Madcap: The Life of Preston Sturges

Donald Spoto, Author
Donald Spoto, Author Little Brown and Company $19.95 (301p) ISBN 978-0-316-80726-5
Reviewed on: 03/31/1990
Release date: 04/01/1990
One of our most influential filmmakers, Sturges (1898-1959) paved the way for the likes of Orson Welles, Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, among others, not only in terms of cinematic style but as a screenwriter who earned the privilege of sole control over his projects. The first writer in cinema to direct his own work ( The Great McGinty , which earned Sturgis an Academy Award for best original screenplay in 1941), he also added the title of producer to his credits, most notably for his comedic masterpiece, Sullivan's Travels (1942), a quasi-autobiographical story about the need for laughter in the midst of adversity, considered by cultists to be one of the best films ever made. Spoto ( The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock ) has done his homework; the detail-filled book makes a major contribution to the study of American film. Insight and narrative flair, however, are where this effort falls short. Sturges, who was raised in Europe by an eccentric mother (and her even more flamboyant friend, Isadora Duncan), led a life more emotionally complicated and colorful than most characters found in fiction. Although Spoto does justice to his subject's accomplishments, the definitive biography of the patron saint of screenwriters has yet to be written. Photos. (Apr.)
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