Preston Sturges

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Scharphedin2
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Location: Denmark/Sweden

#1 Post by Scharphedin2 » Sun Apr 08, 2007 10:23 am

Preston Sturges (1898-1959)


At any given moment, the camera must point at the
Exact spot the audience wishes to look at. To find
That spot is absurdly easy: one has only to remember
Where one was looking at the time the scene was
Made. My friend Rouben Mamoulian told me that he
Could make the audience interested in whatever ‘he'
Showed them. I told him he was mistaken. It is true
That he can bend my head down and force me to look
At a doorknob when my reflex wants to see the face
Of the girl saying goodbye, but it is also true that it
Arrests my comprehension of the scene, destroys my
Interest and gives me a pain in the neck.

~ Preston Sturges

(from Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges, edited
by Sandy Sturges, 1990)


FILMOGRAPHY

The Great McGinty (1940) Universal (R1) – included in Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection / Universal (R2 UK) – included in Preston Sturges Boxset

Christmas in July (1940) Universal (R1) – included in Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection / Universal (R2 UK) – included in Preston Sturges Boxset

The Lady Eve (1941) Criterion (R1) / Universal (R1) – included in Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection / Universal (R2 UK) – also included in Preston Sturges Boxset

Sullivan's Travels (1941) Criterion (R1) / Universal (R1) – included in Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection / Universal (R2 UK) – also included in Preston Sturges Boxset

The Palm Beach Story (1942) Universal (R1) – also included in Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection / Universal (R2 UK) – included in Preston Sturges Boxset

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) Paramount (R1)

Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) Universal (R1) – included in Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection / Universal (R2 UK) – also included in Preston Sturges Boxset

The Great Moment (1944) Universal (R1) – included in Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection / Universal (R2 UK) – included in Preston Sturges Boxset

The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947) Alpha (R1)

Unfaithfully Yours (1948) Criterion (R1) / Columbia (R2 FR) / Second Sight (R2 UK)

The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949)

Les Carnets du Major Thompson (The French, They Are a Funny Race) (1955)


GENERAL DISCUSSION

Preston Sturges on DVD

Writers Who Became Directors: Whither Sturges?


RECOMMENDED WEB RESOURCES

Criterion – series of articles with focus on Sturges' fabulous stock company of actors

Official Preston Sturges Website

Senses of Cinema


DVD

The Lady Eve (Criterion)

The Palm Beach Story

Preston Sturges Box R2

Sullivan's Travels (Criterion)

Unfaithfully Yours (Criterion)


BOOKS/ARTICLES

Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges, adapted and edited by Sandy Sturges (Simon and Schuster, 1990)

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HypnoHelioStaticStasis
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#2 Post by HypnoHelioStaticStasis » Sun Aug 10, 2008 6:54 pm

There are few films that have a permanent spot in my perpetually changing top ten, but Hail the Conquering Hero is one of the most wonderful, transcendent Hollywood entertainments of any time period. It's amazing that this film doesn't get more attention, considering the type of political and social atmosphere we live in now.

Eddie Bracken, who I always find charming, represents quite perfectly the type of fallen soldier so rarely written about: the one who simply couldn't cut it. Part of the beauty of this film, more than any other war-period film, is how carefully Sturges balances the genuine sort of pride in one's fight against oppression against the jingoistic tone of many of the film's phony characters. And again, the compassion Sturges feels towards these characters never feels damning. Bracken's character, far from being the simpleton or yokel Hollywood so often feels typifies the "common man" feels such a pressure from society in which he now lives to "be a man" that ultimately the cause for which he originally signed up to fight for takes a far back seat to his own quest for individual glory. That is part of the tragedy of his character; he completely loses his inner life until those who care most for him rescue him without reassuring him.

It's a lovely flick, and one that needs a real reassessment I think. It's the smartest film of its era when it comes to seeing past the bullshit that is the American propaganda machine.

While I'm on the topic of Sturges, I'd like to mention Donald Spoto's biography of him, "Madcap." It gives equal time to both his personal and professional life, and makes a real case for him being one of the original Hollywood auteurs in terms of thematic material (not just the fact that he was both a writer AND director). An engrossing read.

