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Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection [7 Discs] [DVD]
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Overview

Special Features

  • Theatrical Trailer

Synopsis

Christmas in July
This modest Preston Sturges comedy stars Dick Powell as an office clerk dreaming of better things and Ellen Drew as his more pragmatic girlfriend. Powell convinces himself that his fortune will be made if he can win a slogan contest sponsored by a coffee company. Powell's contribution: "If you can't sleep at night, it isn't the coffee, it's the bunk!" Three of Powell's fellow workers decide to have some fun with him; they fake a telegram which announces that he's won the contest. The deception snowballs to the point that even the head of the coffee firm (Raymond Walburn) labors under the misapprehension that Powell has won. When the painful truth is revealed, Powell finds himself broke (because of all the creature comforts he's bought) and jobless, but at least he's retained the love of his wife. A cute deus ex machina to the story appears in the person of William Demarest, the foreman of the "jury" that is judging the slogan contest. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Great McGinty
The moral of Preston Sturges' first directorial effort The Great McGinty seems to be: If you're a crook, stay a crook, because honesty will get ya every time. Brian Donlevy plays Dan McGinty, a Chicago hobo who is hired by local political bosses as a "professional voter", casting ballots under a variety of assumed names in various districts. McGinty chalks up $74 worth of votes, and when local ward heeler William Demarest can't pony up, McGinty takes direct action by trying to beat up The Boss (Akim Tamiroff). Though the two men can't get through an entire day without trying to kill each other, McGinty and the Boss are impressed by each other's raw abilities and become political partners. Through the Boss' patronage, McGinty works his way up to the mayor's office, with his politically expedient bride (Muriel Angelus) at his side. Though he never goes so far as to fall in love with his "arranged" wife, Donlevy is fond of both her and her children by a previous marriage, and for their sake he begins to reform--much to the dismay of the Boss. With the Governor's mansion within his grasp, McGinty makes the fatal error of fessing up to a graft-ridden bridge contract. It is this impulsive moment of honesty, rather than any of his past crimes, that gets McGinty thrown in the slammer, sharing a cell with the blood-in-his-eye Boss. Demarest separates the two combative men long enough to arrange an escape to South America, but not before McGinty has assured the financial security of his wife and family. The story is told in flashback form in a seedy South American dive, where McGinty works as a bartender and the Boss is the manager. The film ends with the two friendly enemies duking it out over a minor infraction, while bouncer Demarest looks on in disgust. Sick to death of watching other directors mangle his screenplays, Preston Sturges sold this rollicking political satire to Paramount only on the condition that he be allowed to direct (for the princely sum of $10). Paramount hedged its bets by giving Sturges a slim budget and inexpensive stars; as a result, the film made back its cost several times over, and Preston Sturges' directorial career was off and running. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Lady Eve
The Great Moment
After producing, writing and directing one hit film after another, Preston Sturges finally misfired with the biopic The Great Moment. Sturges was always fascinated with the saga of W.T.G. Morton, the 19th century Boston dentist who, after inventing the first truly effective anesthesia, was forced to give up his proprietary interest in the invention and ended up dying in poverty and obscurity. Joel McCrea stars as Morton, a young oral surgeon determined to find a painless method for exracting teeth-which he does, virtually by accident. Betty Field costars as Morton's faithful spouse Elizabeth, while Sturges regular William Demarest offers a gem of a performance as Morton's best friend-guinea pig Eben Frost (his persistence upon recalling his first meeting with Morton -- "I was in excru-ci-ating pain"-is one of the film's highlights). Completed in 1942, The Great Moment was taken out of Sturges' hands and heavily re-edited and re-arranged by the Paramount executives: as a result, the story is confusing and downright incomprehensible at times (the film's present ending, for example, originally occured in the middle of the film). The result was varying runtimes for the film of 80, 83, 87, and 90 minutes. An enormous box-office flop in 1944, the film proved to be the beginning of the end for Sturges, who was never able to completely recover from its failure. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Hail the Conquering Hero
