Brrrcold

Preston Sturges

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I'm rather indifferent to the 'auteur theory' of film directors, but as much as it applies to anyone it should apply to Preston Sturges - whose THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942) is showing on TCM as I type. It's my favorite of his list of films. He was most in demand for his screenplays, but strove to be a director too - and in this he succeeded with 12 (or 13, depending on who gets screen credit.)

And, among 'auteurs' he's a rare case who confined his work to comedies. His great achievement was in devising improbable plots in a recognizable universe of people who are all very recognizable types but are revealed to be slightly insane once they start to interact with each other. It's an extension of 'slapstick' - but more restrained in the comic set-pieces (no collapsing dinosaur skeletons, etc.) but also more inane because no one is playing what once was known as "the straight man."

At the moment it seems that THE LADE EVE (1941) is regarded as his masterpiece - and maybe that's right. Previously, SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941) was regarded as the best - and maybe that's right. I'm also a fan of the other films on his list (e.g., THE GREAT McGINTY, 1940; CHRISTMAS IN JULY, 1940; and UNFAITHFULLY YOURS 1948), all of which are worth the effort to locate and see. His screenplay work is also exemplary, especially EASY LIVING (1937) and REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940), the latter of which has emerged in recent years as a favorite Christmas film.

I like THE PALM BEACH STORY best because it's the one that (for me) is practically impossible to see 'around the corner' of the plot. It's obvious Sturges knew what he had in mind, but he doesn't tip his hand until the very end.

I've recommended that TCM should return to the 'Director of the Month' style showcase. Preston Sturges would be an ideal re-entree to that offering.

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They do show Preston Sturges movies on TCM. In fact, his films are often the only Paramount titles that TCM leases from outside its own library. 

If they do a spotlight on Sturges, a proper spotlight, they should pull in films he wrote but didn't direct, as well as his lesser seen directorial efforts.

I happen to love THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND (1949). I think it's hilarious. Grable was never better, Marie Windsor has a memorable cameo at the end and Margaret Hamilton has some scene stealing moments as does Sterling Holloway. Plus, like most Sturges films, it really pushes the boundaries of the production code.

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I also like THE GREAT MOMENT (1944), despite it being a flawed effort. It's interesting to see how Sturges tried to do a serious drama in his heyday. 

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Sturges' screenplays are examplary, as I noted, but the casting in the films he directs is almost always perfect, including the character parts and supporting roles.

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On a related note, The Great McGinty is headed to Blu-ray, courtesy of Kino, with a new 4K remaster. It's due early next year.

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58 minutes ago, Brrrcold said:

I'm rather indifferent to the 'auteur theory' of film directors, but as much as it applies to anyone it should apply to Preston Sturges - whose THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942) is showing on TCM as I type. It's my favorite of his list of films. He was most in demand for his screenplays, but strove to be a director too - and in this he succeeded with 12 (or 13, depending on who gets screen credit.)

I'd heard Preston Sturges mentioned in 40's film discussions, and thought it was another name film historians tossed around, like Howard Hawks's comedies.  Until I sat down out of curiosity with "The Great McGinty" and "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek", and saw occasional moments of absolute screwball silliness break out.  😄  (The spots!!)

34 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

I also like THE GREAT MOMENT (1944), despite it being a flawed effort. It's interesting to see how Sturges tried to do a serious drama in his heyday. 

There seemed to be a stock and trade for studios to dabble in "Great medical/science biographies" every time they wanted a little responsible Epic Oscar-bait, in the wake of Louis Pasteur and Madame Curie.  

I'd rented Moment on disk, and even Fox's own description mentioned "Even when Sturges tackles serious material, the humor still comes out..."  The movie wants to be some kind of protesting historical validation to give credit to the inventor of anesthesia, who had to give up his patent to see it used (the climactic "moment" of the title), but the minute William Demarest shows up in a Preston Sturges film as the doctor's first patient, you can see the true instincts emerge.

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I enjoy Preston Sturges' films as well. The Palm Beach Story is also my favorite...of the Sturges films that I've seen of course. I haven't seen all of them, but I have The Great McGintyHail the Conquering Hero, and Miracle of Morgan's Creek on the DVR waiting to be watched.

I don't even know if I can fully explain what it is about Sturges films that I enjoy.  I like that his films have a relatively realistic premise but feature touches of absurdity.  In The Palm Beach Story, the "weenie king" character is hilarious.  The gun club scene on the train is bonkers.  I love the outfit that Claudette Colbert manages to fashion out of men's pajamas and a Pullman blanket.  Rudy Vallee, whom I really only knew from his appearance on the first episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, was funny as the stuffy brother of eccentric socialite Mary Astor.  Astor's complete disregard of her latest boy toy paramour is hilarious.  This film, along with The More the Merrier and Sullivan's Travels made me a fan of Joel McCrea, especially his comedy work.

My absolute favorite part of The Palm Beach Story is Colbert introducing husband McCrea as "Captain McGlue" to the rest of the characters and McCrea's subsequent disdain for his faux moniker. McCrea is now stuck with this ridiculous name for the rest of the film. 