EDIT: Could Scharpedin, or someone, add Sturges' non-directorial credits as a writer? A lot of those films, besides being loads of good fun, are key in tracking the development of Sturges as an artist. Power and the Glory being one such example.

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lubitsch
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#3 Post by lubitsch » Tue Aug 12, 2008 4:39 pm

HypnoHelioStaticStasis wrote:There are few films that have a permanent spot in my perpetually changing top ten, but Hail the Conquering Hero is one of the most wonderful, transcendent Hollywood entertainments of any time period. It's amazing that this film doesn't get more attention, considering the type of political and social atmosphere we live in now.
That's the one Sturges film of the Paramount series that always caused me a bit of a headache because it has a good deal of Capra in it and seems a bit too sweet for me. Also I love Ella Raines dearly and think she's a bit underused in it though I greatly appreciate it that Sturges fought to the bitter end in order to keep her in the movie.
What is utterly amazing about HERO is the way Sturges directs up to a dozen figures in a single frame and take. Many shots are so crowded with people as you can rarely see in cinema and Sturges manages to give every one precise instructions which results in shots which are a wonder in complexity.

SheriffAmbrose
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#4 Post by SheriffAmbrose » Tue Aug 12, 2008 4:59 pm

I agree that Hero is one of the unsung Sturges masterpieces. I haven't seen it in a while, or nearly as often as some of the other Sturges films--he's something of a favorite of mine, but I remember being impressed at how it and most of his other films have aged amazingly well, as opposed to Capra whose films (the romantic comedies at least) I find have a bit too much corn in them to say the same of. I've shown his work to a number of my friends who don't really care all that much for films let alone black and white romantic comedies made in the forties and the Sturges films, along with some of the Fields films, are always a hit.

The film of his that always has a spot in my top three list is Palm Beach Story. I could watch that every day and never get sick of it.

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myrnaloyisdope
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#5 Post by myrnaloyisdope » Thu Aug 14, 2008 1:03 am

Here is a list of Sturges' writing credits:

# Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940) (uncredited)
# Remember the Night (1940) (original screenplay)
# Never Say Die (1939) (writer)
# If I Were King (1938) (writer)
# Port of Seven Seas (1938) (writer)
# College Swing (1938) (uncredited)
... aka Swing, Teacher, Swing (UK)
# Easy Living (1937) (writer)
# Hotel Haywire (1937) (writer)
# Love Before Breakfast (1936) (contributor to treatment) (uncredited)
# Next Time We Love (1936) (uncredited)
... aka Next Time We Live (UK)
# Diamond Jim (1935) (writer)
# The Good Fairy (1935) (writer)
# Imitation of Life (1934) (contributing writer) (uncredited)
# We Live Again (1934) (writer)
# Thirty Day Princess (1934) (writer)
# Twentieth Century (1934) (uncredited)
... aka 20th Century (USA: poster title)
# The Invisible Man (1933) (uncredited)
# The Power and the Glory (1933) (writer)
... aka Power and Glory (UK)
# Child of Manhattan (1933) (play)
# They Just Had to Get Married (1932) (uncredited)
# Strictly Dishonorable (1931) (play)
# Fast and Loose (1930) (dialogue)
# Grande mare, La (1930) (dialogue)
# The Big Pond (1930) (dialogue)

Easy Living is most definitely a Sturges picture that just happens to be directed by Mitchell Leisen, the screwball comedy is pure Sturges, as well as the plot involving mistaken identity, the power of words to change and confuse, and finally the relative flexibility of the class structure. It fits in ver nicely with his later directorial work.

I've also seen Twentieth Century, Imitation of Life, and The Power and the Glory, but I am not certain how those fit into Sturges' directorial ouevre, although I must say that The Power and the Glory is pretty bitchin', and deserving of a greater reputation.

