Great McGinty, The (1940)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“You’ve got to understand, honey: no man is strong enough to buck the party, no matter how much he wants to make his wife happy.”

Synopsis:
A homeless man (Brian Donlevy) hired by a crime boss (Akim Tamiroff) to cast illegal votes quickly climbs the political ladder, becoming alderman, then mayor, then governor; but when his new wife (Muriel Angelus) encourages him to go straight, Tamiroff is anything but pleased.

Genres:

  • Character Arc
  • Flashback Films
  • Political Corruption
  • Preston Sturges Films
  • Rise-and-Fall

Review:
Notable as the first film Preston Sturges helmed himself, rather than simply scripting, The Great McGinty is a puzzling omission from Peary’s GFTFF, given that he lists or reviews all of Sturges’ other major directorial titles. In addition to being of historical interest, it remains an enjoyably pointed satire, one which clearly displays Sturges’ genius with utilizing dark humor to convey incisive political and social commentary. It’s finely acted by Donlevy (an inspired casting choice) and Tamiroff (never better), and moves along at a steady pace, neatly showing us Donlevy’s rise and fall via a strategic flashback framework (opening, closing, and intermittent scenes are set in the seedy barroom of a “Banana republic”). The moral of the story remains deeply cynical, but there’s no denying that Sturges had his pulse on the true nature of power and corruption in America. What’s most disturbing is how ultimately realistic — and modern — this story still feels. My only minor quibble with the film is how instantly forgettable Muriel Angelus is as Donlevy’s secretary-turned-wife; she’s serviceable but not much more. (Interestingly, this was her last film before she disappeared off the cinematic radar.)

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Brian Donlevy as Dan McGinty
  • Akim Tamiroff as “The Boss”
  • Sturges’ cleverly satirical script

Must See?
Yes, as Sturges’ first directorial effort.

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One Response to “Great McGinty, The (1940)”

  1. Must-see – and, yes, very curious that Peary doesn’t include the title. This is actually among Sturges’ best work.

    ~and what a treat to return to. So sharp, literate and smart. And lean (at just over 80 minutes). Unlike elsewhere in his work, Sturges steers rather clear of the occasional, more obvious buffoonery in order to highlight what is a fairly serious-minded tale of corruption. (And, yes, I was astonished at how relevant the film remains.)

    Here Sturges operates from a simple but clever premise: for “one crazy moment”, a lifelong cheat and liar goes straight. It’s fascinating to watch this kind of protagonist evolve and reveal himself to himself. The script adds a very effective touch when McGinty marries for appearances only – only to find out later that “I must have been blind.” (I’m not bothered by the performance by Angelus at all – mainly because the love relationship is played from such a unique angle, bringing with it an unusual dynamic. On the other hand, I was surprised to hear her character refer to her own children – in front of them! – as “brats”; mainly because she is otherwise presented as a very loving mother.)

    Although I find quite a few sequences memorable, perhaps the one that jumped out at me (mainly thanks to very crisp editing) is the one in which Donlevy is running for governor and campaign speeches are being given to crowds to push both candidates. …The more things change, the more they remain the same.

    The film’s penultimate scene is also another personal fave: shot in a stark, claustrophobic and storm-ridden setting, it’s a very bittersweet unraveling.

    Overall, a very rewarding experience!

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