– The Filmmaker Collection (DVD-2006)
Studios Home Entertainment
Reviewed by Daniel Severin
four-year period in the early 1940s, Preston Sturges was the most powerful film director in Hollywood. Not only was Sturges the first screenwriter allowed to direct his own scripts,
but he also produced an amazing number of hilarious motion pictures. Seven of these are included in Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection, an essential box set of classic screwball comedies.
an important cinematic innovator whose work has been unjustly overlooked. He used the best elements from silent comedies in
his films and could tackle serious issues without seeming heavy-handed, unlike his colleague and rival Frank Capra. But what
probably distinguishes Sturges’s films the most from those of other directors was the Sturges stock company, a number
of character actors whose supporting performances made the movies great. It becomes almost a game for fans to look for Franklin
Pangborn or William Demarest in a Sturges film.
In 1940, the
year before John Huston and Orson Welles became writer-directors, Preston Sturges wrote and directed two classic satires at
Paramount. Never before on DVD, The
Great McGinty and Christmas in July were unprecedented social commentaries
that made people laugh.
The Great McGinty shows what happens when a corrupt politician tries to be honest: he gets thrown in jail! Brian
Donlevy plays McGinty, a drifter who after voting 37 times in one day works his way up the ladder to become governor. Greed
and corruption have never been funnier!
Christmas in July skewers the world of contest entering. By day, Dick Powell works as an ad copywriter, but at night
he enters contests and imagines life when he will have it all. His coffee slogan is mistakenly chosen as the winner, leading
to humor, generosity, and repossession of property. The neighborhood brawl, in which a young man beats a cop with a fish,
is one of many highlights.
Next in the
set is one of the funniest films ever made, The Lady Eve. This 1941 comedy of mistaken
identity stars Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as a cardsharp and a brewer’s son who fall in love on a ship, only to
learn the truth about each other. In The Lady Eve, Fonda falls for Stanwyck twice,
trips over a sofa, and falls out of a train.
Sullivan’s Travels is considered Sturges’s masterpiece. The film induces non-stop laughter and tears
and draws from every cinematic innovation in the history of the medium without being obvious or contrived. Posing the immortal
question, “What’s the matter with Capra?” Joel McCrea as film director John L. Sullivan sets out on a cross-country
quest to get to know everyday people and what they find funny. Along for the ride is Veronica Lake,
disguised as a boy. Sullivan’s Travels is a comic gem involving bigamy, jail,
and a homeless shelter.
in the set is 1942’s The Palm Beach Story. Aspiring inventor Tom Jeffers
(Joel McCrea) only needs $100,000 to produce the most amazing airport ever built: an elaborate system of runways suspended
above a city like a tennis racket. Tom’s wife Gerry (Claudette Colbert) has had enough of these nutty ideas, but while
on the way to get a Palm
Beach divorce she
meets a millionaire who might invest, if she marries him. As the Ale and Quail Club, members of the Sturges Stock Company
organize a posse on a Pullman train and nearly steal the film.
films made a lot of money for Paramount,
but they were also expensive. The Filmmaker Collection contains his sole misfire,
The Great Moment. Joel McCrea plays the inventor of anesthesia in this slapstick-heavy
biopic. The studio reedited the film without Sturges, and The Great Moment isn’t
great, due to this interference. The film is enjoyable, however, on multiple viewings, with great performances from William
Demarest and Esther Howard.
The last film
in the Sturges set is a timeless examination of American patriotism, Hail the Conquering
Hero (1944) is a humorous companion film to Sturges’s more famous The Miracle
of Morgan’s Creek, which was released the same year. Hail the Conquering
Hero completes the cycle of Sturges’s early 1940s obsessions. Eddie Bracken plays a soldier who was discharged from
the military because of his poor health, only he couldn’t bear the humiliation, so he lied about his war record. A rollicking
parade has been arranged to greet him in his home town, to honor the returning war hero. Like the great McGinty, Bracken’s
character is swept up in a whirlwind of popularity and finds himself running for office. But who wants to vote for a liar?
is the thinking person’s comedy director. With Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker
Collection, most of his best movies are available in a shiny package. Be sure to watch the theatrical trailers to see
how these great films were originally promoted-- this is a hoot in and of itself. The transfer quality is good, and though
the set lacks extras, Universal Home Video has wisely made the films available on DVD.