Monday, July 29, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Power & the Glory (1933) - Getting What You (Don't) Want, i.e., Irony

[Quick summary: A railroad baron's happiest and saddest moments are told in flashback.]

I feel dumb.  When I feel dumb, I read.
 
I felt dumb recently when someone praised writer/director Preston Sturges (1898-1959).  I knew so little.  Exactly why was he so great?

So begins my education of Sturges with this early script.

It is impressive.*

I particularly liked how Sturges uses irony to punch home a point.

Here's how he built one scene:

1 - The stakes are set up clearly.

Eve, the mistress, gives lovesick Tom an ultimatum.

[To have Eve, Tom must discard Sally.]

2 - The protagonist faces a decision, and a complication.

Sally, the wife, tells Tom that she wants to reconnect with a trip to Europe together. Tom confesses he's in love with Eve.

Guilty, he foreswears Eve, and agrees to go to Europe.

Sally abruptly tells him to go with Eve, have fun, and live it up.

She says, "I hope she makes you happier than I did," and walks out.

[Sally is a roadblock for Tom.  We expect her to fight for their marriage, but she does the unexpected and makes it so easy for him.]

3 - The protagonist "got what he wished for"...but the grass isn't as green as he thought.  

Sally commits suicide.

[It is ironic because Tom got what he wanted (Eve) and not what he wanted (guilt). The irony in #3 underscores his bad decision in #1. ]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Tom chose Eve, confident that she was the better outcome, but she wasn't.  That's irony.

The Power & the Glory (1933)
by Preston Sturges

*A few striking facts about this script:

- It was Preston Sturges' first original spec.
- It was shot without changes.
- It launched him as a serious screenwriter (despite poor box office).
- It convinced him to become a director (he didn't direct this one).
- Its "fractured narrative" and constant voice over was revolutionary.
- It heavily influenced Citizen Kane.

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