Political influence for sale. Image: High-Def Digest

You know the old saying: What goes Up, Must come Down.

Sadly, there’s no escaping this situation. It applies equally to baseballs, financial bubbles, and political careers.

Especially political careers.

Admittedly, we (yours truly) needle politicians frequently on this blog, but it can’t be helped. The majority of them behave in a ridiculous manner due to their Thinly-Veiled lust for Power.

With that in mind, we watched Preston Sturges’s The Great McGinty (1940), a political satire set during the Great Depression. Brian Donlevy stars as a dishonest man who becomes a dishonest mayor, and, eventually, a dishonest state governor.

He achieves these Lofty Goals with the help of a local kingmaker (Akim Tamiroff), a pugilistic visionary who regularly reminds Donlevy just Who’s In Charge. “If anything happens to me,” Tamiroff warns, “you’ll be in the clink ten minutes later.”

The Inevitable. Image: IMDb

The story is told in flashbacks, with Donlevy recounting his glorious political career as The Great McGinty.

It’s a movie about Relationship, but not the standard romantic fare. The relationship here is about Power: How to Get It, How to Keep It, and How to Wrest It from Others.

Donlevy’s character shouldn’t be likeable. He’s greedy and gruff, yet Donlevy wrings sympathy from us. This is because early in the film we see him (A) prevent a suicide, and (B) stand in a soup kitchen line. These actions make us (A) sympathize with him, and (B) believe under that rough exterior is a Soft Heart.

Given Donlevy’s ruthless smarts, it’s surprising to see him, early in the film, as a homeless fellow Down On His Luck. Happily for him – and unhappily for the voting public – his misfortune is fleeting. There’s a civic election underway, and crooked election workers have set up a soup kitchen as a Front for vote-rigging.

Our man Donlevy sees Opportunity in this stacked deck, and, during the course of the evening, he sells his vote to several polling stations for a Tidy Sum.

Tamiroff, the aforementioned Power Broker, admires Donlevy’s shrewdness, and hires him to sell “Protection” to various businesses in the city. This Donlevy does easily, sans conscience or compassion.

Here’s the thing about Donlevy-as-McGinty. He looks at you as though he’s sizing up your net value and how best to pry it out of you. This makes him a successful racketeer and politician.

But even he has his Weaknesses, and he makes two mistakes: (1) He believes he’s Too Big to Fail; and (2) He has what the script refers to as a “crazy minute” of honesty.

Ultimately he learns what every politician must, that they’re in office only as long as people allow it, whether these people be political insiders or the general populace.

Uh oh. A crisis of conscience. Image: IMDb

They say The Great McGinty is the cheapest script to ever win an Academy Award. Legend has it Paramount Studios paid screenwriter Preston Sturges $10 for this script, and Sturges agreed to the price if he could direct the film.

This was the first in a series of hugely popular films written and directed by Sturges; it was a Big Break eleven years in the making. Sturges first came to Hollywood in 1928 as a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures, and, in his 30 years in filmdom, his most successful period was 1939-1944. During that time, he received the Oscar for this screenplay, along with two other Oscar nominations.

Sturges’s script has aged well because it’s a piercing commentary of Human Nature. You can’t help but notice how much people Have Not Changed in the 80+ years since this film was released.

If you ever come across The Great McGinty, we suggest you Drop Everything to see this funny, clever film. We know you’ll love it.

This post is dedicated to a pal who recently received Unwelcome News. No one else, in similar circumstances, would have said, “Give it to me straight, Keyes.”

The Great McGinty: starring Brian Donlevy, Muriel Angelus, Akim Tamiroff. Written & directed by Preston Sturges. Paramount Pictures, 1940, B&W, 72 mins.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

12 Comment on “How to Become a Politician Without Really Trying

  1. Pingback: Truth or Consequences | alittlebiteast

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