Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Gender War in the Comedies of Preston Sturges

To confine the classic era of screwball comedy between the years 1934 and 1942 as many scholars do (Duane Byrge in The Screwball Comedy Films, Wes D. Gehring in Screwball Comedy: Defining a Genre) not only canonizes Howard Hawks as the genre’s innovator, but leaves the best films of Preston Sturges in a chronological purgatory. True, during the Second World War some of the genre’s key tropes began to change out of historic necessity. The wearing-on of the Great Depression made it difficult for audiences to continue to identify with aristocratic, leisurely madcap couples without a certain resentment, and the realities of war’s effects on the American psyche made it increasingly difficult for audiences to accept the small-town, political-minded crackerbarrel hero’s naivetĂ©. Further, newfound independent desires of women born out of their unprecedented shift to the workplace were followed by their counterparts on screen. Gender roles perpetuated by Howard Hawks, Leo McCarey and Frank Capra with the onset of the screwball comedy (itself “supplant[ing] the cracker-barrel figure in American humor”) began to equate the comedic male with the anti-hero (Gehring 6). But despite the moral difference between these two types of comedic male, in terms of gender studies the point is moot: hero or anti-hero, the male is still the central figure.

Women have an increased agency in these screwball comedies, but it is doled out with a condescending share of skewed worldview, illogical at best, hysterical at worst. Unlike the comedies of Capra and Hawks, the films of Preston Sturges (late to the screwball party, but innovator of a his own brand of anarchy during the war years) are not only unafraid to knock masculinity down a peg but offer their female characters an agency rivaled only in that other female-oriented genre, melodrama. Where traditional romantic comedies and melodrama both tend toward reestablishment of patriarchal ideologies in their resolutions, Sturges’s films appear uninterested in the status quo. Though owing to the screwball tradition, the comedies he wrote, directed and in many cases produced once the American war effort was in full swing subvert traditional gender roles even within the genre. His screwball comedies before America entered the war, The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story subvert patriarchy though frustration of their male characters and an application of the female gaze. His wartime films, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero express female independence by mimicking the societal prominence of women and subjecting masculinity to roles conventionally delegated to women: domesticity and mother worship. His postwar comedy, Unfaithfully Yours suggests war has changed gender roles and patriarchal reestablishment (as represented by the male gaze) is no longer possible in his newfound jolted world. Through both characterization and formal technique, the romantic comedies of Preston Sturges present an increased agency for its female characters who author their destinies while holding influence over their male counterparts.

There is a certain liberation in the comedic genres for both genders. Male representation historically holds a monopoly on the tragic hero as patriarchal ideologies allow only men to write their own destinies and take on efficacious adventure. Women, according to the patriarchal view, are placed in domestic settings; heterosexual love their only adventure. Women aren’t excluded from tragedy, only their agency within it is. Therefore, the feminized version of tragedy—the melodrama—still lacks potency of cause-effect individualism. Female “weepies” are exercises in victimization, positioning “the spectator as powerless to avert the catastrophes they enact, and in fact produce those tears out of that powerlessness” (Rowe 41). If George Cukor’s The Women and John Stahl’s Imitation of Life suggest female agency through female-centered narratives and sheer screen time, the women’s power is undermined by domestic ideologies. These women still define themselves by their relation to men.

The narrative comedy, conversely, often subverts gender conventions. Comedy’s anarchy disrupts authoritarian hierarchy. What it reestablishes (though often still patriarchal, as the films nearly always end in romantic marriage, established sexual roles, female domesticity and male dominance) is the “Oedipal story, or the formation of the couple”: a victory for the male character (Rowe 44). Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth seems similar in thematic structure to Sturges’s The Palm Beach Story, only McCarey’s take resolves with the male lead embracing his ex-wife after admitting the error of his ways. The trajectory is solely male as the wife desires nothing but reconciliation by the beginning of act two. Similarly, Howard Hawks’s My Girl Friday gives narrative agency to its male lead who rescues his ex-wife from marrying his rival, only to remarry him. Domestication is the lone result even for a successful businesswoman, and the film’s very title views the woman as possession. The men of screwball comedy achieve autonomy over their father and, though often made a fool of along the way, find their own success and identity in family. This doesn’t offer women the same autonomy—their role is well-established as domestic. Traditional screwball comedy of the prewar era placates the appearance of female independence that arose out of the 1920s. These women are granted limited agency and romantic adventure, but the films reinstate a patriarchal ideology which ends in female domestication. Screwball comedy plays with gender in a way which raises question as to who wears the pants in the relationship (literally, as Katharine Hepburn’s character would attest in Bringing Up Baby). Only in Preston Sturges’s prewar screwball comedies, female agency doesn’t end with marriage.

