Preston Sturges. Sturges was the foremost film satirist of his era and was absolutely unstoppable from 1940-1944. In those 5 years he made 7 archiveable films- four of those films were in the top five of their year. Many who have studied both have Lubitsch as the superior director but I haven’t found that to be true and since I have Sturges’ filmography as slightly superior I have him ranked above Lubitsch. Sturges makes the top 100 because he has a whopping 4 films in the top 500. Nobody below Preston Sturges on this list has as many (and only one—Mike Nichols, has 3) so it’s the filmography that’s driving Sturges’ placement here. He’s a style-minus director. Also working against him is his “Exhibit A” if you will- his best film—I admire The Lady Eve but have it ranked as the #398 best film of all-time. That’s pretty far down for a #1 film of all-time.
Best film: The Lady Eve. A rich sexual subtext, hilarious slapstick and timing from two of the better actors of this, or any, era (Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda). It’s certainly one of the few straight comedies that can be called one of the best comedies of all-time.
total archiveable films: 8
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 4 (The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan Creek)
top 100 films of the decade: 5 (The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan Creek, Unfaithfully Yours)
most overrated: Sullivan Travels. I hate even mentioning it because I think higly of the film but it is technically overrated. The consensus on TSPDT put it at #228 and it should rightly be closer to #419 which is where I have it.
most underrated: The Miracle of Morgan Creed. It is #777 and I’m at #474. It is Sturges at his most censor-baiting and it’s deliciously wicked.
gem I want to spotlight: Unfaithfully Yours. Sadly it’s the last archiveable film Sturges made. He made 8 archiveable films in 9 years. Burned bright and flamed out. It’s not his best but he and Rex Harrison are absolutely fantastic here.
stylistic innovations/traits: Sturges is certainly known as the king of comedy during the WWII era. His best films feature far-fetched plots, low-brow but hilarious physical comedy and uproarious yet cultured dialogue. As I said above his films are known for censor-baiting and rich subtext. He’s also known for his memorable minor characters— I think William Demarest probably his most famous player (and I think deservingly so). Editing is key for Sturges as a director and the pace and dialogue go hand-in-hand (in this he’s closer to Hawks or Capra than Lubitsch). His direction services his scripts but it was really a great marriage more than a subservient relationship. Sure, visually he can’t match some of the auteurs that come after him but on the other hand it seems a little crazy that he’s considered so inferior to Wilder, and, in some circles, Lubitsch.
- The Lady Eve
- Sullivan’s Travels
- The Palm Beach Story
- The Miracle of Morgan Creed
- Unfaithfully Yours
- Hail the Conquering Hero
- The Great McGinty
- Christmas in July
By year and grades
|1940- Christmas in July||R|
|1940- The Great McGinty||R|
|1941- Sullivan’s Travels||MS|
|1941- The Lady Eve||MS|
|1942- The Palm Beach Story||MS|
|1943- The Miracle of Morgan Creek|
|1944- Hail the Conquering Hero||R|
|1948- Unfaithfully Yours||HR|
*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
My ranking of Sturges` films that I`ve seen:
1. The Lady Eve MS
2. Sullivan`s Travels MS
3. Unfaithfully Yours MS
4. The Palm Beach Story MS
5. Hail the Conquering Hero R
6. The Great McGinty R
5 Best Performances:
1. Stanwyck- The Lady Eve
2. McCrea- Sullivan`s Travels
3. Colbert- The Palm Beach Story
4. Harrison- Unfaithfully Yours
5. Fonda- The Lady Eve
Love seeing Unfaithfully Yours at an MS. It is such a formally brilliant piece of comedy in its theme and variation structure of one conductor’s daydreams, the use of his music to inform each one, and the way they all pay off in the end in a single long slapstick sequence.
We are pretty much in agreement with all of those so far, though I’ll be interested to see your thoughts on The Miracle of Morgan Creek – I seem to be a little bit below the consensus on that one with an HR so I’m not sure if I’m missing something.
@DeclanG- when Sturges went with his camera through Harrison’s eye I knew I was watching something very special. Harrison is very underrated and this is probably his most underrated performance (he is essentially playing 4 different people). I think this is just one of the most intelligent comedies I have seen in quite some time- daydreams filled with music are absolutely perfect preparation of the hilarious slapstick that is also smartly accompanied by the same music. Such a bold work on its formality. It is probably my personal favorite comedy of 40s (aside of Arsenic and Old Lace my favorite genre is black comedy).
Also, I really enjoyed your Letterboxd review- I saw then we agree on the grade.
I’m very interested in The Miracle of Morgan Creek, and I will eventually saw it, and probably be impressed like I was with most of Sturges’ films.