Clinton-era Washington has nothing on the penny-ante politics that Preston Sturges cooked up in his directorial debut, The Great McGinty. Cynical and witty, the movie skyrocketed Sturges into the top rank of offbeat, hypocrisy-exposing Hollywood writer-directors, but only briefly. By 10 pictures later he had lost his touch and was an unbankable has-been. Yet some of those 10 remain gems, as proved by these four (among seven newly rereleased Sturges movies).
The Lady Eve is Sturges’ smartest, snappiest funfest, with Stanwyck at her foxiest as a con artist sparring with unpredictable prey Fonda. The Palm Beach Story is almost as good, skewering a four-way romantic mix-up with Colbert, McCrea, Mary Astor, and Rudy Vallee. The sleeper of the batch is the surprisingly topical Christmas in July. In today’s era of giveaway game shows and credit-card abuse, Sturges’ wild plot about contest winners seems almost clairvoyant. The Great McGinty: B; The Lady Eve: A; The Palm Beach Story: A-; Christmas in July: B+