Even by the strictest definition, Sturges’s two films immediately preceding American intervention in the war, The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story, certainly quality as screwball. They are both domestic narratives structured around leisure and wealth which present their male leads (Henry Fonda’s Charles and Joel McCrea’s Tom, respectively) with a great deal of gender- and social-frustration. Capitalism has done right by the men in these films. The new love interest of Claudette Colbert’s Gerry in The Palm Beach Story, Mr. Hackensacker comes from a family of big oil (or “The Erl King” as his private yacht reads). In fact, she has only found her way to divorce through the handsome cash gift from a rich, leisurely and nearly-deaf Wienie King. Gerry’s husband, Tom seems to be the only male finding difficulty in his finances and this is the sole problem with his marriage. However, this “problem” is narratively structured in Sturges’s screenplay in an unrealistic fashion through screwball tropes. Tom’s financial problems aren’t a result of working-class drudgery; instead, Tom takes on a leisurely occupation of “inventor”, trying to sell his conceptualized suspended airport rather than working his fingers to the bone. The film presents very real domestic problems of finance, but paints Tom as a screwball character whose life is defined by leisure and whose profession is not recognized as serious employment. Gerry subverts patriarchal ideology as the males’ only power is in wealth. Hers lies elsewhere. Male gaze is thwarted as Claudette Colbert is often covered in a long overcoat or oversized men’s pajamas. At one point, as Hackensacker is lavishing gifts upon Gerry, Colbert is wearing a long skirt, long-sleeved blouse, white gloves and a wrap hat which covers her neck. Hackensacker unironically asks, “aren’t the sleeves a little short?” as if to suggest the power of female allure rests somewhere beyond nudity.

"Aren't the sleeves a little short?"

When a man appears to leer at Gerry from a train bunk, she subverts this look by stepping on his face for a boost into the upper bunk. It’s a none-too-subtle symbol employed by Sturges which suggests perhaps power is not held in the male gaze, but he is captive to it. The slapstick of the scene mocks patriarchal values, just as when Tom falls down the stairs and embarrassingly has his pants (a symbol of manhood) ripped off in the apartment hallway. The male, as symbol of patriarchy, is mocked while women refuse to be objectified.

This stifling of screwball comedy’s patriarchal values through frustration of the male lead is much the same for Charles in The Lady Eve. Charles is heir to an ale fortune which, though he has no interest in the venture, has provided a leisurely life as an ophiologist, exploring the Amazon for snakes on his father’s dime. Any conflict, including romance, seems mere triviality in Charles’s life as his identity is not defined by his employment. Hollywood’s traditional male-dominated heroic genres from adventure to detective/mystery and tragedy of historical epic have equated male autonomy with occupation. The wealth and leisure that comes along with the structure of screwball comedy often eliminates this professionalism. Genre roles are twisted and female agency is gained in part because of this disallowance of male identity through occupation. Yet, as Gehring argues, if the “goal of the genre [is] to bring the joy of childhood’s spontaneity to an adult [male] grown brittle,” the increased female agency owing to the genre’s male frustration is tempered by the common screwball representation of women as hysterical (Gehring 10).

The male learns that life in an irrational world must be conquered by a dose of craziness—a craziness the female must embody. So, in a case of two-steps forward, one-step back, the female in screwball comedy is an agent of her destiny and filmic action, but it comes with a condescension that, while technically a case of role-reversal, women acting in the position of men must also be illogical. In Bringing Up Baby, Cary Grant’s comic rigidity is contrasted by a real questioning of Katharine Hepburn’s sanity. Yet these roles are shifted in Sturges’s prewar screwballs. Gerry leaves Tom in the first act of The Palm Beach Story, leaving a note for him proclaiming it her only “logical” option, but it is the male characters who are the eccentrics: The Wienie King bankrolls strangers and Tom builds unfeasible airport models. There is strength in Sturges’s female leads and a notable buck to Hollywood’s trend: Claudette Colbert and Barbara Stanwyck not only play the characters that primarily pull the strings in their narratives, they also each receive top billing. The same cannot be said of the female leads in Twentieth Century, It Happened One Night or His Girl Friday.