I also love Remember the Night with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray.  It's not as madcap and ridiculous as The Palm Beach Story, but it's a very sweet Christmas film that I enjoy.  It is a perfect addition to my stack of holiday classics that I make my way through every year. 

I haven't watched Sullivan's Travels for awhile to remember any specifics about it.  I think this is a film that I need to re-watch. I just picked up O Brother Where Art Thou? last week. I remembered it sharing many similarities with Sullivan's Travels

Easy Living is hilarious.  I love the scene where the auto-mat goes insane and throws food every where. 

The Lady Eve is excellent.  Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda have a great rapport. I think my favorite part of this film might be Charles Coburn.  He is hilarious and instantly elevates any film he appears in. 

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It is a bit of a pity that even through TCM we only see the top four or five on his list.  BEAUTIFUL BLONDE has never aired on TCM, and EASY LIVING has aired just three times and UNFAITHFULLY YOURS just twice, in 25 years.

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1 minute ago, Brrrcold said:

It is a bit of a pity that even through TCM we only see the top four or five on his list.  BEAUTIFUL BLONDE has never aired on TCM, and EASY LIVING has aired just three times and UNFAITHFULLY YOURS just twice, in 25 years.

I think THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND was his only film in Technicolor. It has excellent production values, and the print that's aired on FXM Retro (formerly Fox Movie Channel) is in perfect condition.

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Parenthetically, it seems to me that REMEMBER THE NIGHT is the good twin to DOUBLE INDEMNITY's bad twin: same stars, a legalistic encounter, a courtship develops around the complications of a 'consiparacy' . It's an odd pairing and an impossible proposition that one film should have anything to do with the other, but now that I've recognized it I cannot 'unsee' it.

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7 minutes ago, Brrrcold said:

Parenthetically, it seems to me that REMEMBER THE NIGHT is the good twin to DOUBLE INDEMNITY's bad twin: same stars, a legalistic encounter, a courtship develops around the complications of a 'consiparacy' . It's an odd pairing and an impossible proposition that one film should have anything to do with the other, but now that I've recognized it I cannot 'unsee' it.

The formula was re-used in the other two films that MacMurray & Stanwyck made. In THE MOONLIGHTER (1953), Stanwyck is again playing a woman that could bring MacMurray to ruin, though this time it's a western setting. And in THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956) she's an old flame who tempts him to turn away from his wife, Joan Bennett. It was always about MacMurray's character being corrupted by Stanwyck's character. The genres changed, the directors changed, but the basic story elements were the same.

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18 minutes ago, Brrrcold said:

Parenthetically, it seems to me that REMEMBER THE NIGHT is the good twin to DOUBLE INDEMNITY's bad twin: same stars, a legalistic encounter, a courtship develops around the complications of a 'consiparacy' . It's an odd pairing and an impossible proposition that one film should have anything to do with the other, but now that I've recognized it I cannot 'unsee' it.

That’s a great idea for a double feature—one that seems obvious w/ Stanwyck & MacMurray; but at the same time, doesn’t seem obvious at all. 

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4 hours ago, EricJ said:

There seemed to be a stock and trade for studios to dabble in "Great medical/science biographies" every time they wanted a little responsible Epic Oscar-bait, in the wake of Louis Pasteur and Madame Curie.  

I'd rented Moment on disk, and even Fox's own description mentioned "Even when Sturges tackles serious material, the humor still comes out..."  The movie wants to be some kind of protesting historical validation to give credit to the inventor of anesthesia, who had to give up his patent to see it used (the climactic "moment" of the title), but the minute William Demarest shows up in a Preston Sturges film as the doctor's first patient, you can see the true instincts emerge.

I guess that's true to some extent, but I don't really see much humor coming out in THE GREAT MOMENT. Especially when we have someone like Betty Field in the cast giving a very strong dramatic performance.

I think it was actually Sturges' attempt to demonstrate his versatility. I am sure the studio would have been happy to let him keeping turning out comedies and to give the more serious material to someone like Mitchell Leisen or Cecil B. DeMille.

For the most part, I would say THE GREAT MOMENT is a sincere effort to tell the life story of an important person. I agree that it follows in the vein of THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR and DR. EHRLICH'S MAGIC BULLET.

It aired once on TCM several years ago and that's how I had seen it.

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As another writer, director-(may have been *Spielberg) said of *Sturges while interviewing *Billy Wilder.  Wilder was absolute in stating all the time when asked "Who is the greatest director/writer in the history of THE MOVIES, his same answer *PRESTON STURGES

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12 minutes ago, spence said:

As another writer, director-(may have been *Spielberg) said of *Sturges while interviewing *Billy Wilder.  Wilder was absolute in stating all the time when asked "Who is the greatest director/writer in the history of THE MOVIES, his same answer *PRESTON STURGES

Their styles, in comedy, were rather similar.

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*Sturges deserved a lot more of his Hollywood peers attention, do you agree  Only made it to 60/61 in 1959 though?

