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The Great McGinty

The Great McGinty(1940)

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teaser The Great McGinty (1940)

In a seedy banana republic barroom a bartender recounts the chain of eventsthat led to his end-of-the-road downfall in Preston Sturges' consistentlyshrewd combination of comedy and social drama, The GreatMcGinty (1940). Told in flashback, Dan McGinty's (Brian Donlevy) taleis a cynical American success story narrated by a bad-guy-made-good.

Anenterprising bum who knows how to work the angles, McGinty is a soupkitchen hobo paid a measly fee of two dollars by a corrupt political bossto vote for his shyster mayoral candidate. When McGinty votes not once, but37 times, he catches the eye of The Boss (Akim Tamiroff), who is impressedby McGinty's flinty, hard-edged can-do attitude. McGinty quickly risesthrough the ranks of New York's politically corrupt, from bill collector toalderman to mayor to governor. Encouraged to boost the women's vote andpresent an image of all-American family man to his constituents, McGintyeven marries his secretary, Catherine (Muriel Angelus), a divorcee with two children, and takes up residence with his ready-made faux-family in aluxurious apartment. But the sham family begins to tug at McGinty'sheartstrings and soon Catherine has the one-time hood speaking out againstsocial injustice, graft and child labor, thus alienating his would-bepuppetmaster. McGinty's political downfall soon follows in PrestonSturges' wry satire of political graft full of crackling tough-guydialogue. The transformation of the gruff, working-class palooka McGinty into abeloved, sharp-dressed politico is in itself a stinging indictment of theshow-biz aspects of politics.

By the late thirties, Sturges had already distinguished himself inHollywood as a writer of remarkable wit and sophistication. By the time hepenned The Great McGinty, Sturges was the highest-paid scribe inHollywood, renowned for his sparkling dialogue and elegantly craftedstories. But the adaptations of his scripts for films like EasyLiving (1937) and Diamond Jim (1935) to the screen weredispleasing to Sturges, far from the tone he aimed for in his writing.

Sturges longed to direct one of his own scripts, and finally convincedreluctant Paramount executives to let him direct by selling the studio theMcGinty screenplay for a mere $10 on the condition that he serve asdirector. Despite Paramount's initial anxiety about the marketability of apolitical satire, The Great McGinty turned out to be a surprisingly deft firsteffort that challenges some of the feel-good political Americana of FrankCapra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). And despite somesignificant stumbling blocks, like a three-week shooting schedule and arelatively meager $350,000 budget, McGinty turned out to be anacrobatic, lively surprise hit at the box office and with critics. Andbecause writer-directors were contrary to the departmentalized operations of the classical Hollywood studio system, Sturges' success in wearing twohats proved highly influential for other talented writers anxious to maketheir first foray into direction, like John Huston and Billy Wilder, whofollowed in Sturges' footsteps.

Sturges' ability to transform himself from a highly successful writer intoan equally renowned director of such cinematic favorites as Sullivan'sTravels (1941), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) and Hailthe Conquering Hero (1944) was just another demonstration of his manycreative metamorphoses. A child of wealth who was educated in France,Germany and Switzerland, Sturges first worked in his mother's cosmeticsfirm, later invented a kissproof lipstick, tried his hand as an inventor,then as a playwright, but found his ultimate creative expression as aremarkably successful screenwriter and director.

Producer: Paul Jones
Director: Preston Sturges
Screenplay: Preston Sturges
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Production Design: Hans Dreier, A. Earl Hedrick
Music: Frederick Hollander
Cast: Brian Donlevy (Daniel "Dan" McGinty), Muriel Angelus (CatherineMcGinty), Akim Tamiroff (The Boss), William Demarest (The Politician),Allyn Joslyn (George).

by Felicia Feaster

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