pictures an offer they couldn't refuse: a virtually free script in exchange for the chance to direct it himself. Commonplace today, the strategy was novel but successful, making Sturges one of the first star writer-directors, and earning him an Oscar for that fateful screenplay.
The Great McGinty introduces the Sturges style largely intact, starting with a shrewd story line rooted in a provocative theme: political corruption. Dan McGinty (Brian Donlevy) is a tramp who impresses a local crime boss (Akim Tamiroff) by voting 37 times in a rigged mayoral election. McGinty becomes one of the boss's enforcers, then his political protégé, winning the mayor's job as a "reform" candidate, and going on to the governor's mansion before a change of heart compels him to take public service seriously. In Sturges's typically cynical world-view, it's only when the antihero goes straight that the law closes in.
That ironic moral dilemma is but one of many Sturges touches, which also include a marriage of political convenience that inverts the usual "meet-cute" conventions of screwball comedy by having the couple fall for each other six months after they tie the knot. Donlevy, better known as a dramatic heavy, was in keeping with Sturges's penchant for casting "serious" male leads as his protagonists, a thread continued with Joel McCrea and Henry Fonda. In this film, the director also recruits the first members of what would become a reliably fine, comedic repertory company, represented here by William Demarest and Jimmy Conlin, and introduces a career-long affection for combining the verbal sparring of great screwball dialogue with the older, physical kick of slapstick. He would refine and improve these tools to greater effect in subsequent classics, but The Great McGinty is still great fun. --Sam Sutherland
Title: Great Mcginty [VHS]
Book Condition: New
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