PRESTON STURGES’ 11 RULES FOR BOX OFFICE APPEAL

            It’s unfortunate that Preston Sturges – one of Hollywood’s first great writer\directors – is essentially forgotten by today’s audience.  There’s plenty of information to be found about him on the web, so I’ll just say that his unique voice spanned a checkered career that burned out way too early.  Nonetheless, he enjoyed a period of great success and his best films are still worthy of attention.  If you’re not familiar with such titles as The Great McGinty (1940; William C. Mellor, ASC), The Lady Eve (1941; Victor Milner, ASC), Sullivan’s Travels (1941; John Seitz, ASC), The Palm Beach Story (1942; Victor Milner, ASC), The Miracle At Morgan’s Creek (1943; John Seitz, ASC) or Hail the Conquering Hero (1944; John Seitz, ASC), take the time to review them.  They’re not just wry and amusing, they showcase the studio production line at its best; Sturges’ amazing cinematographers gave his films a gorgeous sheen.  His gift for quick, witty dialogue and oddball, amusing plots are unlike anything you’ve seen – and I mean that in the best way possible.

            That cleverness extended to many of his observations about his work, Hollywood and life in general.  He also liked to have a good time, as is evidenced by his ownership of The Players, a nightclub located at 8225 Sunset Boulevard (today’s site of The Pink Taco).  He never made a dime from it but it didn’t matter.  It was a place to relax and rave it up with his friends.  Maybe it was there during some booze-sodden night that he came up with his 11 Rules For Boxoffice Appeal.  As you read it keep in mind that biting sarcasm was another one of his trademarks.

            Even so, I wonder what a studio executive would think about them today…

1.            A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.

2.            A leg is better than an arm.

3.            A bedroom is better than a living room.

4.            An arrival is better than a departure.

5.            A birth is better than a death.

6.            A chase is better than a chat.

7.            A dog is better than a landscape.

8.            A kitten is better than a dog.

9.            A baby is better than a kitten.

10.            A kiss is better than a baby.

11.            A pratfall is better than anything.

9.15.2020

4 thoughts on “PRESTON STURGES’ 11 RULES FOR BOX OFFICE APPEAL”

  1. I feel truly sorry for those who have somehow been deprived, be it through choice or by accident, of seeing the likes of The Palm Beach Story, The Lady Eve, The Great McGinty… Oh, to be able to write such dialogue! On balance my favourite of his is the one with perhaps the most notorious box office reception: Unfaithfully Yours.

  2. The Lady Eve is one of my all time favorite movies, and I’m a big fan of all of his work. I’d have to imagine any fan of Billy Wilder would love these films, too.
    Do you have any comments on comedy cinematography in general? The nature of the genre often seems to just call for the camera to get out of the way—though there are certainly different modes to be found in silent comedy (and those it inspired like Jacques Tati) or comedy that pokes fun at genre (think lighting in film noir or horror parodies).

  3. Matt – You are correct, most people approach comedies with a somewhat unobtrusive camera\lighting style. There are exceptions of course, none of which come immediately to mind (would last year’s Oscar winner ‘Parasite’ qualify?). Having shot my share of comedies – some quite successful – I can’t find much to argue against this approach. Which is not to say it’s in any way careless or sloppy. There’s a definite art to getting it right. And even in their apparent simplicity, comedies can present many challenges for a cinematographer. At some point I’ll be posting lighting diagrams from Richard Benjamin’s 1986 comedy, ‘The Money Pit’. It was shot by Gordon Willis, ASC – and I promise you – he took as much care with the photography of that film as he did with The Godfather!

  4. Great, I’ll look forward to the “Money Pit” piece. From your work, I’d love to hear about “Raising Arizona,” actually– I think of that as being very stylistically heightened (wide lenses!)–, as well as “American Pie,” which I think of as fairly classic in terms of comedy style.
    I guess that even when style doesn’t come to the fore, some of the genius lies in the economy of the cinematographer’s work– comedy can be so much about revealing just the right amount of information, but not too much, and not too soon…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.