Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: Preston Sturges – The Rise and Fall Of An American Dreamer

Preston Sturges Rise And Fall American Dreamer indexOver the first several months of this year I covered every film Preston Sturges had any involvement with, from those he wrote and directed to those based on his stage plays or which were remakes of his movies. Back in July I thought, and most had probably hoped, that I’d covered everything, but then I finally managed to track down this 1989 documentary about the man that originally aired in the US as part of the “American Masters” series.

The first fifteen minutes dedicates itself to a potted history of the man’s pre-Hollywood life and how he became a playwright, where after spending the $300,000 profit one of his plays made him in a ridiculously short time he needed to make money fast and so headed to California. As you might expect from a documentary that’s only 75 minutes it misses out certain aspects of his career, like Sturges being one of many uncredited writers on the 1933 Universal film of The Invisible Man, but most of his major films are covered at least.

Once we arrive in Hollywood it becomes a far more intriguing documentary too, with lots of behind the scenes photographs and even some insight from some of the actors who were still alive when the documentary was made including Cesar Romero, Eddie Bracken and Betty Hutton, along with some archive footage of actors being interviewed like Joel McCrae and Rudy Vallee. Almost all sing his praises and discuss how he was an easy director to get along with, though there’s also a slightly gossipy side to it as a few comment on his love affairs, of which apparently there were many.

The narration provides a lot of fascinating facts about the man, including how Sturges fell out with Paramount Pictures, why he only briefly worked as a producer on “I Married A Witch”, and his relationship with the notorious odd Howard Hawks. It also comments on how Sturges managed to work his way around the censorship heavy Hays code, and the themes his films often explored including con men (and women), patriotism and how gullible the general public often were.

it features a few too many quite long clips of Sturges’ films and your mileage will vary on that front, if you’ve not seen any or many of his films then you’ll get to see some of his funniest and most interesting moments Sturges committed to celluloid. But if you’ve seen them all you may well find it a little frustrating, and wish at the very least that the narrator commented over them more than he already does.

It’s a little guilty of hyperbole on occasion, claiming that Sturges changed Hollywood forever and that he “Introduced irony to the US”, and it’s a documentary that clearly is a little in love with its subject. It is at least occasionally critical, especially towards the end, and while it may not be completely objective insight in to the director it is at the very least a great place to start, and if you’ve never heard of Sturges before I’d be extremely surprised if you didn’t come out of it a big fan of the man.

★★★1/2

Alex Finch.

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