John Sturges. No relation to the great Preston who flourished in a very different decade (1940’s) and genre (comedy). John made big budget action movies in the 1950’s and 1960’s and the strength of his resume includes the trio of films at the top of his list down there: Bad Day at Black Rock, The Magnificent Seven, and The Great Escape. He absolutely knew what he was doing with widescreen, cinemascope- often, and beautifully, staging his ensemble of actors throughout the frame like Visconti did. His weakness is the lone film that lands on the top 100 of their respective decade—The Great Escape– and it’s just kind of hanging there at the 100th spot for the 1960’s.

a superb shot from The Magnificent Seven

Best film: The Great Escape. It’s a riveting narrative, a swashbuckling star turn from Steve McQueen,  (Sturges helped make him a star just a few years earlier in The Magnificent Seven) with a talented ensemble of actors (Attenborough, Coburn, Bronson, James Garner). Elmer Bernstein’s grandiose score doesn’t hurt either.

with The Magnificent Seven in 1960 and The Great Escape in 1963, Sturges was Hollywood’s most reliable action movie director

total archiveable films: 7

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  0

top 100 films of the decade:  1 (The Great Escape)

most overrated:  Sturges doesn’t have an overrated or underrated film in my estimation. The Great Escape sits at #654 on the TSPDT consensus list. That’s a good spot. The only other two films from Sturges mentioned at all are Black Rock and The Magnificent Seven– and both are between 1001 and 2000—fine spots as well.

most underrated :  See above

gem I want to spotlight :  Bad Day at Black Rock. It doesn’t have a Bernstein score and it is about half the length (81 mins) of Sturges two most well-known films—but it is his breakthrough—and early on shows a clear talent for widescreen composition.

Bad Day at Black Rock – his breakthrough—and early on shows a clear talent for widescreen composition.

stylistic innovations/traits:

  • Action director that never hit the highs of Kurosawa (he remade The Seven Samurai), Ford, or Peckinpah ((The Wild Bunch has a lot in common with both Sturges work and Kurosawa) but handled himself confidently and assured nonetheless

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral— beautiful shot (Sturges trademark bodies in the frame Visconti visual)

  • Strong director of widescreen compositions—heroic and villainous figures alike staged throughout the frame like Visconti
  • Films about the moral code, often starring Spencer Tracy or Steve McQueen at the center
  • Big budget ensembles—there are some great actors in his films that get 4-7th billing and it fits with talents as a director of Cinemascope to get them all in the frame
  • Booming scores from Elmer Bernstein

 

top 10

  1. The Great Escape
  2. The Magnificent Seven
  3. Bad Day at Black Rock
  4. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
  5. Hour of the Gun
  6. Last Train from Gun Hill
  7. The Old Man and the Sea

from Hour of the Gun– Big budget ensembles—there are some great actors in his films that get 4-7th billing and it fits with talents as a director of Cinemascope to get them all in the frame

 

By year and grades

1955- Bad Day at Black Rock HR
1957- Gunfight at the O.K. Corral R
1958- The Old Man and the Sea R
1959- Last Train From Gun Hill R
1960- The Magnificent Seven HR
1963- The Great Escape HR/MS
1967- Hour of the Gun R

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives