The Great Moment Review

This title is only available as part of the 'Written and Directed by Preston Sturges' boxed set.

The Great Moment is Preston Sturges’ film maudit. The last of his pictures for Paramount to be released, it had in fact been filmed in 1942 but only saw the light of day as a studio recut in 1944. Moreover, there’s plenty about this picture which you wouldn’t normally associate with the director. Firstly, it’s a biopic, of WTG Morton, the man who discovered ether’s use as an anaesthetic, and secondly, it’s set in the past. Of course, there was still The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend to come, but its Western setting was merely a framework on which to pin a quickfire series of gags. With The Great Moment, however, Sturges’ intentions are far more honourable, the film being less lighthearted than, say, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek or Christmas in July.

More importantly, it’s also the most overtly Hollywood picture Sturges ever made. Indeed, its biopic nature puts it alongside such agreeable hokey ventures as Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet, Madame Curie and Young Tom Edison. As we progress through the film we get the standard eureka moment (“You’re drunk!”), the near-death of a patient and uproar amongst the medical establishment which prompts a selfless act in the final reel. Yet whilst it proves familiarly entertaining on this level, Sturges has also provided another dimension.

The majority of The Great Moment is told in flashback following Morton’s death thereby allowing a non-chronological approach. This being an early forties picture and not L’Année dernière à Marienbad we, of course, don’t skip around too much, but then we are afforded the opportunity early on of witnessing Morton’s struggles to gain a patent for his discovery and mockery that ensued. Indeed, it is this, we are told, which caused an early grave for the dentist and thus the picture is provided with a bleak outlook which never accompanied the Paul Muni and Mickey Rooney starring biopics.

Understandably the Hollywood trappings never allow this undercurrent to interfere too much, but it is present nonetheless. And of course in being there it also prompts us to consider which other qualities from Sturges’ oeuvre have made themselves known. As such we can also detect plenty of comedy and sass in the dialogue (Morton to a colleague who’s trying to impress the establishment too soon: “You’ve gotta learn to creep before you can walk”) and are able to revel in his troupe of supporting actors seamlessly fitting into period garb and donning an assortment of whiskers.

Indeed, given such elements and the overall change of scene for the director, it’s difficult to detect exactly where the studio interference came in (though Sturges did, reportedly, intend for a voice-over narration which is no longer present). Are the flaws therefore because of hack job or simply because Sturges was working on hitherto unmapped territory? Either way, and perhaps because of its flaws, The Great Moment remains a fascinating piece and fine way of concluding the Universal boxed set.

The Disc

Perhaps the most welcome inclusion on the Written and Directed by Preston Sturges boxed set, The Great Moment is sadly lumbered with the most disappointing presentation. As should be expected by now the only extra is the original theatrical trailer, whilst the picture quality is similarly low rent. Suffering from edge enhancement and soft throughout, the image remains watchable but pales in comparison to the other Sturges titles available. Indeed, even the contrast – perfect on The Lady Eve, The Great McGinty, etc. – is decidedly poor. As for the soundtrack, the original mono (spread over the front two channels) is mostly clean but does suffer from intermittent crackle and has some very noisy reel changes.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 08:07:28

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