Lord knows the world hardly needs another self-proclaimed Frank Capra expert... Thus, I make no special claims about either my insights or knowledge of the man... I just like his films, and this page is a modest effort to help keep them all straight in my cluttered little mind.
"The Great McGinty" (Universal, 1940)
After writing several sucessful Hollywood scripts, hotshot Preston Sturges took his first crack at directing, in this crisp, typically cynical, intelligent 1940 debut. The Great McGinty is one Dan McGinty, a down-and-out, yet tough-as-nails tramp who finds opportunity handed to him on a silver platter when a the boss of a big political machine sees McGinty's potential, and taps him to be one of his many henchmen in a statewide graft ring. Affable, savvy, and ruthlessly ambitious, McGinty rises to the top, eventually riding into the governor's office on a hypocritically-fashioned "reform" ticket. Naturally, a woman softens him up, and brings his downfall. As usual, it's difficult not to compare Sturges with the equally populist director, Frank Capra, especially as the plot of this film closely mirrors that of Capra's Meet John Joe, and other Capra films. How do they stack up? Well, Sturges's story is in certain regards darker, in others less harrowing. His bum-made-reformed-conman starts way more corrupt, and never really softenss to the degree a Capra hero would... He finds his moral center, but not his actual salvation, and the film doesn't have what you'd exactly call a "happy ending," at least not for the hero himself. Other elements are similar, though, particularly in the skillful use of supporting character actors. Particularly appealling here are Akim Tamiroff as the political boss and William Demarest as the stooge who first recruits McGinty. Brian Donlevy, as McGinty, is adequate, but hardly as appealing as some of the actors Sturges would work with later on. Still, a nice example of the Sturges formula at work.
"The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek" (Paramount, 1944)
Probably Betty Hutton's best straight dramatic role (even though this is ostensibly a comedy...) In this surprisingly frank wartime romance, she plays a young, restless smalltown hottie who goes gallivanting off to USO dance (in order to help "boost morale") and winds up, inconveniently enough, pregnant with an unknown soldier's child. Eddie Bracken plays the hangdog hometown schnook who offers to marry her and help cove things up, even though he knows she doesn't feel the same way for him as he does about her (especially since he's 4F and unable to join the fight abroad). As usual, director Preston Sturges embues his characters with a touching balance of human frailty, worldliness and moral resolve... This is one of his best films, and an unusually rich part for Hutton as well.
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