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tryavna
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#6 Post by tryavna » Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:33 am

myrnaloyisdope wrote:although I must say that The Power and the Glory is pretty bitchin', and deserving of a greater reputation.
Really? Am I the only one around here who thinks that The Power and the Glory is nothing but a shaggy dog? I've always felt that Pauline Kael overstated the case for its innovativeness and influence on Kane. For one thing, its point of view is completely inconsistent, with the narrator supposedly describing events he could never have witnessed himself (a typical problem of this sort of first-person POV stories, especially in film). And for another, the out-of-sequence storytelling doesn't really serve any larger purpose. It's just a sort of "look-at-me!" experiment that doesn't carry much resonance for me. I suspect that Sturges was aiming for the sort of effect that you get from Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier, wherein the unpeeling of the story -- layer by layer -- reveals as much about the narrator himself as about the events and other characters he keeps recounting. But while Tracy is good, none of the other actors have enough depth to pull it off. I also get the feeling that the movie finagles a much more upbeat and optimistic ending than the story was pointing towards. Perhaps with a stronger cast and more imaginative director, this would be a better movie. As is, Sturges' screenplay seems like an interesting but basically unrealized idea.

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#7 Post by myrnaloyisdope » Thu Aug 14, 2008 1:28 pm

I also get the feeling that the movie finagles a much more upbeat and optimistic ending than the story was pointing towards. Perhaps with a stronger cast and more imaginative director, this would be a better movie. As is, Sturges' screenplay seems like an interesting but basically unrealized idea.
I do agree that it's not a film that lives up to it's full potential. The direction in particular is static and uninspired, and I think it undermines Sturges' vision somewhat. But I still think the screenplay was quite strong, and the performances in the film were solid enough to keep things moving. The influence on Kane I think is undeniable strictly from a story standpoint. I mean a rich magnate dies at the beginning of the film, his story is told in non-linear flashback, he has a dark secret, and it gets revealed at the end of the film. The similarities are very evident, and I don't think they are coincidental.

I also must ask how you found the ending optimistic? I thought it was one of the bleakest resolutions I've seen for that era, and I've seen a lot of pre-codes.

Even though the film has its limitations, I think the reputation of the film is less than it should be simply due to its lack of availability.

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tryavna
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#8 Post by tryavna » Thu Aug 14, 2008 4:52 pm

Hmm, some interesting points in defense of the film, and I guess there are more parallels to Kane than I thought. I still, however, think that it's precisely the film's lack of availability that made it seem like a key precursor to Kane. (I believe it was thought to be a lost film at one time.) At least, it seems to have been the film's unavailability that led to Kael's suppositions about the movie.

I do still think that the ending chickens out on us by providing a sense of redemption for Tracy's character -- and, by extension, the narrator. In other words, the tragedy at the end doesn't seem bleak but rather cathartic. I just don't think it works. Tracy's character was a bastard for twenty years or so and then he suddenly turns noble? (Of course, with a more creative director, more could be done with this: perhaps the narrator is creating a fiction. But you'd have to read that into the ending as it currently stands.) Compare this with Kane, where the tycoon ends his days lonely, wholly selfish, and distressingly human.

And frankly, I just find the movie rather boring -- again, more of a problem with the director and supporting actors than necessarily with Sturges' script.

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#9 Post by myrnaloyisdope » Mon Aug 18, 2008 1:08 pm

I just watched another early Sturges-written film in The Thirty-Day Princess. It's a light comedy vehicle starring Sylvia Sidney, and Cary Grant. Essentially Sidney plays a dual-role as foreign princess and a down on her luck actress, who gets a gig playing the princess. The deception is conjured up after the princess is taken ill on her visit to America, in which she is trying to garner financial and public support for her country. Complications ensue when Sidney's princess falls in love with Cary Grant's hard-boiled reporter who is determined to expose the fraud. The film isn't especially substantial, but it is interesting to see Sturges' fingerprints all over the film.

Firstly and most obviously is the doppelganger theme which is a pre-cursor to The Palm Beach Story and The Lady Eve. Like Claudette Colbert, and Barbara Stanwyck, Sidney plays a dual role. It mirrors The Lady Eve more closely in that the class difference is crucial to the two roles. Stanwyck is alternately a card-sharp and an aristocrat, while Sidney is a struggling actor and a princess.

