Friday, December 9, 2011

Directors: Preston Sturges

Ever since last week's post about directors, a lot of my friends have been talking to me about Preston Sturges, either telling me what their favorite movies are of his, or asking me who in the world he is. In an effort to fill up the latter's  queues with totally delightful movies, let me introduce you.

In high school when I discovered AMC (back before Ted Turner owned all of the rights to every movie ever and AMC played movies older than the Godfather,) and devoured all of the old movies I could, I somehow totally missed Preston Sturges. At BYU, one of my professors showed us Palm Beach Story and I was absolutely done for. We talked about how he was the first writer-director since sound entered the movies, how he shaped how screenplays were purchased, and how he invented narratage. This is all fine and well, but what makes Preston Sturges so amazingly delightful is how hilarious, truly hilarious, he is. The dialogue he wrote is fast and witty, but he threw in pratfalls and sight gags left and right, so it is accessible to the fans of Noel Coward and The Three Stooges alike. 

Between Orem Public Library and the HBLL with my film major card, I've seen the vast majority of his films, either written by or written and directed by, and without reservation, I can recommend to you:
1. Palm Beach Story - Joel McCrea plays an inventor with the idea of installing wire mesh over a city, much like a gigantic tennis racket, to serve as an airport. And Mary Astor has a boyfriend she's trying to shake, whose language is unknown by everyone, so she just keeps making words up for yes and no. "Nitz Toto, Nitz!" I die, every time. 
2. The Lady Eve - Barbara Stanwick is perfection. There's deceit and lots and lots of Henry Fonda falling down.
3. Sullivan's Travels - This one seems to be the highest praised of all Preston Sturges' work, but it was one of the weaker screenplays according to Sturges himself. 

For those looking to go a little deeper, watch Unfaithfully Yours, (Nobody handles Handel like you handle Handel, and your Delius - delirious.) or Remember the Night which has a slightly happier ending for Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck than say, Double Indemnity.

Still not convinced? You certainly are hard to please.

Many, many moons ago, my mother got me "Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges" an autobiography put together by himself as a sort of journal, and then his wife published it forty years after his death. It was such a delightful read. Some excerpts:
"Incidentally, when I look back over what I was exposed to as a child, I realize how extraordinarily lucky I was never to have become a (God forbid) male interpretive dancer with a wreath of gold laurel leaves around my head." p. 33
"Mr. Crowley's reference to me as "the brat" doesn't bother me because, compared to the way I refer to him, it is a compliment." p.77
"By this time she and I had fallen into the habit of one another--proximity, I suppose--and had become, without the benefit of vows or promises, a duo. She was wonderfully witty, fiercely devoted, jealous and possessed of a temper that made my temper, described by a wife divorcing me some years later as "ungovernable," seem like that of a meadow lark. Two weeks before the picture was finished, Willy [Wyler] eloped with Maggie Sullavan. He asked my opinion of the proposed match beforehand, but he must not have heard what I had I said." p. 280

1 comment:

Brian said...

Don't forget The Miracle of Morgan's Creek! That movie is so freaking funny and it is amazing what Sturges managed to get away with during the Hays Code era. It's basically about a girl who gets so drunk at a party that she can't even remember who knocked her up (Ratskiwatski?), but Sturges comes up with logical, if far-fetched, justifications for every morally questionable thing that happens, leaving the censors powerless to stop him.