One of the century's smarter films about politics, Preston Sturges' The Great McGinty takes a blowsy, no-nonsense approach to the subject at its core -- corruption -- and by treading that line between sanctimonious outrage and full-blown farce achieves a welcome attitude of realistic (and fatalistic) morality. Sturges' fable starts in one of those wonderfully atmospheric, fly-buzzed and smoky bars that inhabit Third World cities in all great films, where the man, Dan McGinty (Brian Donlevy), is working as a bartender, and telling the story of his fairy tale rise and fall. In its own meritocratic way, the story is actually quite inspiring: man comes out of nowhere, rockets upward through a major city's political organization, marries well, lives better, eventually becomes governor. Sure, he rose to power on a raging tide of graft, but that's the Chicago way, right?
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Putting his lead foot first, director Ernst Lubitsch saddles his story with a script that never properly uses its complete potential. Henry feels that as part of his interview process, he must go through the story of his life, which would have generally been a decent idea, except that he led a pretty uninspiring one. Growing up in the mid-to-late 19th century, Henry is swaddled in privilege from the get-go. The scion of a wealthy family residing in a Fifth Avenue mansion, he becomes a general ne'er do well at quite a young age, something which the film (or at least his recounting) tries to blame on the effects of the women in his life (mother = too controlling, French maid = too permissive). By the time Ameche appears again as his younger self in the 1890s, his playboy ways have just been (supposedly) swept away by his having fallen in love with a beautiful woman whose name he doesn't know. Problem is, when he finally finds out the identity of the woman - Martha Strabel (Gene Tierney), of the Kansas City Strabels, who made their fortune in the meatpacking business - it turns out she's already betrothed to his stiff and deadly dull cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn). Being of thin moral fiber anyway, Henry elopes with her. His carousing appears hard to put behind him, however, and 10 years later, Martha is ready for a divorce.
Continue reading: Heaven Can Wait (1943) Review
Was I wrong: Island in the Sky takes place mostly on the ground, after a transport plane (piloted by Captain Dooley, played by John Wayne in an exemplary role) crashes in the frozen wilds of Newfoundland. The film -- after a good 40 minutes of useless exposition -- spends the bulk of its time dealing with their attempts to be rescued.
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