The Great McGinty (Preston Sturges / U.S., 1940):

The evolution from hoodlum to governor: "You got to crawl before you can creep, right?" Mark Twain’s "new political gospel" might be the basis, envisioned by Preston Sturges as a saloon-counter fable -- the bartender (Brian Donlevy) was once the Great McGinty, he tells his tale to appease a suicidal customer. The first lesson is that chicanery beats a soup line on a cold election night, so the hobo votes 37 times ($2 apiece) and falls in with The Boss (Akim Tamiroff), who admires an able chiseler. Donlevy’s tour of power structures includes shaking down fortune tellers and bail bondsmen for "protection" money until Tamiroff needs a "typical American" to run for office. "What you rob you spend, and what you spend goes back to the people, so where’s the robbery?" The circularity of the graft racket is voiced by the schoolmarmish secretary (Muriel Angelus), who provides Donlevy with a ready-made family to corral the female vote and then stirs his conscience with romance. The Boss can’t believe his patsy’s newfound reformist zeal: "The ‘people’?! Are you sick or something?" Capra’s world of stump speeches and brassy campaigns minus Capra’s Pietàs, where the hero scowls at the church across his house and deems child labor inhuman except maybe in taffy factories. In this caustic view, the "land of great opportunity" is best appreciated in the rearview mirror by exiles in a "banana republic" cantina. Can the system be challenged, or only left behind? Sturges gives the material a stormy reading, already with room for centrifugal marvels like William Demarest and Jimmy Conlin and analytical gags like The Boss’ soundproof limousine. (Oblivious to the scuffle in the backseat, the chauffeur remains locked in his own slangy torrent: "You said it! ... That goes double for me! ... You’re telling me!") Consequences are felt immediately in Citizen Kane, and down the road in Monicelli’s The Organizer and Ritchie’s The Candidate, among countless others. With Allyn Joslyn, Louis Jean Heydt, Harry Rosenthal, Arthur Hoyt, Thurston Hall, Libby Taylor and Steffi Duna. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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