Crooked, but Never Common: The Films of Preston Sturges

Columbia Univ. Jan. 2023. 288p. ISBN 9780231207294. pap. $28. FILM
Poet/film critic Klawans (Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order) goes “deep dish” (to quote Sturges) on the films of iconic director/screenwriter Preston Sturges (1898–1959), whose meteoric film career spanned not quite a decade. By 1948, Sturges was washed up in Hollywood. Klawans compares his trajectory to that of Orson Welles, another director of immense talent and untamed impulses, to whom history has been kinder. The book begins with what seems to be an attempt to imitate Sturges’s style; that drops off quickly as the following chapters analyze and critique his ten major films. Klawans leaves no cinematic detail unexamined. He is spare with biographical details, except where incidents in Sturges’s life are pertinent, and generous to other Sturges biographers and critics. Klawans also examines the sociopolitical implications of the films and places them in historical context. The final chapter, listing possible heirs to Sturges (the Coen brothers, Charlie Kaufman, Issa Rae, Alexander Payne, Chris Rock) is an intriguing if sometimes credulity-straining coda.
VERDICT It’s obvious Klawans has pored over Sturges’s films. After reading his thoughtful analyses, film buffs will want to rewatch them, armed with new insights.
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