American Cinematheque celebrates comic genius Preston Sturges


For several years in the 1940s, Preston Sturges wrote and directed a series of flawless social comedies that were an intoxicating mix of sophisticated dialog and freewheeling slapstick.

The American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is honoring the filmmaker with the new retrospective “Sturges Rally: Comedy Built for Speed,” which opens Friday.

Sturges, who was born in 1898 and died in 1959, came from a wealthy family and, as a young boy, helped out his mother’s friend, Isadora Duncan, in her stage productions. A World War I veteran, he began writing short stories while recovering from an appendectomy. He scored his first big success on Broadway in 1929 with the comedy “Strictly Dishonorable.”


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He moved to Los Angeles three years later and began writing such classic films as 1937’s “Easy Living.” He was frustrated with the lack of control over his scripts and made a deal with Paramount: He would sell them the script of his 1940 political satire “The Great McGinty” for $1 if he could direct it. Not only was his directing career born, he won the Academy Award for his screenplay.

The Egyptian’s celebration opens with “The Great McGinty,” which stars Brian Donlevy, Akim Tamiroff and William Demarest, who became a member of Sturges’ stock company of players.

The second feature Friday evening is the lovely 1940 comedy-drama “Remember the Night,” starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Mitchell Leisen directed Sturges’ screenplay.

On tap for Aug. 11 is the riotous 1942 romantic comedy “The Palm Beach Story,” with Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert, Mary Astor and a hysterically funny Rudy Vallee. And who can forget the Wienie King?

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The bill is rounded out by one of Sturges’ best films, 1944’s “Hail the Conquering Hero,” starring Eddie Bracken.

Stanwyck, Henry Fonda and Charles Coburn are near perfection in his 1941 hit “The Lady Eve,” which screens Aug. 15. The second feature is his brilliant 1941 Hollywood satire “Sullivan’s Travels,” with McCrea and Veronica Lake.

The retrospective concludes Aug. 23 with a hilarious triple bill: “Easy Living,” also directed by Leisen, with the great Jean Arthur at her screwball comedy best; the lovely 1935 comedy “The Good Fairy,” directed by William Wyler and starring Margaret Sullavan, and the 1940 comedy “Christmas in July,” his second feature as a director, with Dick Powell and Ellen Drew.


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