Combustible Celluloid
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With: Joel McCrea, Betty Field, Harry Carey, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Porter Hall
Written by: Preston Sturges
Directed by: Preston Sturges
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 81
Date: 09/06/1944

The Great Moment (1944)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Pain & Strain

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Perhaps Preston Sturges's greatest failure, The Great Moment was an attempt at a serious movie, disheartening after the comedy-friendly message of Sturges's Sullivan's Travels. It was completed in 1942, and its release was held up after initial viewers were confused. Paramount tinkered with it and tried to make it funnier, making it even more incomprehensible in the process. It's told in flashback as Lizzie (Betty Field) tells the story of her late husband, dentist William Morton (Joel McCrea), who discovers the use of ether as a painkiller. From there, the film charts the trial-and-error process of the discovery, as well as the headache of getting the method approved for wide use. (Sturges probably connected with this aspect of the story; he was a part-time inventor, and, according to legend, once invented a kiss-proof lipstick.) The film has some moments of Sturges-like humor, but the serious moments all but lack his personality. Kino Lorber released the film on Blu-ray for 2022. Bonuses include an introduction by film historian Constantine Nasr, a featurette on Sturges with the filmmaker's son Tom Sturges, the late filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (who does not hold back on his dislike for the film) and Nasr, and a batch of trailers.

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