Great McGinty The (1940)
Writer Preston Sturges finally got his chance to direct (by practically giving his script away) and ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Writing Original Screenplay for this comedy about big city politics that unfortunately is uncomfortably similar to the Chicago machine that has given us our 44th POTUS. It stars the underrated Brian Donlevy in the title role as an ambitious thug that works his way from a street bum all the way to the governor’s mansion.
As the story goes McGinty started out as a homeless man in a free soup line on Election Day. Upon learning that he’ll be paid $2 to cast a vote for the figurehead incumbent (despite the fact that he’d never registered) by presenting himself as a now deceased citizen McGinty votes 37 times for Mayor Tillinghast (Arthur Hoyt). When Skeeters (William Demarest) can’t pay him the $74 he’s due McGinty is taken to the party’s headquarters where he meets The Boss (Akim Tamiroff) behind the organization. The racketeer Boss is charmed by the unawares McGinty who doesn’t take “nothing from nobody” and hires him to collect graft from his most difficult ‘customers’ (played by Esther Howard Dewey Robinson and Jimmy Conlin). McGinty is so successful that he’s soon promoted to the second floor where as an alderman with a secretary – Muriel Angelus as Catherine he shakes down respectable businessman like Mr. Maxwell (Thurston Hall). When Tillinghast’s corrupt administration is exposed and The Boss needs an unknown fresh face to run as the reform candidate he picks McGinty telling him that he has to get married in order to win women’s votes. Though he thinks that this is the end of the road McGinty is convinced by Catherine who’s always admired him to marry her; she is willing to pretend to be his wife publicly while leaving him alone privately. As mayor McGinty supports dozens of unnecessary projects which bear his name; big labor builds buildings and bridges. While his opposition (Robert Warwick) rails against these unneeded improvements Skeeters proclaims that McGinty built ‘this city’ which propels McGinty to the office of the governor.
Inevitably Catherine begins to reform McGinty – her faith in him is strong and though initially he doesn’t think that one man can do anything in such a system he begins to believe that he can – humanizing him to the point that he becomes a champion of her causes such as child labor reform. Their sham marriage becomes more genuine in part because of McGinty’s feelings towards George (Allyn Joslyn) who’d loved Catherine before she’d agreed to her new public role. Of course The Boss feels betrayed and even tries to kill the new governor per his change in positions because of her. There’s more to McGinty’s story – which is told in flashback by him as an unknown (again) bartender to salve a somewhat incredulous (and uncredited) Billy Benedict whose character had tried to kill himself for all he’d lost – and though it feels rather rushed we’re saved from a drawn out (and probably less humorous) narrative of his downfall.