Bunk always sounds good to a Sturges hero. To watch the brand new seven-DVD set Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection, which includes four movies never before released for home viewing, is to be thoroughly persuaded of the restorative powers of hokum, flimflam and fraud. John L. Sullivan returns from his travels among the common man with the epiphany that Mickey Mouse cartoons do more good than "stark realism." Demarest's Marine convinces an entire town that its milquetoast son, a 4-F with hay fever, is a war hero—and when the citizens figure out the real story, he convinces them that it doesn't matter. ("Every one of those boys is telling the truth, except they changed the names a little to protect military information.") And in The Great McGinty, Sturges' first movie (he sold the screenplay to Paramount for a dollar on the condition that he could direct), the titular politician only loses his ill-gotten empire when he goes straight. In Preston's world, the road to heaven is paved with bad intentions.
Sturges' brief career—he was in and out of Hollywood in the course of one decade—could be described as the perfect con. He made a farce out of every piety in the movie business, and audiences loved him more with every trick. His closest onscreen counterpart is Jean Harrington, the charlatan ingénue played by Barbara Stanwyck in Sturges' masterpiece The Lady Eve. Jean seduces Henry Fonda's beer mogul twice over: once as herself, then as her "identical twin." He's never happier than when he's being scammed. Fool him once, shame on you; fool him twice...well, three cheers. The magic of Preston Sturges lies in that formulation—and in the truth that love, like the movies, is a deception, but one that comes with more than its share of delight. And, yes, with a little sex in it.
Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection can be purchased at Borders Books & Music, 708 SW 3rd Avenue, 220-5911. The set is available for rental at Video Vérité, 3956 N Mississippi Ave., 445-9902.