Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Strictly Dishonorable


Before Preston Sturges became one of the very best writer/directors in Hollywood in the 1940s, he wrote a great many screenplays, but he got his start on Broadway with several hit shows. This was one of them, and it was filmed in the static manner made necessary in the early sound days by the bulkiness of the equipment and lack of technology for overdubbing and other sound tricks. So it is essentially a filmed play, with almost no changes from what you would have seen in the audience in New York. Act One takes place in a nearly-deserted speakeasy in New York, Act Two happens in an apartment above the speak, and Act Three returns to the ground floor. All easy set changes for the stagehands.

A sweet little southern belle (Sidney Fox, whose career would soon nosedive under a series of scandals, and who killed herself in 1942) and her jerk of a husband (George Meeker) wander in for a drink. George is that sort of asshole whose response to anything anyone says is a truculent “Oh, yeah?” He is a blowhard, takes offense at everything. Also there is an elderly judge (Lewis Stone) and a well-known opera singer (Paul Lukas), who takes a shine to Sidney. George issues an ultimatum, and is astonished that she would chose the handsome, glamorous, sophisticated opera singer over spending her life in East Orange, New Jersey, with his worthless, domineering self.

The story was pretty racy for its time, but this was pre-Code days, and they could still get away with discussions of virginity (without ever using the word, of course) and other forbidden subjects before the Hayes Office clamped down with the heavy hand of censorship that wouldn’t loosen until the ‘60s. In the end, though, the story was too dated for me, to the point I really wasn’t interested to find out if she would go back to the asshole or have a fling with the opera singer, who I’m pretty sure was a lothario, bound to abandon her. Either choice seemed doomed, and I didn’t figure she would opt to leave them both. I quit at the Act Two curtain.