5/3/17

PARIS HOLIDAY: STARRING PRESTON STURGES (and bob hope)



The toweringly talented writer-director Preston Sturges (no, I will not give credits since you must be crazy to be reading this blog if you don't know who Sturges is) appeared on screen as an actor four times. Twice were cameos in his own films ("Christmas In July" and "Sullivan's Travels"--damn, I just gave credits) and once as himself in a Paramount war-time musical ("Go over there boys and knock 'em dead for us dames!") called "Star Spangled Rhythm." The fourth appearance came in 1958 (the year before he died) in a Bob Hope movie called "Paris Holiday." As Sturges appears to have left behind no filmed (or recorded) interviews, this is our only chance to see the great man in the filmic flesh, to watch how he handled himself, what that magnificent head of hair really did when he walked around (it flounces a little) and to take in the strange sort of late 19th/early 20th century Boulevardier manner with which Sturges walked through the world.

Why was he in this movie? The film was shot on location in France and Sturges was, at the time, living in Paris. He had known Hope for twenty years--before his writing-directing career took off in the early forties he wrote a 1938 Hope movie called "Never Say Die." It's no secret that Sturges was in a bad way by the end of the 1950s--his Hollywood career had perished earlier in the decade, he threw away most of his savings on his money-pit restaurant 'The Players' on the Sunset Strip, he had a drinking problem, was considered unreliable and had an adorable young wife and two charming little sons to support. Was giving him this small but not insubstantial role in the movie a  'beau geste' on Hope's part, to help an old pal out? Probably, since Sturges wasn't really an actor. He plays a French playwright who Hope is schmoozing in the hopes of acquiring his newest play as a star vehicle for himself. Sturges scene is five minutes long, shot in a flat, late-fifties lock-off style and is excruciatingly dubbed. Which makes me wonder if it's Sturges voice we're hearing or another actor who was brought in later to replace his voice. My money is on the latter, my theory being that the scene was shot with only a 'guide track' for audio (a scratch recording for future dubbing reference). This wasn't uncommon in Europe as filmmakers there tended to prefer to add sound later rather than struggling for good quality sound on location. Since Sturges had long abandoned the United States, the movie would have needed somebody else to replace his voice once the post-production moved back to Hollywood. The guy doing the voice does a mock-French accent so poor as to render the scene almost unwatchable. And of course it also features Hope, thereby rendering the scene even more grating.

Nonetheless it's filmed evidence of the 'real' Preston Sturges and as such is invaluable. I hope it's not his voice. And I hope he spent the money he made from Hope's generous gesture on several good bottles of Brandy and a bauble or two for the wifey and kiddies.

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