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5 hours ago, TopBilled said:

The formula was re-used in the other two films that MacMurray & Stanwyck made. In THE MOONLIGHTER (1953), Stanwyck is again playing a woman that could bring MacMurray to ruin, though this time it's a western setting. And in THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956) she's an old flame who tempts him to turn away from his wife, Joan Bennett. It was always about MacMurray's character being corrupted by Stanwyck's character. The genres changed, the directors changed, but the basic story elements were the same.

She's really getting more poplar in this era  (TRIVIA: For some reason Barbara had her ashes spread via plane over Lone Pine)

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1 minute ago, spence said:

*Sturges deserved a lot more of his Hollywood peers attention, do you agree  Only made it to 60/61 in 1959 though?

Sturges seems like he was his own person...he didn't play the Hollywood game the way others played it. And that makes his films better, probably.

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1 minute ago, spence said:

She's really getting more poplar in this era  (TRIVIA: For some reason Barbara had her ashes spread via plane over Lone Pine)

I think she was happiest there. She filmed some movies and/or TV shows in that area.

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hanks, if you had to choose which do you like more BALL OF FIRE -(though Hawks) or THE LADY EVE?

 

Oh  *Tracy loathed locations & as you know the super Black Rock was being filmed there 115 in the shade   & of course Gunga Din is even more famous for also being filmed there in '38

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4 minutes ago, spence said:

Thanks, if you had to choose which do you like more BALL OF FIRE -(though Hawks) or THE LADY EVE?

THE LADY EVE. Some of BALL OF FIRE doesn't work for me. I like the remake A SONG IS BORN, a bit better.

How about you?

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Sturges' films always seem to close with an affirmation of life and love - of humanity. SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS is most explicit on this point, I think. Wilder had a more cynical view of humanity, though not entirely negative. Since Howard Hawks has entered the discussion, I'd say he had a much more omniscient and distant view of his characters' motives and behavior, neither affirmative nor negative - but certainly not compassionate, as Sturges was and Wilder sometimes could be.

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19 minutes ago, Brrrcold said:

Sturges' films always seem to close with an affirmation of life and love - of humanity. SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS is most explicit on this point, I think. Wilder had a more cynical view of humanity, though not entirely negative. Since Howard Hawks has entered the discussion, I'd say he had a much more omniscient and distant view of his characters' motives and behavior, neither affirmative nor negative - but certainly not compassionate, as Sturges was and Wilder sometimes could be.

I think what Sturges and Wilder have most in common is the ability to take a good gag and stretch it out for 90 minutes or more. Mel Brooks has this ability too; but Sturges and Wilder are the masters at this sort of thing.

Also, I would say that Sturges and Wilder deliberately go out of their way to circumvent and subvert the production code. To some extent they succeed, because comedies are not meant to be taken seriously. So if there's massive sinning going on-- like Betty Hutton getting pregnant with more than one baby in THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK and not knowing who the father is-- it's so farcical and exaggerated that the production code office doesn't take the sin seriously. This also happens in THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR; where we've got Milland in a rather kinky situation with someone he thinks is a young girl, but production code officials seem to have no problem with it. 

In something like THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND, Betty Grable keeps shooting a judge in the derriere and keeps getting away with it. In a serious dramatic film, that would be unacceptable. So I would say that Sturges and Wilder felt liberated working in comedies, because they could have the characters do rather naughty things without much consequence.

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I agree with all that. I think it would be fair, at this point, to note that Wilder was directly associated with Ernst Lubitsch in the mid- to latter part of Lubitsch's career, and that certainly influenced Wilder's efforts to flirt with the Production Code. Wilder, of course, went beyond comedy and romance, and so may have been a more accomplished screenwriter/director.

I don't know what connection if any Sturges had with Lubitsch, except both were mainly focused on romantic comedies, and both treat romantic pursuits as a game of humiliation and then rehabilitation - all to amuse the audience.

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I watched The Lady Eve for the first time :o the other day and at first I thought that it was going to fall flat and then thought oh no everybody loves this film ... but I was saved. Not sure when it happened but I ended up enthralled. I've never seen Barbara quite this way. So winsome and voluble, totally charming, especially in the Lady Eve part of the film. That scene on the train when she was issuing knee slappers and bending forward in laughter was enchanting to me.  Her accent was not that bad but maybe not that good either but good enough for me. Some aspects of the dialogue really surprised me as it seemed ahead of it's time. Many scenes where the players speak in low tones and in a naturalistic manner, very realistic. Anyone else notice that? Or am I imagining things? I was thinking it might be something peculiar to some of his other films. The pratfalls were wonderful. I'm not a slapsticky kind of viewer for the most part but that dive into the curtain was hilarious. I haven't seen much of Eric Blore but he is so totally convincing at what he does and not everyone who does what he does is convincing. There are many roles like the that, the cranky sidekick with the one-liners, he is perfection. Henry Fonda is some kind of real no matter what he does. I'm not covering all the bases, just off the top of my head. The whole film though is a piece of magic.  ///

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