The contrast of low-class and high-class characterizations in the dual roles touches on a second recurring theme in Sturges work, that being the idea that a change of clothes or appearance can change your situation entirely. This is one of the most dominant themes in Sturges' work. In Thirty-Day Princess, Sidney's character affects an accent and gets a new wardrobe and all of the sudden she's a princess, in Easy Living, Jean Arthur gets a new hat and all of the sudden she's at the center of a media whirlwind, in The Lady Eve, Stanwyck adds an accent and a new demeanor and becomes an entirely different woman, in Sullivan's Travels, Joel McCrea dresses like a hobo, and all of the sudden ends up one, and then of course there is Eddie Bracken's impersonation of a soldier in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, which leads to every complication imaginable.

I think Sturges is fascinated with the superficiality and the temporary nature of the class system. It happens time and time again in his writing that all it takes to rise from pauper to king is a change of appearance, and maybe a little luck, while a similar fall from grace can occur just as quick. Everything is about perception, if you look like a king, and perhaps just as importantly act like a king, you will be perceived as a king.

It's also interesting to me that despite the generally good-nature of his comedies, deception is the so central to them. The main characters seem incapable of telling the truth, instead building upon lie upon lie, until every climaxes. Whereas a lot of comedy is built upon unintentional misunderstandings, Sturges time and time again has his characters knowingly deceive each other.

There's a cynicism in his work that is quite evident, and yet I've never felt his films were cynical(if that makes any sense). I suppose what I mean, is that despite the often glaring deceptions perpetrated by the characters, and despite the continual skepticism about the class system, I've never felt the films were mean-spirited. There's never any real villains in his films, it's always the forces of society that create complications and tension, and despite the sometimes despicable acts of his characters they are treated with love and affection.

What a supremely gifted man, I look forward to seeing all of his work, thankfully there's still quite a bit left for me to discover.

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#10 Post by Danny Burk » Mon Aug 18, 2008 6:59 pm

Nice analysis. MIDNIGHT also fits beautifully into the themes you've given.

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#11 Post by myrnaloyisdope » Mon Aug 18, 2008 9:20 pm

Agreed on Midnight, only problem is that Midnight was written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, I don't think Sturges had anything to do with the film.

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#12 Post by david hare » Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:54 pm

Indeed the Sturgess screenplay directed by Leisen is Easy Living.
Which is another good indication of the apparently shared thematic trope of masquerade and impersonation between both Leisen and Sturges. And the very different ways in terms of tone, pacing, direction of performers and mise en scene which the two directors employ.

Im not taking anything away from Sturges by saying I regard Leisen as his equal as a filmmaker.

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#13 Post by Adam » Tue Aug 19, 2008 12:58 am

Remember the Night is also a nice Sturges screenplay, and makes a fine double feature with Easy Living. At least, that's how I first saw both.

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souvenir
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#14 Post by souvenir » Tue Aug 19, 2008 1:28 am

I think I actually prefer Remember the Night to Easy Living because Leisen drains so much humor from Stuges' script in the latter while amping up the more appropriate romantic element in the former. Had Sturges actually directed both, I'm sure Easy Living would have been better, but, as it is, I simply don't like Leisen's attempt at screwball direction.

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#15 Post by SheriffAmbrose » Tue Aug 19, 2008 9:35 am

souvenir wrote:Had Sturges actually directed both, I'm sure Easy Living would have been better, but, as it is, I simply don't like Leisen's attempt at screwball direction.
I have the screenplay for Easy Living and it definitely indicates that the film would have been better had Sturges directed it. Leisen left out sections and rearranged the order of many of the scenes. I wasn't too crazy about Easy Living but I thought it was entertaining enough. Watching the film while following the screenplay was a pretty interesting experience that I'd recommend to anyone with interest in Sturges work.

