The Great McGinty (1940) is the first directorial effort of one of the greatest and smartest comedy filmmakers of all time, Preston Sturges. The story revolves around bartender Dan McGinty (Brian Donlevy), as he recounts his life story to a down on his luck American banker and a floorshow dancer. It turns out that years before McGinty was an ordinary street tramp just trying to survive. After voting 37 times for a corrupt Mayoral election, local gangster, “The Boss” (Akim Tamiroff), takes notice of McGinty and begins to use him as a low level enforcer.
As time passes, McGinty becomes more useful and “The Boss” decides to make McGinty the new Mayor. All McGinty has to do is get married for appearances. Luckily, his secretary, Catherine (Muriel Angelus), is more than willingly to be his bride. What McGinty never expected was that Catherine and her two children would turn his world upside down and make him start paying attention to the things that really are important.
Although The Great McGinty seems like it would be a great screwball comedy, that doesn’t seem to have been Sturges’ goal. This is a political satire with a little bit of screwball throw in for fun. Like many of Sturges’ later films, The Great McGinty deals with serious issues and the dialogue serves as the comedy, but in his later more successful movies the focus tends to be more on the comedy than the subject matter. Dan McGinty is a character filled with regrets and disappointments. His life hasn’t gone the way he planned, he never seems to have made any good choices and at the end of the day all he can do is sit in a bar serving drinks to other people who are just as miserable as himself. This is not the kind of Preston Sturges movie that most people are looking forward to seeing. That is of course not to say that Sturges didn’t lean many of his movies in a serious direction, but later films like Sullivan’s Travels (1941) and The Miracle On Morgan’s Creek (1944) were rooted in comedy, with a serious point as well. The Great McGinty is too light on the comedy, and in the end I just felt disappointed.
On the upside, The Great McGinty serves as a perfect transition for Sturges to move from writer to writer/director. At that time, Preston Sturges was the highest paid writer in Hollywood, and it was high time for him to move into the director’s seat. He sold the screenplay to Paramount for $10, with the stipulation that he was allowed to direct as well. The Great McGinty proved that Sturges was going to be an accomplished director, and this was the first of nine movies that Sturges would direct by the end of 1944.
Much to my surprise, The Great McGinty was nominated and won an Academy Award for Preston Sturges in the category of “Writing: Original Screenplay”. (Not to be confused with the very similar titled category of “Writing: Screenplay”.)Back to Home for More Reviews