|The Great McGinty|
UK theatrical poster
|Directed by||Preston Sturges|
|Produced by||Buddy G. DeSylva (uncredited)|
|Written by||Preston Sturges|
|Music by||Frederick Hollander|
John Leipold (uncredited)
|Cinematography||William C. Mellor|
|Edited by||Hugh Bennett|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|August 15, 1940|
August 23 (general)
The Great McGinty is a 1940 political satire comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges, starring Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff and featuring William Demarest and (in her final screen appearance) Muriel Angelus. It was Sturges's first film as a director; he sold the story to Paramount Pictures for just $10 on condition he direct the film. Sturges went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Dan McGinty (Brian Donlevy) is a bartender in a banana republic who recounts his rise and fall to the bar's dancing girl and an American customer. The customer was a trusted bank employee who can no longer return to the United States and his family because he is wanted by the law after falling to temptation and stealing from the bank. McGinty is in a similar situation, but in his case it is due to "one crazy minute" of honesty rather than one of dishonesty. In a long flashback, he explains.
McGinty's career begins when he is a tramp who, offered a $2 bribe to vote under a false name in a rigged mayoral election, does it thirty-seven times at different precincts. This impresses a local political boss (Akim Tamiroff), whose name is never mentioned; although they sometimes almost come to blows with each other, McGinty becomes one of the boss's enforcers, then his political protégé. During a public campaign for political reform, the boss, who controls all the political parties in the city, decides to have McGinty elected mayor as a "reform" candidate. He says a credible candidate must be married, but McGinty has no one he wants to marry. His secretary (Muriel Angelus) then proposes a marriage of convenience, which he accepts. Elected mayor, he continues the political corruption established by the boss, rationalizing that the public still benefits from public works no matter who bribes their way into profiting from them. But then he and his more idealistic wife actually fall in love. He begins to take her views on public service seriously, but says he is not powerful enough to act against the boss in any case.
But next the boss decides McGinty should be governor of the state, and McGinty is duly elected. Now he feels he is powerful enough, and on his inauguration day he tells the boss that they're through with each other. The boss says that if he goes down then he'll take McGinty with him by revealing his part in the corruption; but then he becomes angry enough to fire a gun at McGinty inside the governor's mansion, ensuring his prompt arrest.
In due course McGinty and the boss find themselves in adjacent jail cells, from which the boss arranges an escape for both. The flashback ends with McGinty providing for his wife and her children by telling her by phone about money he has hidden. We finally see that the former political boss is still his boss at the bar, and that they are still given to violent disagreements.
The Great McGinty had numerous working titles: "The Story of a Man", "The Vagrant", "The Mantle of Dignity", "The Biography of a Bum", and "Down Went McGinty", (which was used for the film's release in the U.K). Sturges had written the original story, "The Story of a Man", in 1933 with Spencer Tracy in mind. According to film historian Kevin Brownlow, Sturges was inspired by the career of William Sulzer, who was impeached and removed from office as governor of New York.
After trying to sell the story to Universal in 1935, and the Saturday Evening Post in 1938 under the title Biography of a Bum, Sturges finally sold it to Paramount on August 19, 1939 for $10 on the condition that he be allowed to direct it. Paramount agreed, and provided Sturges a budget of $350,000, a three-week shooting schedule, and inexpensive stars to work with.
Production on the film was delayed to allow Akim Tamiroff to do The Way of All Flesh, but it began on December 15, 1939. Sturges contracted pneumonia during filming, and required a nurse to attend to him on the set. Production stopped on January 25, 1940 with one day's shooting left to do, which was accomplished on April 15, after the first cut of the film had already been made.
It was released on video in the U.S. on April 7, 1988, and re-released on June 30, 1993.
Brian Donlevy appeared in a Philip Morris Playhouse radio adaptation January 23, 1942, on the CBS radio network, the August 27, 1945 episode of The Screen Guild Theater and in the April 20, 1946 episode of Academy Award Theater. It was also adapted to the October 12, 1947 episode of the Ford Theatre and a May 11, 1952 Screen Guild Theater starring Broderick Crawford. Donlevy also appeared in a television adaptation on Lux Video Theatre, broadcast on 28 April 1955, with Thomas Gomez and Jesse White. The director was Earl Eby and Preston Sturges' screenplay was adapted by S.H. Barnett.
Paramount considered a remake of the film starring Bing Crosby in 1950, and in 1954 with Bob Hope, but decided against both.
Preston Sturges won the 1940 Academy Award for "Best Original Screenplay" for The Great McGinty, which was named as one of the "10 Best Films of 1940" by both The New York Times and Film Daily.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists: