Thursday, August 17, 2006

Speaking of Comedy Directors...

Universal will release a Preston Sturges box set on November 21.

The set will have all of Sturges' Paramount films except for The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, which is available on DVD from Paramount (it's the only pre-1948 sound film that Paramount didn't sell the rights to). His best post-Paramount film, Unfaithfully Yours, is available from Criterion. So though the new set probably won't have any extras -- you'll have to hold onto the Criterion Sullivan's Travels and The Lady Eve discs for those -- it will fill some important gaps in the classic-film catalogue.

Now if Universal would do the same for the lesser-known Paramount films of Wilder, Lubitsch, Sternberg and other big-name directors, we classic-film collectors might really have nothing to complain about.

Paramount, as classic-movie fans may be aware, was the "directors' studio," the one where the directors had the most power and influence over their own movies. Most studios were basically producer-oriented: movies were dominated by creative producers like Hal Wallis (Warners), Irving Thalberg (MGM), Pandro Berman (RKO), and Val Lewton (RKO again). Paramount didn't have many producers with that kind of power. The producer of most of Sturges' films, Paul Jones, was more of a producer in the modern sense, a guy whose job it was to attend to the technical details of getting the movie made while the director did all the creative work. Other Paramount directors, like Lubitsch and DeMille, produced their own films; and Wilder was a co-equal partner with his producer and co-writer Charles Brackett. There wasn't a superstar producer at Paramount until Wallis went over to the studio in the late '40s -- and the studio's output started to decline around the time when the producers got more power.

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