Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges (Wisconsin Studies in Film)

Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges (Wisconsin Studies in Film)

Glenn Lovell

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 0299228347

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Escape Artist—based on Glenn Lovell’s extensive interviews with John Sturges, his wife and children, and numerous stars including Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, and Jane Russell—is the first biography of the director of such acclaimed films as The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Bad Day at Black Rock. Lovell examines Sturges’s childhood in California during the Great Depression; his apprenticeship in the editing department of RKO Pictures, where he worked on such films as Gunga Din and Of Human Bondage; his service in the Army Air Corps in World War II; and his emergence as one of the first independent producer-directors in Hollywood.
Chronicling the filmmaker’s relationships with such luminaries as Spencer Tracy, James Garner, Yul Brynner, and Frank Sinatra, Escape Artist interweaves biography with critical analyses of Sturges’s hits and misses. Along the way, Lovell addresses the reasons why Sturges has been overlooked in the ongoing discussion of postwar Hollywood and explores the director’s focus on masculinity, machismo, and male-bonding in big-budget, ensemble action films. Lovell also examines Sturges’s aesthetic sensibility, his talent for composing widescreen images, and his uncanny ability to judge raw talent—including that of Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn, all of whom began their careers in Sturges’s movies.
            This long overdue study of a major Hollywood director will find a welcome home in the libraries of film scholars, action movie buffs, and anyone interested in the popular culture of the twentieth century.

Best Books for Special Interests, selected by the American Association of School Librarians, and Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the Public Library Association

"Pick up a copy of film critic and scholar Glenn Lovell's terrific new Sturges biography, Escape Artist. . . . I can't urge you enough to check out this interview-rich, aesthetically and culturally perceptive look at the filmmaker and his work."—Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Daily News

“Lovell’s list of interviewees reads like a who’s who of Hollywood and they obviously provided rich source material for this full-scale biography and career survey.”— Leonard Maltin

“This long overdue study of a major Hollywood director will find a welcome home in the libraries of film scholars, action movie buffs, and anyone interested in the popular culture of the twentieth century.”—Turner Classic Movies (



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the hero, now a Korean War veteran named Lee Barrett, and—per Sturges’s instructions—moved the research facility underground. “Biological warfare is a terror potential that exists in our times,” the director told a visitor to the set. “[MacLean] placed the action on the English moors, but we feel we aren’t losing any of the suspense quality by moving it to America…. For our climax, we’ll try to depict what would happen if Los Angeles had to be evacuated in twelve hours. Wouldn’t that be

and LSD. And he won them over; he got a standing ovation.” McQ opened in early February. The New York ads carried the banner “Harvard’s Man of the Year.” The trailers worked the departure angle: “John Wayne is McQ … And this time, for the first time, HE’S A COP!” The critics—unable to see beyond Wayne’s politics—found the film “stiff and perfunctory” (Washington Post) and “undistinguished” (L.A. Times) and pointed out the obvious, that Wayne, at sixty-six, was too old to be playing a maverick

fighting-fit Scott, who replaced Holden, the large ensemble included Ella Raines, Jerome Courtland, Edgar Buchanan, Russell Collins, Arthur Kennedy, Charles Stevens, William Bishop, blues singer Josh White, and John Ireland, who won over the director with his candor. “I’m starving—I need a job,” he said, confronting the director in the street. “You got it,” replied Sturges, who elaborated later, “John was a likable guy, and I knew that he could do the role.” Like Huston’s Oscar-winning Treasure

salt tablets. He also laced the water with dry oatmeal, a supposed cure for dehydration. “Boy, that was a hot one, I mean really hot—a scorcher all the way!” said Borgnine, exhaling loudly. “But it worked in a way. We looked irritable and about to pass out. And that’s the look John wanted.” The fifty-four-year-old Tracy, whose blood pressure was already alarmingly high, especially minded the heat and altitude. “He obviously wasn’t feeling well; he seemed nauseous some of the time,” recalled Anne

Sturges recalled, had “a disastrous Santa Barbara preview, laughed off the screen,” but it was salvaged later in the editing room. He also assisted the sound editor on several Astaire-Rodgers musicals, such as The Gay Divorcee (1934). It was on these films that he learned about click tracks (cues for the composer and conductor), playbacks, and lily horns (directional mikes). Gunga Din, shot on location in Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, provided more opportunities for advancement. Besides

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