Spotlight on Preston Sturges, An Underrated Genius

**This is the first post in my new, and hopefully ongoing, 'Spotlight' series that will highlight either a film, director, or actor, a wine, bourbon, or foreign city, really anything else, that I'm passionate about and think more people should know about**


 What a devilishly sexy man.

What a devilishly sexy man.

Preston Sturges: The King of Comedy, in my opinion (I don't think anyone else says that about him). Sturges was a film director and screenwriter who had an amazing knack for writing incredibly sophisticated dialogue that was delivered by characters ranging from working-class types to the wealthy. He worked in all genres, and was equally adept at tragedy and social satire. Anyone who knows about classic Hollywood knows Preston Sturges, but he hasn't received the cultural icon status that directors like Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock have, and even in comedy (a genre he excelled in), directors like Frank Capra and Howard Hawks are more frequently referenced. I think Preston Sturges deserves reexamination and 21st century admiration because watching his films years later, it's clear how his dialogue was often ahead of its time and very mature, despite the usually catastrophic, farcical situations happening. Sturges' movies reveal how he himself wanted to push the boundaries of the genres he worked in, and wanted to break the rules that he was often forced to abide by. He was an intelligent man, and he never 'dumbed down' his films because he trusted the audience watching his movies to understand what he was trying to say. He didn't pander to critics, studio heads, or sometimes even the production code, which may be one of the reasons that his legacy hasn't stood the test of time, but he was undoubtedly a unique artist.

I first discovered Preston Sturges when I watched Sullivan's Travels (1941), which many consider to be one of his best films, and I became forever hooked on Sturges. I think it may be one the best films about America ever made. While it's not necessarily overtly patriotic, the viewer sees Americans in all the different socio-economic classes and through Joel McCrea's character, we learn all the different ways that we can, and should, help each other out. For McCrea, his special skill is making people laugh to forget their troubles.

I then did some research on this man behind the camera, and learned that his life sounded like something that one could see in his movies. Sturges was born in 1898 to a wealthy family, spending his childhood following his unconventional mother around the globe. He started his career working at a department store, before moving into playwriting. After some time on Broadway, he went out to Hollywood to make more money. He spent most of the 1930's writing screenplays where he didn't have any creative control, and despite being well-paid, he wasn't happy. Struges figured out that the only way to make sure his movies were done the way he envisioned them, he would have to direct them. In a brave move, he sold his script The Great McGinty (1940) to Paramount for $1, on the condition that he had to be the director. Luckily, it worked: the film was a huge success, Sturges was Oscar nominated for his screenplay, and he was finally able to direct his own scripts. There weren't very many screenwriter-director hybrids in Hollywood at the time, so it's fair to say that Sturges opened many doors not just for himself, but for other future writer-directors.

Within a small number of years, he created the classics The Great McGinty, Sullivan's Travels, The Lady Eve, The Palm Beach Story, Christmas in July, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, and Hail the Conquering Hero. Any one would be enough for most directors, but Sturges kept churning them out, and he used the same character actors, like William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, and Dewey Robinson, to name a few of his unofficial players troupe.


Here are some of Preston Sturges' films to get you started on your lifelong obsession with him:

There are many more Sturges' films that he wrote in the 1930's (Easy Living, The Good Fairy) and other directing efforts later in his career that are fun to watch.


His career was really incredible, and it still shocks me that he isn't more well-known, so I really hope I've been persuasive enough to convince you readers to check out Preston Sturges' films, and spread the good news about his genius around.