2 March – 16 March
*Please note the Tuesday screening for the second week of this season, on Tuesday March 8 2022.
Preston Sturges (1898-1959) was the great shooting star of 1940s Hollywood cinema.
Brought up by an itinerant mother who travelled to Europe to follow the likes of Isadora Duncan and Aleister Crowley, Sturges came to prominence in a burst of creativity and success on Broadway in the late 1920s before a ten-year stint as a jobbing and well-paid screenwriter for various studios including Paramount.
Writing for such prominent directors as John M. Stahl, William K. Howard, Rouben Mamoulian and, most significantly, Mitchell Leisen (Easy Living and Remember the Night), Sturges tired of the way his screenplays were being adapted and blazed a path for writer-directors like Orson Welles and Billy Wilder who emerged in his wake.
From The Great McGinty until Hail the Conquering Hero (the last filmed of his eight Paramount productions in a little over four years), Sturges created one of the most extraordinary and breathless bodies of work in American cinema. As Manny Farber has described him, Sturges is “an inventive American who believes that good picture-making consists in grinding out ten thousand feet of undiluted, chaos-producing energy”. Sturges’ restless, speed-fuelled, eccentric and often-manic work pinballs between slapstick comedy and dramatic pathos, success and failure, pratfalls and pointed satire.
A rollercoaster ride across and through genres, tones and styles, Sturges’ brief moment as a wildly successful writer-director is one of the most remarkable episodes in Hollywood history. After leaving Paramount in 1944, Sturges struggled to produce further films that matched his work of the early 1940s with the crucial exception of the movie that some consider his masterpiece, 1948’s Unfaithfully Yours. This program brings together many of Sturges’ most extraordinary films including such peaks of film comedy and beyond as Sullivan’s Travels and The Palm Beach Story.
7.00pm SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS
Preston Sturges (1941) 90 mins – PG
A dissatisfied musical-comedy director (Joel McCrae) abandons his muse, takes on the appearance of the unemployed masses and goes in search of the Depression-era reality that the movies seldom reveal. Sturges’ influential classic is one of the great movies about filmmaking and both a critique and paean to classic Hollywood values and the power of cinema. Deftly oscillating between comedy and pathos, slapstick and chain-gang drama, it also stars Veronica Lake in her most luminous and fondly remembered role. The key inspiration for the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?
8.45pm THE GREAT MCGINTY
Preston Sturges (1940) 81 mins – Unclassified 15 +
This extremely intelligent, biting political satire about a tramp (Brian Donlevy) manipulated into the governorship is as relevant today as when it unexpectedly launched Sturges’ stellar, if brief career as the preeminent Hollywood writer-director, justly winning him an Academy Award for original screenplay. Sturges’ restless visual style, breakneck speed and rapid-fire dialogue, seen here in their prototype form, went on to influence generations of filmmakers. The film is also populated by a characteristically colourful menagerie of stock players including Akim Tamiroff and William Demarest.
7.00pm CHRISTMAS IN JULY
Preston Sturges (1940) 67 mins – Unclassified 15 +
Sturges’ sophomore directorial effort is a wonderful satire of American life and success in the shadow of the Depression. An office worker (Dick Powell) enters a slogan contest and is subsequently the subject of a cruel joke by his colleagues who fabricate a telegram announcing he has won the competition. Sturges’ fast-paced and supremely economical style steer the characters through a minefield of competing values, eccentricities and delusions. Based on an unproduced 1931 Sturges play, A Cup of Coffee, it features a characteristic rogues’ gallery of supporting players including William Demarest and Franklin Pangborn.
8.20pm HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO
Preston Sturges (1944) 101 mins – Unclassified 15 +
Typical Sturges hilarity ensues in this crazy but biting satire of home-front America during World War II. Eddie Bracken features in an unbeatable performance as the woebegone protagonist who is rejected by the army due to chronic hay fever but stumbles into the role of war hero. Sturges wrote and skilfully directed this first-rate portrait of the dangers of blind hero worship and patriotism. A companion piece to the earlier The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, and the last film of Sturges’ extraordinary run at Paramount, it features an outstanding supporting performance by Ella Raines.
7.00pm THE PALM BEACH STORY
Preston Sturges (1942) 90 mins – PG
One of the last great screwball comedies and the final true Sturges romantic comedy, this is probably the most fondly remembered of all the writer-director’s breathless creations. A runaway bride (Claudette Colbert) lands in Palm Beach and teams up with a wacky millionairess (Mary Astor) and her brother (Rudy Vallee). Hiding its satire under layers of kookiness, such Sturges regulars as Joel McCrea, William Demarest and Franklin Pangborn are taken through mounting heights of absurdity as they skillfully traverse a peerless comedy of mistaken identities and flailing, failing marriage.
8.40pm UNFAITHFULLY YOURS
Preston Sturges (1948) 105 mins – PG
A failure upon first release with both audiences and critics, Sturges’ last great film is an hilarious and often-dark portrait of a crazed orchestra conductor (Rex Harrison) who, while performing pieces by Rossini, Wagner and Tchaikovsky, fantasises three ways to deal with his wife’s (Linda Darnell) supposed infidelity. Now seen as one of Sturges’ supreme achievements, and championed by filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Terry Jones, it takes the writer-director’s penchant for verbal and physical comedy to its logical and heightened extreme. Harrison’s brilliantly staged destruction of a room is one of the cinema’s greatest comic set-pieces