(Air Date: Week Of 12/27/95)
Critics of writer-director Preston Sturges are quick to point out that his hey-day in Hollywood (Beginning with his 1940 Oscar win for writing "The Great McGinty") was virtually over by 1944 when he was nominated for writing "Hail The Conquering Hero" and "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek". "The Great McGinty" was about the spectacular rise and fall of a na´ve drifter. Sturges, who had spent ten years toiling as a Paramount screenwriter, offered the studio his excellent script for a nominal fee, but only if he could direct himself. A new director was born.
"Christmas In July", Sturges' next film about a clerk who goes wild spending $25,000 he doesn't have under the impression that he won it in a contest, was equally well-received. "The Lady Eve", starring Barbara Stanwyck as a card sharp and Henry Fonda as a shy zillionaire, was one of the funniest comedies of 1941. Less well received that year was Sturges' finest film: "Sullivan's Travels". It detailed the search for a meaningful (i.e.: pretentious) subject matter by a successful director. Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake were memorable as the well-meaning director and the small-time actress who falls in love with him. The point of the film, that making people laugh is the most meaningful thing you can do in hard times, was lost on Depression-wracked audiences preparing for global conflict.
"Sullivan's Travels" is still a treat to watch today as is 1942's "Palm Beach Story", a sophisticated variation on the traditional romantic comedy. "Hail The Conquering Hero" and "The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek" were released in 1944. "Morgan's Creek" was so hilarious and so rapidly paced that the Hays office couldn't stop laughing long enough to realise that the plot (focusing on a girl who can't remember who made her pregnant at a party) would ordinarily have been heavily censored. By the time the Oscar nominations for both of these blockbuster films were announced in 1945, Sturges was off the Paramount lot, as a result of the one flop of his career to date; "The Great Moment" which had been shelved for two years before the studio decided to release it anyway.
Sturges went on to direct silent comic Harold Lloyd's swan song "Mad Wednesday" in 1947, but it sat on one of Howard Hughes' shelves at R.K.O. until 1950. Over at 20th Century Fox, Sturges directed Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell in 1948's "Unfaithfully Yours", but as with "Sullivan's Travels", audiences of the forties failed to appreciate the director's razor sharp sense of humour. He directed Betty Grable in 1949's "The Beautiful Blond Of Bashful Bend", then was fired by Howard Hughes and replaced by Mel Farrar in the middle of filming a Faith Domergue turkey "Vendetta. Sturges was out of the picture business and out of the country. He spent the last decade of his life in Europe, making one more film in France and playing a cameo in Bob Hope's "Paris Holiday" the year before he died. But Hollywood's legendary poor treatment of its greatest treasures says more about the town than it does about geniuses like Preston Sturges. At least ten of his very best efforts are available on home video and all are highly recommended as a sure-fire cure for the early winter blues.
Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan
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