The comic genius Preston Sturges believed that laughter is the best medicine, and that what people in hard times want is to forget their troubles and escape for 90 minutes or so into a world of lighthearted comedy, snappy repartee and slapstick silliness.
Sturges is best known today for two movies, both released in 1941: The Lady Eve and Sullivan’s Travels. For a typical example of Sturges’ comic genius, watch The Lady Eve. By contrast, the equally brilliant Sullivan’s Travels is a bit of an outlier: a movie that blends comedy with social themes of poverty and injustice while paradoxically concluding that moviegoers already have enough reality, and anyway it’s presumptuous for privileged filmmakers to address hardships they know nothing about.
As if to practice what he preaches, Sturges begins in the world he knows best: in Hollywood, where we meet an earnest but temperamental young director of lowbrow comedies with titles like Ants in Your Plants. Our hero, John “Sully” Sullivan (Joel McCrea), has his heart set on making a hard-hitting socially conscious film with the grandiose title O Brother, Where Art Thou? (borrowed nearly 60 years later by the Coen brothers).
Possibly the screwiest of all screwball comedies, My Man Godfrey is the ultimate Depression-era satire of the idle rich and tribute to the noble poor.
This theme of romantically linking an upper-class society girl and a man beneath her station would become a popular device in screwball comedies, appealing to Depression audiences both as escapist entertainment and as satire of the idle rich and celebration of the hardworking poor.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.