The Great McGinty (1940)

Preston Sturges | 1hr 23min

Tamer than most Preston Sturges comedies, but also more overtly political, The Great McGinty marks the debut of a satirical filmmaker who, within just a few years, would go on to define an entire genre. Sturges isn’t afraid to hit dramatic beats here in the rise and fall of tramp-turned-mayor Dan McGinty, though pulling these off in any seriously compelling manner is not his strength. It is the lowbrow slapstick sprinkled throughout where we discover traces of the Sturges who would become one of Hollywood’s great comedic directors, especially as he capitalises on the running gag of fist fights between McGinty and his Boss, with these serious threats of injury gradually turning into petty eruptions of male egos, and eventually melding into the background as a natural part of the environment.

Sturges’ skill in the editing room is also on display here in his creatively efficient montages, passing time through long dissolves, double exposure, and even the use of a stop-motion effect to show shrinking piles of money. Later, he intercuts McGinty’s campaign for Governor with that of his opponent, contrasting a level-headed, virtuous candidate with the frenetic showmanship of McGinty’s endorsee. And of course, it is McGinty who comes out on top between the two – it only makes sense that a man whose political career began in voter fraud only continues reaching new heights by playing the part of a pawn.

A political pawn, wilfully strung along a path of corruption.

Yet after playing the part of upstanding husband and democracy-loving family man for far too long, the artificial code of ethics he pretends to live by eventually settles in his conscience, giving rise to a self-loathing and disgust for his own lack of integrity. The irony of a corrupt political system defeating itself through its own artifice is not easily lost, especially as Sturges underlines how all it takes is a “moment of honesty” to send these institutions crashing to the ground, finding the humour in the unpredictability of public life. The Great McGinty may not have the formal or comedic brilliance of Sturges’ strongest works, but it is a modest effort at political satire from a director who would only go on to sharpen his artistic voice from here.

The Great McGinty is not currently available to stream in Australia.

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