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#16 Post by Danny Burk » Tue Aug 19, 2008 10:20 am

myrnaloyisdope wrote:Agreed on Midnight, only problem is that Midnight was written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, I don't think Sturges had anything to do with the film.
Whoops! Duh....of course you're right. Not sure where that came from... :oops:

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domino harvey
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#17 Post by domino harvey » Tue Sep 30, 2008 12:52 am

I finished going through that big Sturges set a few days ago and though I liked to some degree all the films that chronologically came before Hail the Conquering Hero (even the strangely entertaining the Great Moment), I thought even Sturges' best films (Christmas in July and the Miracle of Morgan's Creek) were sloppy and a bit of a mess... and then as a finale I saw Hail the Conquering Hero and it was one of those rare times in movie-watching when you just get knocked on your ass by how good something is. I sat there for the whole 100 minutes with this huge smile on my face, leaning closer to the TV, praying that the film would never let down, and it doesn't. The way Sturges fills the frame and utilizes absurdly long and complicated takes, how funny and just *right* the dialog and the situation was... this was so obviously the mature work of a true master. It was like he had spent all those years directing as practice just to make this one masterpiece.

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Jonny Pasadena
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#18 Post by Jonny Pasadena » Tue Sep 30, 2008 11:17 am

domino harvey wrote:It was like he had spent all those years directing as practice just to make this one masterpiece.
Well, I think you may undersell how great some of his other pictures are -- Miracle of Morgan's Creek is an incredibly bold film under the strictures of the Hays Code, Sullivan's Travels is uneven, but a great and jaundiced look at Hollywood; and even drawing terrific comic performances from the likes of Joel McCrea and Henry Fonda is a triumph.

But Hail the Conquering Hero really is unbelievably brilliant, and was even more effective just a couple of years ago, in the days of Freedom Fries and Welcoming Us As Liberators.

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lubitsch
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#19 Post by lubitsch » Tue Sep 30, 2008 12:05 pm

Jonny Pasadena wrote:
domino harvey wrote:It was like he had spent all those years directing as practice just to make this one masterpiece.
But Hail the Conquering Hero really is unbelievably brilliant, and was even more effective just a couple of years ago, in the days of Freedom Fries and Welcoming Us As Liberators.
I find it still hard to see what people like about the film. When I saw the Sturges films back to back for my article, I had the distinct feeling that he played it very safe here. I already mentioned the Capraesque touch with a mostly benevolent society and nice marines and the uninteresting female role. But also the character's main dilemma didn't look THAT bad to me compared to the escalating disaster in MORGAN'S CREEK or the brutal gender fight and fundamental misunderstandings in LADY EVE.
Sturges' comedies and characters really stand before an abyss and if there's a happy end it's absurd and rather discomforting because it makes you aware that there's no real solution for the problems which have piled up during the plot. Just think about the twin solution in PALM BEACH STORY or the miracle in MORGAN'S CREEK. If you watch e.g. BRINGING UP BABY or HOLIDAY you get a certain liberating feeling, with Sturges it's quite the contrary, the situation gets oppressive. PALM BEACH STORY is so frank about society rules, it's simply icy, Dick Powell's desperation to succeed in CHRISTMAS IN JULY is very tangible. Not so in the cuddly CONQUERING HERO.
I didn't think the film was very funny, too :?.

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swo17
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#20 Post by swo17 » Tue Sep 30, 2008 12:20 pm

domino harvey wrote:and then as a finale I saw Hail the Conquering Hero and it was one of those rare times in movie-watching when you just get knocked on your ass by how good something is. I sat there for the whole 100 minutes with this huge smile on my face, leaning closer to the TV, praying that the film would never let down, and it doesn't.
Haven't seen Hail yet, but this pretty much exactly describes my reaction to The Lady Eve--just a pitch-perfect comedy, eyes glued to the screen the whole time, watching in amazement as it continually got better and better with each passing moment.

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Re:

#22 Post by Revelator » Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:17 pm