It took nerve for writer/director Preston Sturges to lampoon the whole concept of hero worship in the middle of World War II, but once more Sturges' oddball sense of taste and propriety paid off at the box office in Hail the Conquering Hero. Eddie Bracken plays the son of a World War I Marine hero who is the first in his small town to sign up for military service. When Bracken is discharged from the Marines for hay fever, he hasn't the nerve to go home and tell his mother and the rest of the townsfolk. Fortunately, he is befriended by a bunch of good-hearted Marines, led by sergeant William Demarest. Bracken's new buddies decide to help him save face by accompanying him to his home and telling one and all that Bracken has served valiantly in the Pacific. Lauded as a hero thanks to this subterfuge, the hapless Bracken finds himself being coerced into running for mayor! When he finally does confess the truth, the townspeople decide that only a real hero would own up to his lies in public. As always, Preston Sturges' richly varied supporting cast makes the most of every scene they're in, especially Raymond Walburn as a blustering politico and Franklin Pangborn as a persnickety councilman. Special mention must be made of Ella Raines as a refreshingly non-cliched heroine, and ex-boxer Freddie Steele as a morose Marine with a Mother complex. While Eddie Bracken's nerdish mannerisms can wear on the viewer, he is kept marvelously in check throughout Hail the Conquering Hero. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Palm Beach Story
As for the opening reels, the principal motivating factor is money. After a deliberately confusing pre-credit sequence (not explained until the film's punch line), Tom Jeffers (Joel McCrea) and Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) are married. "And so they lived happily ever after," exults a title card, "...or did they?" Well, they didn't. After five years of marriage, Tom hasn't raised a dime with his pie-in-the-sky inventions. Using the sort of logic common to Sturges heroines, Gerry decides that the only way to help her husband is to divorce him, marry a wealthy man, and use the second husband's money to finance Tom's schemes. Borrowing money from a generous self-made business mogul known only as the Wienie King (Robert Dudley), Gerry boards a train to Palm Beach, FL, where all the rich folk go. En route, she is "adopted" by the Ale & Quail Club, a group of perpetually drunken millionaires whose idea of a good time is to shoot their rifles at everything that moves (among the club members are such Sturges regulars as William Demarest, Robert Warwick, Jimmy Conlin, Robert Greig, Jack Norton, and Dewey Robinson). Taking refuge from this rowdy crew, Gerry makes the acquaintance of likeable stuffed shirt John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee), who happens to be one of the wealthiest men in the Western Hemisphere. While Gerry spoons with Hackensacker in Palm Beach, the confused Tom (remember him?) dallies with Hackensacker's man-crazy sister, Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor). How all this straightens itself out is better seen than described, which is pretty much the case whenever one discusses Sturges' singular work, and The Palm Beach Story is vintage Sturges with one side-splitting sequence after another. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Sullivan's Travels
In Preston Sturges' classic comedy of Depression-era America, filmmaker John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea), fed up with directing profitable comedies like "Ants in Your Plants of 1939," is consumed with the desire to make a serious social statement in his upcoming film, "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" Unable to function in the rarefied atmosphere of Hollywood, Sullivan decides to hit the road, disguised as a tramp, and touch base with the "real" people of America. But Sullivan's studio transforms his odyssey into a publicity stunt, providing the would-be nomad with a luxury van, complete with butler (Robert Greig) and valet (Eric Blore). Advised by his servants that the poor resent having the rich intrude upon them, Sullivan escapes his retinue and continues his travels incognito. En route, he meets a down-and-out failed actress (Veronica Lake). Experiencing firsthand the scroungy existence of real-life hoboes, Sullivan returns to Hollywood full of bleeding-heart fervor. After first arranging for the girl's screen test, he heads for the railyards, intending to improve the lot of the local rail-riders and bindlestiffs by handing out ten thousand dollars in five-dollar bills. Instead, Sullivan is coldcocked by a tramp, who steals Sullivan's clothes and identification. When the tramp is run over by a speeding train, the world at large is convinced that the great John L. Sullivan is dead. Meanwhile, the dazed Sullivan, dressed like a bum with no identification on his person, is arrested and put to work on a brutal Southern chain gang. With its almost Shakespearean combination of uproarious comedy and grim tragedy, Sullivan's Travels is Sturges' masterpiece and one of the finest movies about movies ever made. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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