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Friday, March 21, 2014


After breaking the Hollywood barrier that kept writers from directing their own scripts (with THE GREAT McGINTY/’40, his uproarious take-no-prisoners political satire), Preston Sturges went straight on to this more modest charmer. A chamber-piece compared to McGINTY, it occasionally shows its origins as an unproduced play, but once it gets going . . . look out!, the Sturgean wit & wisdom take off in language as unique & specific as G. B. Shaw or Tom Stoppard. It’s a sweet fable, with Dick Powell’s desk jockey hoping to leapfrog his way to success (and marriage to Ellen Drew) by winning a big radio contest. Or maybe the next. But when a trio of office mates punk him with a gag telegram, Powell thinks he’s really won the 25-thou Grand Prize for his goofy coffee slogan, and things quickly grow out of hand. These farces of misunderstanding can turn pretty darn tiresome pretty darn quick, but Sturges keeps switching gears on you, making decent types out of the usual villains and managing to run his plot without making everyone act deaf, dumb & blind. The expected crew of Sturges zanies are seen here in chrysalis, but the corporate execs & ethnically-mixed tenement neighbors generate plenty of laughs in this pupa stage. The shorter than usual running time helps, too; no one overstays their welcome. And Raymond Walburn, a Sturges regular usually confined to backup player, gets a rare chance to solo as Chief Coffee Baron, percolating with one priceless line reading after another.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Switching from McGINTY’s William Mellor to Victor Milner as lenser for this and for three future projects @ Paramount did a lot to increase Sturges’s emotional & romantic range. But it was the great John Seitz (on SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS/’41; MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK/’44 and HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO/’44) who helped make Sturges-the-director as brilliantly original as Sturges-the-writer.

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