Down on his luck grafter Dan McGinty recounts his life as a rags to riches story to two nightclub patrons.
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The Great McGinty is Preston Sturges’ first film as a director after struggling to break through while writing for a number of years within the Hollywood system. Paramount Studios gave him his first break after he sold the screenplay for McGinty for ten dollars. Sturges’ would later win the Academy Award for Best Screenplay likely making it the lowest priced script to win the prize. Other titles for the film include "Biography of a Bum" and "Down Went McGinty" The film was an all-around success and the launched the career of Sturges’ as a writer/director.
The film opens with the following prologue:
“This is the story of two men who met in a banana republic. One of them never did anything dishonest in his life except for one crazy minute. The other never did anything honest in his life except for one crazy minute. They both had to get out of the country.”
The beginning of the film takes place in a bar where Dan McGinty (Brian Donlevy) tells the story of how he came to be the bartender of such a place after supposedly being a Governor at point. McGinty’s story is told through a Noir set up with a comedic twist shot in stark black and white.
Through flashback McGinty walks around an unspecified city most akin to Chicago as a bum hired to vote in a rigged Mayoral election. Each time he votes he receives a ticket and with each ticket he receives two dollars. When McGinty comes to collect his seventy-four dollars for his thirty-seven tickets, he impresses a local mob boss (Akim Tamiroff) with his gumption and is pulled off the street to become a professional grafter. McGinty’s rough-around-the-edges attitude constantly raises the ire of the mob boss that leads to them rolling around the floor comically in several instances throughout the film.
Time goes by and the mob boss needs a new corrupt Mayoral candidate to put in office and decides on McGinty. As a result McGinty is forced to marry a secretary named Catherine who agrees to marry him on the condition that their marriage needn’t be romantic and that she will carry on his house with her two children from a previous marriage. McGinty wins the election and realizes that he has feelings for Catharine. They finally embrace each other and recognize the true meaning of their commitment to each other.
The Great McGinty continues on towards classic Sturges-esque twist and turns of plot and ends with a somewhat jilted, comedic ending. This film is a classic example of why Preston Struges is so rightfully revered in Hollywood lore both for his skills as a writer and director. Less than an hour and a half in run time and a non-stop pace contribute to making this film an entertaining roller-coaster from the golden era of Hollywood cinema.