Who is he?
American playwright, filmmaker and screenwriter who worked from the early Thirties to the late Fifties, directing about a dozen features. Sturges had one of the most remarkable runs for any film director in Hollywood, making seven of his most acclaimed films in a period of seven years between 1941 and 1948, before entering the most tumultuous phase of his career. He won the Oscar for the script of his debut venture The Great McGinty (1940).
What are his films about?
Sturges’ films regularly satirise the upper class, teasingly but gently portraying as prisoners of their privilege, and their sympathy almost always lying with the common folk. One of the major themes in his films is the glaring gap between one’s ideas and reality. The protagonists of Sturges’ films find their idealism, outlook and best-laid plans crumble when confronted by reality. These films are also, in one way or the other, celebrations of comedy and of laughing.
One of Sturges’ most evident directorial signatures is his unabashed use of slapstick comedy alongside ornate wordplay and plot devices, which was especially risky given that slapstick had become outmoded in the 1940s and was completely replaced by verbal comedy. Also notable are his employment of relatively long takes and experimental narrative structures.
Why is he of interest?
Film historian and director Peter Bogdanovich considers Sturges to be the first major screenwriter of the talkie era to have successfully made the transition to filmmaking, thus paving the way for many more writers to direct their own scripts. Like French filmmaker Jacques Tati, Sturges’ films are all tributes to the great screen comedies of silent era. His movies are attempts at importing the heart and soul of silent cinema to talking films, without coming across as imitative.
Where to discover him?
The Lady Eve (1941) is the story of a rich but bumbling adventurer (Henry Fonda) and the charlatan (Barbara Stanwyck) who attempts to make him fall for her over and over again. A hilarious illustration of the popular wisdom that a man falls in love many times but always with the same woman, The Lady Eve — Eve denoting the Original Woman of whom everyone is a copy — is a film about falling, in every sense of the word. Deftly balancing blunt slapstick and nuanced comic writing, the film is almost a metaphysical examination of how men live, love and laugh.