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  Great McGinty, The Power, Corruption and Lies
Year: 1940
Director: Preston Sturges
Stars: Brian Donlevy, Muriel Angelus, Akim Tamiroff, Allyn Joslyn, William Demarest, Louis Jean Heydt, Harry Rosenthal, Arthur Hoyt, Libby Taylor, Thurston Hall, Steffi Duna, Esther Howard, Frank Moran, Jimmy Conlin, Dewey Robinson
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: This is the story of two men who met in a bar in a Banana Republic. One, Daniel McGinty (Brian Donlevy), was dishonest all his life except for one crazy minute, the other, Tommy (Louis Jean Heydt), was honest all his life except for just one crazy minute and they both had to leave their country. McGinty is the barman and Tommy is a customer, and Tommy is in a bad way, drunk and feeling very sorry for himself. The dancer (Steffi Duna) at the bar tries to keep his spirits up and orders a drink for them, but he goes outside and McGinty has to stop him trying to shoot himself. To take his mind off things, McGinty sits Tommy down with the girl and tells him the story of his life...

The Great McGinty was the first of writer and director Preston Sturges idiosyncratic comedies of the forties, although this one is more of a drama, with the Sturges trademarks just beginning to make themselves clear. The colourful array of character actors are there, the fast-moving dialogue, the slapstick, the plotlines that nudge the ratings code, but here things are more acid, more cynical, as with this story of how to succeed in American politics he illustrates that the best thing you can do for your career is to lie and cheat all the way to the top.

The title character is anything but great, as he starts off his tale as a down and out taking food from a soup kitchen set up by the mayor of the city. It's the night of the election, and he and a group of other homeless persons discover there's a motive for providing the food other than out of the goodness of the mayor's heart. What he, or rather the man pulling the strings, the boss (Akim Tamiroff at full strength), wants is for them to vote for the mayor in the election, posing as those voters who can't make it to the polling booth in return for money. McGinty is so keen he repeats the action over thirty times.

The boss sees potential in McGinty, who is only out for himself and despite his hard-headed nature is easily manipulated. So he becomes a heavy for the boss's protection racket, rounding up the cash from those "customers" who haven't been paying up. Before he knows it, McGinty is submerged completely in the corrupt system, and we never get so much as an inkling that this is a system that could ever work when there are so many opportunists around. So our anti-hero makes his steady climb to the top, and we surprisingly want to see him do so due to his refreshing lack of pretention, as he is put up as a reform candidate by the boss, and eventually is granted the position of mayor.

Unlikely as it sounds, there is room for romance as well, but being a Sturges film there's a twist in that McGinty and his new wife, divorcee secretary Catherine (Muriel Angelus), are married for the sake of the campaign and only fall in love some months later. It is Catherine who sows the seeds of McGinty's downfall, not because she does the wrong thing, but because she does the right thing in persuading him to make a stand against all the greed and corruption that's made him the man he is today. Basically, the film is saying, if you want to succeed in politics, don't try and do any good for anybody but yourself and the crooks who backed you. Anything else will spell disaster. This could have been a bitter film, but the tone is kept light and you can see why it prompted audiences to sit up and notice Sturges - you can sense his integrity, which his characters are lacking. Music by Frederick Hollander.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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