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Hail The Conquering Hero Review


Good
There's not a great deal of subtlety to Preston Sturges' genial 1944 comedy Hail the Conquering Hero, but when one is dealing with a political satire about a soldier returning home during wartime -- in a film shot and released during a world war when the movie business was heavily pressured toward the patriotic -- one should just be happy that such a non-formulaic film was made at all.

The guileless Eddie Bracken plays a returning soldier with the overbearingly heroic name of Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith, the legacy of a Marine father who died during World War I. The film's opening finds Truesmith drowning his sorrows in a gin joint, not looking forward to going home and letting his mother (who keeps a veritable shrine to her dead heroic husband) find out that contrary to all his invented stories of valor, he never served at all, and in fact was discharged from the army due to a hilariously bad case of hay fever. He hooks up with a passel of Marines (Guadalcanal vets), who, in the true nature of this period's films, all seem to hail from the same Brooklyn neighborhood. Having already lost all their money at the start of a multi-day furlough, and seeing in fellow Marine Truesmith a good-hearted sucker with a deep and guilty wallet, they all pile onto the train home with him, all the better to give the kid a proper homecoming.

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The Lady Eve Review


Excellent
It's just not even a fair fight, and fortunately writer/director Preston Sturges knows that. Barbara Stanwyck could have poor little Henry Fonda for breakfast, and in Sturges' blithely astringent comedy The Lady Eve, she does just that. Fonda, as hapless rich kid Charles Pike, puts up some resistance to Stanwyck, international card sharp and grifter extraordinaire Jean Harrington, but it's really no contest -- he knows he's doomed to be won over by her charms, as the audience is, and ultimately everyone is the happier for it.

Sturges wrote for women like few other screenwriters ever have, even in our supposedly more advanced times. His heroines have a welcome tendency towards toughness, clarity of mind, sharpened tongues, devastating wit, and the ability to wear smashing evening wear without looking the least bit fragile. The remarkable Stanwyck is a fantastic creation as Harrington, able to think (and speak) circles around everybody in any given room, but still retaining the heart to fall madly for nebbishy Pike.

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Sullivan's Travels Review


Very Good
Would it be fair to say that, when all is said and done, Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels is just not as funny as its choir of supporters have made it out to be? It's not dour by any stretch of the imagination, but it's hardly laugh-filled enough to merit inclusion at #39 on the AFI's list of 100 Funniest American Films. Humor is of course subjective, and to say that the film is just not as funny as some would claim is not a criticism. Sturges was making a comedy, for sure, but the reason that Sullivan's Travels has endured so strongly in the minds of connoisseurs is the filmmakers' attempt to breathe a certain strange strain of realism into what audiences were assuming to be a straight laugh-fest. It isn't entirely successful in the end, but then neither was Woody Allen's attempt to deal with the weight of being considered nothing but a jokester in Stardust Memories, and that one is quite far from a failure.

Sturges loved fake beginnings, and this is one of his best. We open on a knock-down, brawling fight on (and below) a train that's roaring through the mountains at night. The two men finally knock each other off into the raging river, and the screen reads: THE END, after which we find out that it's a film being screened for a couple worried executives by a very popular comic filmmaker, John Sullivan (Joel McCrea), who's trying to break out of his niche, going on about holding a mirror up to life and painting a "true canvas" of humanity's suffering. Chagrined to discover that the suits don't think his silver-spoon upbringing entitles him to know anything about the human condition, Sullivan hits the road with ten cents in his pocket (kitted out in authentic bum-wear from the studio wardrobe) to find out something about it. He spends the rest of the film trying to get away from the suits (worried about losing their golden goose), and striving to find realism. At first he doesn't succeed, accidentally ending up back in Hollywood time and again, but eventually Sullivan gets a little more realism than he had intended.

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The Great McGinty Review


Very Good
The guy is sloppily attired in the manner of the American urban bum, circa the Great Depression. A ragged coat, floppy hat, and three-day growth mark him as meant for the city's many soup kitchens, one of which he finds handing out mugs of soup and chunks of bread. It just so happens that this particular mobile kitchen is sponsored by the city's mayor, up for reelection that very night. Fortunately there's something the man can do to help the mayor who just gave him that soup: vote for him under an assumed name and he gets two bucks. Only the man is an enterprising sort of bum: by the end of the night he's voted for the mayor 37 times, and thus unwittingly started his own political career.

