Mitchell Leisen directed two of Preston Sturges highly rated comedies but Sturges himself wasn’t impressed, and it led him to persuading Paramount to allow him to direct The Great McGinty in exchange for selling the (Oscar winning) script for ten dollars. It’s a little harsh on Leisen however, Sturges was a decent director but hardly an outstanding one, and Leisen helms this picture in a confident manner.
It features another of Sturges’ very strong, confident women in the lead role, as Jean Arthur’s Mary Smith is minding her business one day when a very expensive fur coat lands on her head, having been thrown off the top of a building by argumentative banker J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold) who was fed up with his wife spending so much money. Ball’s son John Jr (Ray Milland) is also frustrated with his father and so decides to try and make it on his own, and completely unaware of each other both Balls’ end up being friendly with Mary, though Ball Sr’s relationship is strictly platonic.
Not that anyone realises that, and when hotelier Louis Louis (Luis Alberni) thinks that Mary is having an affair with the rich banker he puts her up for free in the imperial suite in the hope that Ball Sr won’t demand he pay the debts he owes to the man, and soon many another business is lavishing gifts upon Mary due to her supposed link with Ball Sr. She then spends most of the movie trying to explain that she doesn’t deserve such good fortune but still accepting it because, well, who would turn down such easy living, especially when her life had been quite the opposite until her opportune meeting with the Balls.
It’s a film with a lot of great physical comedy and there’s a stand out scene with John Jr causing chaos in a restaurant which builds beautifully to it’s chaotic ending, while Ball Sr’s very slow chase throughout his house as he attempts to capture the attention of his spendthrift wife has a lot of very funny moments in it too. Mary’s antics in the astonishingly opulent suite lead to some bath time fun with John Jr, and one scene also contains a mechanical horse which I’m sure is supposed to be some kind of bizarre sex toy.
It’s packed with witty dialogue as well, with Mary and John Jr’s romance featuring some playful bickering that will make you laugh a good deal, while the preposterous Ball Sr is often hilariously angry before realising he has no need to be. Louis Louis’s dialogue is dangerously close to “Comedy foreigner” territory but Alberni plays the role with such gusto it’s impossible not to find most of his scenes quite amusing, and the servants to Ball Sr get a good few funny lines as well.
It’s perhaps occasionally a little broad, and the happy ending is slightly contrived, but otherwise I’ve no complaints at all. It looks great, the physical comedy feels natural and believable despite being increasingly absurd, Arthur, Milland and Arnold make for great leads, the script is full of memorable lines, and making this a very likeable piece – it’s not one of the very best films Sturges was involved with, but it’s definitely second tier material and a must watch if you’re a fan of the man.