The Preston Sturges Retrospective is an unmissable retrospective of the films of Preston Sturges V.I.
Finally, there is a retrospective exhibition of American director Preston Sturges in Holland, V.I. He may be little-known outside of the United States, but Sturges must be somewhat well-known to cinephiles, right? There are excellent reference works. It is not clear whether any of his films have been distributed in the Netherlands. Al Ain displays a selection of his most important films. As a writer and director, he has produced twelve films. Nine of them, as well as a documentary about his life and work, will be shown in Amsterdam.
Sturges was full of anecdotes. The bookshelves are full of books about his childhood alone. His mother, Marie d’Este, was a creative type, a bohemian and close friend of Isadora Duncan, who took her son to Europe to experience the culture. At home, his stepfather was a capitalist and stock trading conservative. The young Sturgis became torn between two worlds. Fortunately, he was skeptical, and undoubtedly used his experiences in movie scripts.
Sturges began his work as a playwright and then turned to cinema in 1932 as a screenwriter with great success. His career as a writer and director began with The Great McGinty and Christmas in July 1940. His most important films were made between 1940 and 1945. In 1941, The Voyages of Sullivan and Lady Eve, his magnum opus, was released. The first film is a reflection of his work as a successful film director.
Joe, the highly successful director of such popular comedies as “Hey Hey in the Hayloft” and “Ants in Your Plants of 1939,” wants to make a serious film about poverty. He’s outfitted as a pauper (Edith Head!) so he can go on adventures as a wanderer. Things get out of hand, and Joe ends up in a labor camp, where the only fun for the prisoners is watching cartoons in church. From the beginning, Joe knew he was wrong. Comedy is healing when drama fails. Sullivan’s Travels is secretly anti-Hollywood, but it’s also an endearing ode to the wretches of the land.
The Great McGinty
The dark sides of life are always hidden in his films. Although they played on trains, on luxury ships and in expensive homes, with eccentric servants, mayors and other dignitaries, Sturgis loved to mock the authorities. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1943) and Hail to the Conquering Hero (1944) are interesting studies of the small town and its virtuous citizens. Patriotism and sexual morality are themes here. In both films, Eddie Bracken plays a pathetic character hopelessly behind the times. The Miracle has a delirious plot about Bracken’s bride getting pregnant by another man, and the film seems to be heading toward bigamy. Amid all the hustle and bustle, the love story between Bracken and his girlfriend, played by the wonderful Betty Hutton, is subtle and heartbreaking.
In an homage to the conquering hero, Bracken plays a soldier who has to leave the army due to a pollen allergy and goes into hiding for a year. A web of lies is created against the will and gratitude of military colleagues. However, he was welcomed as a hero in his hometown and was even nominated for mayor. The wonderful speech he gives to confess his lies is one of the best moments in Sturges’s work. Despite the humour, both films have an almost dark, dark undercurrent.
An important part of Sturges’ work is the stable of exceptional actors in supporting roles, with William Demarest in the lead. This dream team of actors gives colour, depth and a wonderful sense of humor to Sturges’ work. Outside of Paramount, the only film of note was Unfaithfully Yours (1947), a flawed masterpiece. The film’s events revolve around a leader who wants to expose his wife’s adultery and even kill her. The bandleader in this bleak and devastating film is played by the charming and charismatic Rex Harrison, who is arrogant and almost devilish here. As he plays a symphony, he comes up with three versions to get rid of. It’s fascinating how Sturges’s camera seems to wander through Harrison’s mind. Hitchcock couldn’t have done a better job. The film is famous for a 15-minute slapstick scene.
Unfaithful to you
Preston Sturges (1889-1959) is sometimes called the screwball manager. This visual humor was great during American silent films. Critics tend to pigeonhole Sturges. On the one hand, he has been praised for his dialogues and, on the other hand, for the screwball visual humor in his work. Sturges’s films were full of great dialogue, but he was a great storyteller with pictures, and a natural talent. It has influenced all aspects of filmmaking. It must be said that he made his most important films at the Paramount studio and had at his disposal the best technicians, cameramen and the wonderful costume designer Edith Head. This was Hollywood in its golden years.
The strange nicknames for Sturge’s characters are worth a movie ticket in their own right: Heppelfinger, Bildocker, Kockenlocker, and perhaps the prettiest Ratzkiwatzki.
The film, written and directed by Preston Sturges, runs until October 15 at the Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam.
Films shown: The Great McGinty (1940), Christmas in July (1940), Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan’s Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1943), Hail the Conquest Hero (1944), The Great Moment (1944), Yours Truly (1947) and the documentary Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (1989).
Ulrike van Tongeren
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