SheriffAmbrose wrote:
souvenir wrote:Had Sturges actually directed both, I'm sure Easy Living would have been better, but, as it is, I simply don't like Leisen's attempt at screwball direction.
I have the screenplay for Easy Living and it definitely indicates that the film would have been better had Sturges directed it. Leisen left out sections and rearranged the order of many of the scenes. I wasn't too crazy about Easy Living but I thought it was entertaining enough. Watching the film while following the screenplay was a pretty interesting experience that I'd recommend to anyone with interest in Sturges work.
I don't think Easy Living suffers very much from Leisen's direction--the film still moves fast, and I don't think Stuges could have done a better job blocking and cutting the automat scene. It's definitely true that Leisen left out sections and rearranged some scenes, but the picture's humor is still intact, even if the structure is less sturdy.
But I do think Sturges should have filmed Remember the Night. Leisen did a very good job with the film--the acting and lighting are superb, he trimmed the tortuous getting-lost scene, and he eliminated some of the racist gags with Snowflake--but here his cuts and revisions often dilute the dramatic impact of the picture, especially when he snips lines that are meant to appear more than once (like the first instance of the one about making a mistake and paying for it).
I read the script before watching the film and felt like I'd taken a sucker punch to the chest--it's the most nakedly emotional and heart-rending script Sturges ever wrote, and that harrowing intensity of emotion doesn't quite make it into the film (which is still a classic).

By the way, does anyone know if there's any way to Les Carnets du Major Thompson (The French, They Are a Funny Race)? This film looks like it's totally unavailable--it doesn't even air on television. I'm writing an article on Sturges and have long wanted to see his last film. Its reputation isn't particularly high, but it's not true that all the reviews were negative. Pauline Kael, admittedly a Sturges partisan, wrote:
A film based on a collection of minor essays has, at the outset, a certain skittishness; the essays themselves formed The Notebooks of Major Thompson, which was written, not by Major Thompson, but by Pierre Daninos, and it was a Frenchman's idea of an Englishman's account of French life. The American writer-director Preston Sturges, an expatriate in the late 50s, turned all this into an amusing series of wheezes-a kind of literate vaudeville. Maybe you can no longer laugh at anecdotes like the British mother's wedding-night advice to her daughter ("My dear, it's utterly unbearable, but just close your eyes and think of England") but acted out, this sort of thing acquires a fresh insanity. There is one routine that is Sturges at his best: an English courtship on horseback, and there are divertissements on French bureaucracy, English body-fitness, and so on.
The film's reputation would likely rise if more people were able to see it. I'm curious know why it's remained so hard to watch,what archives its stored in, and what its rights issues are. If anyone can suggest a way to see this incredibly rare film I'd be very grateful.

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Re: Preston Sturges

#23 Post by kaujot » Thu Jul 02, 2009 7:47 pm

Never heard of it until now, but I've got to see it just for that line about England.

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Re: Preston Sturges

#24 Post by Revelator » Mon Aug 10, 2009 5:16 pm

During the last weekend I managed to see Les Carnets du Major Thompson/The French, They Are a Funny Race at UCLA, from a VHS tape the archive had made from one of the two 16mm prints in their collection.
And yes, it really is a rather underrated film--a more gentle Sturges, though with occasional slapstick flourishes. According to one reviewer it was originally 105 minutes, and the 80 minute version I saw did feel abrupt at times.
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Re: Preston Sturges

#25 Post by WelcomeAZ » Sun Jan 08, 2012 6:13 pm

I agree with Hypno about the underrated Hail the Conquering Hero, which is also always in my own top ten. A very engaging, spirited satire with heart, and one of Sturges’s finest, IMO.

As for the charges of “sweetness” and “cuddliness,” I don’t see either, outside of what was inherent in Bracken’s onscreen presence. Though in Hero he is quite the opposite, rather irritable and somber. I believe one cannot assess a film without taking into consideration its time and place, and this was a film about America’s World War II home front and a group of Marines, made within the studio system during WWII – Sturges couldn’t be too critical or cynical and get it past the propaganda-minded censors of the era. Over in England, Churchill tried to suppress The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, apparently because the title character, a career officer in the British Army, was portrayed as a well-meaning but narrow-minded object of ridicule whose best friend was a German veteran of the Great War. Filmmakers' output had to be upbeat and patriotic.

The only thing that bugs me about Hero – and this is a very minor issue – is when, during Woodrow’s confessional speech he mentions, almost as an aside, that the town was built on land that was once his grandfather’s farm. I don’t recall hearing this mentioned at any other point in the movie, and it seems tacked on. Am I missing something, or was a scene perhaps cut?

Here is an essay on Hail the Conquering Hero that I find interesting (caution:spoiler): http://derbingle.blogspot.com/2012/01/e ... wares.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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