Hollywood's Deep-Dish Comedian: A Preston Sturges Retrospective

Programmed by Robert Bornholz

Critics called Preston Sturges schizophrenic. He had contradictory influences, from his stockbroker father to his globetrotting socialite mother. His mother reinvented herself through many wild schemes and name changes. It is easy to see how Sturges came up with the idea for a movie combining different characters' narratives. Only multiple personalities can see the whole truth. The incoherent screwball comedy accomplishes the same goal: To undermine complacent assumptions. Find truth by making people feel uncomfortable, but anesthetize them to this painful operation by throwing them into paroxysms of laughter.

Sturges never saw a social hierarchy he didn't mock, even as he accepted its challenge to scale it to the top. He was the first Hollywood writer who also directed what he wrote. He wrote in his memoirs "I am, always was, and always will be violently optimistic." But his view of humanity is summed up in the prologue the studio cut from The Great Moment: "One of the most charming characteristics of Homo sapiens, the wise guy on your right, is the consistency with which he has stoned, crucified, hanged, flayed, boiled in oil and otherwise rid himself of those who consecrated their lives to further his comfort and well-being, so that all his strength and cunning might be preserved for the erection of ever larger monuments, memorial shafts, triumphal arches, pyramids and obelisks to the eternal glory of generals on horseback, tyrants, usurpers, dictators, politicians, and other heroes who led him, from the rear, to dismemberment and death."

10/2/2019 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

The Power and the Glory

(William K. Howard, 1933) · Sturges pioneered the "narratage" technique, where a character speaks in dramatic interaction with others but also tells the story in flashbacks. The funeral of railroad tycoon Tom Garner (Spencer Tracy) is the occasion for those who knew him to reflect on his suicide (Orson Welles will adopt this method for Citizen Kane). While Welles mocks business, Sturges both harbors suspicions and admiration towards the empire-building ambition of commerce. Sturges negotiated an unprecedented deal to share profits.

runtime: 76 format: DCP


10/9/2019 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

Easy Living

(Mitchell Leisen, 1937) · When plutocrat J.B. Ball throws his wife's mink coat out their penthouse window, will that change the life of the poor virtuous beautiful woman who catches it? Will she be suspected of being the mogul's mistress? Will she find true love with Ball's idle day dreamer son? Will she cause a Wall Street panic? Or restore business confidence? Sturges transformed a story about a poor woman who steals a mink coat into the story of a heroine who can treat the baubles of the rich with a touch of irony.

runtime: 88m format: 35mm


10/16/2019 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

Remember the Night

(Mitchell Leisen, 1940) · John Sargent is the prosecutor the DA calls on to convict women because he deceives jurors into thinking that he's a nice guy. In a moment of guilt over deploying his legal dexterity against beautiful criminal Lee Leander, Sargent gets Fat Mike the bail bondsman to free her until the trial can resume. What begins as a screwball romantic comedy turns into a meditation on the contradictions of crime and punishment. Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, the Double Indemnity partners in crime.

runtime: 94m format: 35mm


10/23/2019 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

The Great McGinty

(Preston Sturges, 1940) · Sturges plays with stories of rise and fall. A bum proves his talent to the party Boss by voting thirty-seven times to elect the mayor. Talent does not go unrewarded, so he rises to be governor. The Boss sets McGinty up to marry his secretary so he can pose as a family man, but real affection prompts him to defy the gang to do one deed for the public good. Betraying the gang by turning honest gets you indicted. Sturges sold the script for ten dollars to get the opportunity to direct.

runtime: 82m format: 35mm


10/30/2019 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

The Lady Eve

(Preston Sturges, 1941) · Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) and her father, professional cardsharps, set their sights on fleecing Charles "Hopsie" (Henry Fonda), heir to the Pikes Ale brewing fortune. As she seduces her victim, she begins to fall in love with him, which blows the scam. After he spurns her, she vows to get revenge by proving she can swindle him yet again, in the preposterous disguise as English aristocrat Lady Eve. Whatever the change in identities and disguises, the heart knows the truth that counts.

runtime: 94m format: 35mm


11/6/2019 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

Sullivan's Travels

(Preston Sturges, 1941) · Sullivan is a Hollywood director whose popular specialty is comic confections. He resolves to make serious films instead, and sets out on a journey across America to discover the problems of real people. But what people really want is distraction from grim reality, just the sort of film he had always been making. Sullivan failed to talk the studio moguls into letting him make his serious film O Brother Where Art Thou, but the Coen Brothers eventually do as a homage to Sullivan's Travels.

runtime: 91m format: 35mm


11/13/2019 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

The Palm Beach Story

(Preston Sturges, 1942) · Sturges was also a wild and crazy inventor. As a fifteen year old managing his mother's cosmetics company, he invented the kiss-proof lipstick. The inventor hero here needs funding for his airport in the sky. His devoted wife goes in search of investors by divorcing him and proposing to marry various millionaires in exchange for their investment in her ex-lover's invention. The old new money Wienie King and the young old money J.D Hackensacker III step up to offer themselves and their money.

runtime: 90m format: 35mm


11/20/2019 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

Unfaithfully Yours

(Preston Sturges, 1948) · Sir Alfred De Carter (Sir Rex Harrison) the world renowned conductor asks his brother in law to keep his young wife entertained while he is away. The brother in law hires a detective to follow her. Evidence of infidelity sends Sir Alfred into a jealous rage. As he conducts splendid music he imagines how he will murder the lovers, with various scenarios of revenge set to their appropriate musical scores. Here is Sturges' insane meditation on the erotic process of artistic creation.

runtime: 105m format: DCP


11/27/2019 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek

(Preston Sturges, 1943) · Town beauty (Betty Hutton) sends six young men off to wage World War II in good spirits with an all night party. She wakes up pregnant and married with no idea who the lucky man is. The shy boy (Eddie Bracken) who has been in love with her forever steps up to take responsibility for it all. The biggest miracle is how this escaped the censors by posing as a Christmas movie about the immaculate conception.

runtime: 98m format: DCP


12/4/2019 @ 7:00 PM 9:30 PM

The Great Moment

(Preston Sturges, 1944) · Dr. Morton, a 19th-century dentist, discovered the use of ether for general anesthesia. The medical establishment would not license his invention for use in general surgery unless he revealed the secret of the art before he could patent it. To save a girl from death by pain in a leg amputation, he gives it away. Sturges wrote a multiple narrative Citizen Kane type bio, but the studio's surgery amputated much of the original story, depriving him of the glory he deserved.

runtime: 83m format: 35mm


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