The Great McGinty

The Great McGinty

“WHATTA GUY! He loved a fight or a frolic... and he usually found one!”


Skeeters: If it wasn’t for graft, you’d get a very low type of people in politics. Men without ambition. Jellyfish.

Catherine: Especially since you can’t rob the people anyway.

Skeeters: Sure. How was that?

Catherine: What you rob, you spend, and what you spend goes back to the people. So, where’s the robbery? I read that in one of my father’s books.

Skeeters: That book should be in every home.


“A good reason for writing one’s autobiography is that it may prevent some jerk from writing one’s biography. And this is all to the good, if only because what one writes oneself about persons and facts one knew firsthand will contain only such voluntary departures from the truth as one considers necessary to prevent a few husbands from shooting their wives, for instance (or vice versa), as opposed to the mountains of false statements, misspelled names, wrong dates, and incorrect loci the well-meaning biographer usually comes up with after tracking one down through the morgues of defunct newspapers, the old letters of some of one’s friends, and the very unreliable memories of people who knew one slightly. This is the tremendous advantage of even the most analphabetic autobiography over even the most scholarly biography. Baron Münchhausen himself will be closer to the truth, describing what he himself has done, than the most conscientious outsider trying to relate the same thing a couple of centuries later. It is often stupefying to read a piece about somebody one knew intimately, in a time which appears still quite recent, and to discover its extraordinary inaccuracy. It makes one doubt all the history studied in school, rarely written down by those who made it. [...] Like nearly everyone else, with the exception of a few crowned heads, hereditary multimillionaires, and other neurotic characters, I know little of whence I came. No scribes have burned the midnight oil on my account, nor have crusty genealogists chiseled the branches of my family tree into the enduring stone. My forebears may all have been aristocratic loafers who spent their days couchant on fields of argent, regardant concupiscently the passant maidens or wetting their whistles at bars sinister, but if so, somebody forgot to tell me about it.”

Preston Sturges1


“Sturges’s free-wheeling dialogue is his most original contribution to films and accomplishes, among other things, the destruction of the common image of Americans as tight-lipped Hemingwayan creatures who converse in grating monosyllables and chopped sentences. Sturges tries to create the equally American image of a wrangle of conflicting, overemotional citizens who talk as though they were forever arguing or testifying before a small-town jury. They speak as if to a vast, intent audience rather than to each other, but the main thing is that they unburden themselves passionately and without difficulty – even during siesta moments on the front porch: ‘I’m perfectly calm. I’m as – as cool as ice, then I start to figure maybe they won’t take me and some cold sweat runs down the middle of my back and my head begins to buzz and everything in the middle of the room begins to swim – and I get black spots in front of my eyes and they say I’ve got high blood pressure...’

As the words sluice out of the actors’ mouths, the impression is that they teeter on the edge of a social, economic, or psychological cliff and that they are under some wild compulsion to set the record straight before plunging out of the picture. Their speech is common in language and phrasing, but Sturges makes it effervesce with trick words (‘whackos’ for ‘whack’), by pumping it full of outraged energy or inserting a daft idea like the Music Hall gag. All of this liberated talk turns a picture into a kind of open forum where everyone down to the cross-eyed bit player gets a chance to try out his oratorical ability. A nice word-festival, very democratic, totally unlike the tight, gagged-up speech that movies inherited from vaudeville, radio, and the hard-boiled novel.”

Manny Farber2


“I have always been puzzled by the apparent fact that comic directors ‘decline’ more rapidly and more frequently than do serious directors. If the terms ‘comic’ and ‘serious’ lack both semantic precision and the logical relationship of opposites, it cannot be helped. These admittedly vague designations are used to limit my conception of comedy to that of comedy/ha ha rather than comedy/not tragedy. It can be argued that the ability to make an audience laugh has less to do with comedy than with humor, less with wit than with slapstick, less with character than with caricature, less with a personal vision of the world than with the technical, almost totalitarian, manipulation of an audience. It can also be argued that the decibel rating of collective laughter is an absurdly impermanent criterion of lasting value. [...] What distinguishes Sturges from his contemporaries is the density and congestion of his comedies. The Breughel of American comedy directors, Sturges created a world of peripheral professionals – politicians, gangsters, executives, bartenders, cab drivers, secretaries, bookies, card sharps, movie producers, doctors, dentists, bodyguards, butlers, inventors, millionaires and derelicts. These were not the usual flotsam and jetsam of Hollywood cinema, but self-expressive cameos of aggressive individualism. With the determinism of the Sturges plots, these infinitely detailed miniatures, served as contingent elements, and it is these elements, and the single-take, multiple viewpoint sequences formally demanded by these elements, which establish the comedies of Preston Sturges once and for all as comedy/not tragedy.”

Andrew Sarris3


“I got to work on my next free-lance project, a screenplay called The Biography of a Bum (eventually titled The Great McGinty), inspired by the tales told by Judge McCreery back in my millpond days. Jesse Lasky was very much interested in the proposed story, as were the Laemmles, father and son, at Universal. Warner Bros. offered me fifteen thousand to write it and to direct it. It was less than I had received for The Power and the Glory, but I was willing to take less in order to direct.

When the screenplay was finished though, all three studios failed to evince any interest in producing it. Everybody said it was beautifully written, but they found the setting too sordid and the story too much concerned with politics. Politics, they were convinced, would not interest women at all, and women made up the majority of the audiences. The day after every studio in town had turned it down, I decided not to sell it unless I was permitted to direct it. It was to be my entering wedge into the profession, my blackjack. After that, it was simple. It only took six years.”

Preston Sturges4

  • 1Preston Sturges, Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges. His Life in His Words. Adapted and Edited by Sandy Sturges (New York: Touchstone, 1991), 11-15.
  • 2Manny Farber, ‘Preston Sturges: Success in the Movies’ in Robert Polito, ed., Farber on Film. The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber (New York: The Library of America, 2016), 466-467.
  • 3Andrew Sarris, Interviews with Film Directors (New York: Avon Books, 1967), 516-519.
  • 4Preston Sturges, Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges. His Life in His Words. Adapted and Edited by Sandy Sturges (New York: Touchstone, 1991), 275-276.
UPDATED ON 13.06.2018