Sunday, January 10, 2010

Don't Make a Scene: The Great McGinty

The Story: Preston Sturges' first film "The Great McGinty" has a polished screenplay, but some rough direction...and some inspired comedy directing.

For instance, this scene. It's nothing much content-wise, it's some character-building for "The Boss," giving a little back-story and bringing to a head the bad blood starting to boil between the two ruffians. It's when the fight starts that the screen goes cross-eyed. In a deflecting comedy move, Sturges cuts to the front of the car where "The Boss'" bodyguard and chauffeur are talking about a domestic squabble, while silently in the cab McGinty and the boss kick and gouge and sock. It's an economic move, too. Fights are tough to stage and Sturges hedges his bets by keeping it mostly unseen, with glimpses of feet and fists and ass. The imagination comes to play and makes the fight worse than it seems. Conversely, we don't hear it as its occurring in an armored (and sound-proof) cab, and we just hear the goons talking casually. It intensifies the emotion of what's going on in the background, while sublimating the immediate effect. And it's funny, right up to the punch-line of the door-man (furthering Sturges' "corruption in high places" theme) opening the limousine door only to have a decidedly low-brow tussle spill out onto the street, as if from a dive bar.

It's short. It's not too sweet. But it's funny.

And it's more interesting than most of the blows-trading going on in movies today.

The Set-Up: Dan McGinty (Brian Donlevy) was a bum 24 hours ago, but he came to the notice of "The Boss" (Akim Tamiroff) when he became a voting entrepreneur, voting for the crime-king's Mayoral candidate 37 times on election day. The next day, cleaned up and with a bright (blindingly bright) new suit, he makes good collecting bad debts. Tailing him, "The Boss" wants to have a talk with his new employee.


BOSS: Jump in! I'll take you for a ride (chuckles)
McGINTY: Okay. Move over.

CHAUFFEUR: That's quite a suit.

Louie, the bodyguard gives a dismissive wave.

BOSS: You collected, huh?
McGINTY: Two fifty and four and five hundred. That's eleven hundred and fifty bucks. Go ahead, count it.
BOSS: I guess you think you're kinda hot stuff, huh? All right. Keep the change.
McGINTY: Keep what change? I got twenty percent comin'.

BOSS: I said keep the whole wad. I never expected to collect it no-how.

McGINTY: Then what's the idea of sendin' me out?

BOSS:(Laughs) I'm glad you didn't disappoint me. For a minute, I thought you were gonna say thank you. You're a card, you are.

BOSS: Yesterday, you were a hobo on the breadline. Today, you got a thousand berries and a new suit. I wonder where you'll be tomorrow.

BOSS: This is a land of great opportunity. You take me, for instance. Where I come from is very poor. All the richness is gone along...

McGINTY: What makes this bus so quiet? You don't hear nuthin' in here.
BOSS: It's armored. (continuing) All the richness is gone a long time ago.

BOSS: So everybody lives by...
McGINTY: Armored for what?

BOSS: So people shouldn't interrupt me!

BOSS: So everybody lives by chiseling everybody else. It comes to me very natural. If I live 500 years ago, I be a baron maybe. A robber baron. I live on a rock, chisel the people down below and everybody call me "Baron."

BOSS: Now, I live in a penthouse and everybody call me "Boss."

BOSS:(SAVAGE) Everybody except you.
McGINTY: I get it. Bullet-proof.

BOSS: That right. And if you think I'm not the boss, you try and cross me up some time!
McGINTY: You got me all a-tremble. I bet you're scared to death o' yourself.

BOSS: All right! You asked for it!

CHAUFFEUR: An' she says "You and who else?"

CHAUFFEUR: An' I says "Oh, Yeah?" an' she says "Yeah is right."

CHAUFFEUR: So I says "You and me both." an' she says "That goes double for me."

CHAUFFEUR: I says, "Oh, yeah?" An' the operator says, "Deposit another 25 cents for another three minutes."

CHAUFFEUR: So, I hang up on her. You let 'em get an angle on ya, you're a goner.

LOUIE: You said it.

CHAUFFEUR: You tellin' me?

"The Great McGinty"

Words by Preston Sturges

Pictures by William C. Mellor and Preston Sturges

"The Great McGinty" is available on DVD from Universal Home Video.

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