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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The Palm Beach Story Review


Extraordinary
Is marriage really so important? One could take that as being the surprisingly modern theme of Preston Sturges' manic, brilliant 1942 farce The Palm Beach Story, or one could simply take it as screwball comedy of the highest order. Fortunately both interpretations are completely valid.

One of the few truly great writer/directors of American film, Sturges had more ideas than he knew what to do with; witness the film's credits sequence showing the main characters (Joel McCrea and a wonderful Claudette Colbert) getting married. There's a race to the altar, mistaken identity, a woman in a bridal gown locked in a closet, and general fast-paced madcappery, all done with music only -- it's an abbreviated précis of what could have made an entirely separate film. Then it's largely forgotten: The whole story is only alluded to near the end of the film, with one character referencing it only to say, "Well, that's a whole other plot."

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Christmas In July Review


Extraordinary
Tragically underseen, this Preston Sturges comedy is all of 68 minutes long (including the credits) and is a freakin' laugh riot from start to finish. The story: Dick Powell's hapless Jimmy MacDonald dreams of getting rich quick by winning corporate-sponsored contests like "count how many peanuts there are in the window display." A perennial loser, he is stunned when he wins a slogan competition for a rival coffee company. Immediately, his boss (also a coffee magnate) promotes him, ashamed he hasn't been listening to his obviously great ideas, and Jimmy takes his best gal (Ellen Drew) on a shopping spree. Only it turns out that the telegram announcing Jimmy's win is a hoax. Imagine the mortification... and there's more to follow.

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The Lady Eve Review


Excellent
Remarkably sophisticated for a film 60 years old, The Lady Eve is another fine flick about life and love courtesy of Preston Sturges, this time with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as unlikely lovers meeting aboard a cruise ship. He's an adventurer back from a year in the Amazon, she's a spunky con artist. Sturges sure knows how to set up the screwball, and his comic timing here is impeccable. The scene with Stanwyck's "father" (a fellow con) in a fully-cheating card game is a highlight.

Unfaithfully Yours Review


Essential
Best suck down a cup of coffee -- or two -- before hitting play on the DVD for Unfaithfully Yours, one of Preston Sturges' best films, and perhaps his most undersung.

Rex Harrison was rarely the go-to guy for comedy, but he's put to incredible use in Unfaithfully as a British composer/conductor in America. His younger wife (Linda Darnell) and legion of fans are fawning, and he's obviously wealthy beyond his dreams, with servants galore. We spend the first half of the film getting to know Harrison's Sir Alfred in typical screwball fashion, but at the midpoint Alfred learns that wife Daphne may be having an affair with Alfred's secretary.

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The Palm Beach Story Review


Very Good
Preston Sturges makes screwball extreme in this crazy comedy about an architect (Joel McCrea) and his wife (Claudette Colbert). When McCrea can't sell any designs, Colbert leaves him for a millionaire, with the idea that she'll get him to fund Joel's work. Absurd (and never mind what it says about marriage), but lots of fun, particularly on Colbert's train ride to Palm Beach.

Hail The Conquering Hero Review


Excellent
Preston Sturges' blatant allegory about a man (Bracken) who returns from WWII boot camp after a hay fever attack but inadvertently passes himself off as a war hero and ends up in a race for his local mayoral seat is as apt as any political movie ever made. Too bad Sturges uses the one-note "mistaken identity" joke a bit too much, making the whole production a bit too obvious. But overall this 1944 comedy is vintage screwball with a touch of sophistication. Bracken is great, but Ella Raines as the girl he left behind steals the show.
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Preston Sturges Movies

Hail the Conquering Hero Movie Review

Hail the Conquering Hero Movie Review

There's not a great deal of subtlety to Preston Sturges' genial 1944 comedy Hail the...

Sullivan's Travels Movie Review

Sullivan's Travels Movie Review

Would it be fair to say that, when all is said and done, Preston Sturges'...

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