Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The Great McGinty (1940)

THE GREAT MCGINTY is a very entertaining satire about political corruption, written and directed by Preston Sturges. Sturges won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his tale of a hobo, Dan McGinty (Brian Donlevy), who ends up as governor.

Donlevy is superb in the title role. He recounts his story in flashback, beginning with the day he came to the attention of political bosses (Akim Tamiroff and William Demarest) after successfully voting 37 times in a single election. McGinty becomes an alderman, then the mayor and ultimately governor.

McGinty needs a wife to boost his political image, so he marries his secretary (Muriel Angelus), a divorcee with two young children. He never dreams that he will actually come to love Muriel and want the respect of her and the children, but he does, and becoming "respectable" is McGinty's downfall.

The 82-minute film has a marvelously witty script which remains amazingly topical seven decades later, as unfortunately political graft and manipulation are still with us. Besides the great dialogue, there are also some terrific visual gags, particularly during a taxicab brawl and later the jailbreak sequence. My only disappointment was the resolution of Mr. and Mrs. McGinty's relationship; perhaps it was the most realistic way for the film to end, but I'd have preferred that it not end on such a "downer" note.

British-born actress Muriel Angelus was a new name and face for me. She's delightful and original as Catherine, McGinty's wife. I love the way she introduces her children (and puppy!) to her new husband and the way she continues to call her spouse "Mr. McGinty." This was the last of Angelus's 19 films. Her other credits include William Wellman's THE LIGHT THAT FAILED (1939). She also appeared in Broadway shows including the Rodgers and Hart musical hit THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE (1938). She retired when she married orchestra conductor Paul Lavalle in 1946; they were married until Lavalle's death in 1997. Muriel Angelus passed away in 2004.

Steffi Duna plays the barroom dancer in the scenes which frame the flashback. I once met Duna at a screening of her early Technicolor short La Cucaracha (1934) and was able to have her autograph my program. She passed away in 1992.

The cast includes Allyn Joslyn, Louis Jean Heydt, Libby Taylor, Arthur Hoyt, and Thurston Hall.

Catherine's young children are played by Mary Thomas and Donnie Kerr, and when the children are older they are played by Drew Roddy and Sheila Sheldon. Sheldon appeared in three other Sturges films, and Kerr appeared in one more. Mary Thomas had the longest film career of the children; her roles included playing Barbara Stanwyck as a child in THE GAY SISTERS (1942) and appearing as one of Fay Bainter's children in MRS. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH (1942).

THE GREAT MCGINTY has been released on both VHS and DVD. It's also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

There's more on this movie at Senses of Cinema.

In his positive New York Times review, Bosley Crowther writes "Much praise must be bestowed on Brian Donlevy for his masterful comprehension of McGinty, who starts out as a plain dumb palooka and grows into a thoughtful man...Muriel Angelus is a beautiful contrast as the refined and level-headed wife."

The film was shown in the UK as DOWN WENT MCGINTY.

The trailer is here.

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