'Filmmakers' reels in iconic 1940s comedies
By Terry Lawson
Detroit Free Press
By Terry Lawson
I've lost count of the times I've heard filmmakers say a variant on, "What we were trying to achieve was a Preston Sturges-style rhythm" or "We were trying to get that Preston Sturges blend of screwball sophistication and slapstick." Still, the name of the great Sturges remains better known to filmmakers and film school students than the general public, despite his having made some of the very best comedies of the 1940s.
One of the first screenwriters to demand he be allowed to direct his own films, Sturges had writer-director credit on only 12 films in his career: The first seven (and the best, except for 1944's "The Miracle of Morgan Creek," and 1948's "Unfaithfully Yours") are now collected on the no-frills "Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection" (Universal). His 1940 directorial debut, "The Great McGinty," has a great performance by Brian Dunleavy as a bum who, with makeover from a corrupt political team, gets elected governor. It was followed the same year by the even better, brisker "Christmas in July" with Dick Powell as a contest-crazed clerk duped into thinking he's won a fortune in a slogan-writing contest by his office buddies.
The same year brought the breathlessly paced and Oscar-nominated "The Lady Eve," with Barbara Stanwyck as a con lady with her sights set on wealthy rube Henry Fonda. Then came Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels," not just a comedy classic but a classic of any description, with Joel McCrea as a successful comedy director who attempts to go serious by making an epic about the comic man; his proposed film, "O Brother Wherefore Art Thou," was the inspiration for the Coen Brothers Depression-era hit of almost the same title.
McCrea was back for 1942's "The Palm Beach Story," with Claudette Colbert as his runaway bride, and for 1944's "The Great Moment," an uneven, oddly shaped biography of the man who invented anesthesia, and Sturges' first misstep. Sturges rebounded nicely the same year with "Hail the Conquering Hero," with the terrific Eddie Bracken as a Marine Corps reject who gets mistaken for a World War II hero when he returns to his hometown.
TV ON DVD
If you've seen "Borat" and still haven't had enough, there are many more of his excruciatingly embarrassing and absurdly hilarious exploits to be found in "Da Ali G Show: Da Compleet Seereez," a compilation of the previously available "Season One" and "Season 2" of the U.S. version of Sacha Baron Cohen's comic ambush series.
Most shows include segments with Cohen's gloriously gay Austrian fashionista Bruno, who is set to be the star of Cohen's next film.
J.J. Abrams' intelligently conceived "Alias," the spy drama starring Jennifer Garner, whose conspiracies, dark twists and mysteries-inside-mysteries prefigured those of other serialized hits. The extras-laden "The Complete Collection" (Touchstone) comes packaged in a Rambaldi artifact container.
FAMILY PICK OF THE WEEK
Many DVD animated adventures aimed at girls typically star Barbie, the Powerpuff Girls, Da Bratz and other spunky little females.
One of the best of these series stars is Polly Pocket, daughter of a single dad, who exemplifies good values like friendship and sharing. In her first full-length feature, "Pollyworld" (Universal), Polly and her pals are invited to a theme park to take part in a reality-show competition, but their good time is threatened when her dad announces he is getting remarried to a woman who Polly begins to feel may not like her much. The movie comes with interactive games and a sing-along video.