In addition to Sturges subverting patriarchal ideologies through mocking masculinity, he employs thematic and formal tools that deny power to male gaze and suggest a female gaze in his prewar screwball comedies. This subversive take supplants assumed patriarchal power by making the female leads authors of their own destiny. Elizabeth Abele argues:

Though the narrative and the gaze in a screwball comedy may attempt to follow traditional male patterns, the screwball heroine continually subverts them. Though she presents herself as a prospective object of the male gaze, she rarely remains motionless or stops talking long enough to conform to the fully objectified position. (Abele)

The women in Preston Sturges’s screwball comedies are keenly aware of the power of their sexuality so, while they acknowledge a gaze, they use it to their advantage. "I was broke, too when I was about your age, but I didn't have a figure like you've got,” the Wienie King tells Gerry in The Palm Beach Story. “I had to use my brains,” as if a financial success story carries with it a patriarchal bias as well as a testament to masculine logic. Only this logic is character specific; we don’t see these patriarchal ideologies play out in Sturges’s screwball or post-screwball narratives. True, his male characters are defined by modern, gender-specific frustrations, but the female characters are near-equals and never (thematically or formally) is their power merely sexual. It is usually the male characters’ narrow views within the narrative, not Sturges’s voice, which rings patriarchal and, in the end, untrue. The Wienie King is not the only character in The Palm Beach Story who must surrender to Gerry’s ascendancy: Tom is constrained by both his patriarchal views and his masculine lack. “$700 ...Just like that? ...Sex didn’t even enter into it?,” Tom asks, confounded by his wife’s capability and certain of her infidelity when Gerry is gifted a large sum of money. According to Tom’s ideology, sex is a woman’s only power, just as provision is only a man’s duty. His confusion and frustration are drawn out of a recognition that his wife (having remained faithful) was able to accomplish what he could not, and when his business dealings finally do reap their reward, it is again due to Gerry’s manipulation.

Gerry was always the driving agent from the beginning of their marriage (in a pre-credit montage, we see that Gerry has bound her twin sister in order to trick Tom into taking her hand at the alter), and the two renew their vows at the end of the film only after Gerry is able to take credit for every one of Tom’s supposed achievements. Furthermore, Gerry’s success is not one built on Tom’s patriarchal values of honesty and hard-work, but conniving deceit and recognition of gender and youth as a tool. Antiestablishment, indeed. And while Gerry spends the entire picture concocting what appears to be a life of domesticity, the film makes very clear that Gerry has no desire to be a housewife. She can’t cook or sew, and has little inclination to care to do so. The domestication of women, a conventional assumption within patriarchal ideology, is inverted in the world of Preston Sturges. Though women may desire marriage—by social pressure or other—the domestication that occurs in Sturges’s comedies results in the metaphoric castration of husbands.

Just as Sturges avoids patriarchal screwball tendencies which “celebrated the sanctity of marriage, class distinction and the domination of women by men” through his narrative themes, his work seems tuned into progressive female representation—and female spectatorship—as his formal work is often neutral in terms of gaze (Sklar 188). The camera work Sturges chooses to employ is highly economical, a slave to the screenplay, and spends no time lingering on its females condescendingly or lasciviously. Male characters are certainly drawn to the sexual mystique of their female counterparts, but it is often represented by the female’s power over him. In The Lady Eve, we get a rare point-of-view shot from Henry Fonda’s Charles. Jean has already asserted her power, telling him “you’ll have to kneel down,” so Charles looks up, a slave to the one his desires, and the shot is distorted to symbolize Charles being drunk on perfume (her allure). Sturges’s most explicit example of literal female gaze comes in The Lady Eve. As women vie for Charles’s attention, Jean pulls out a pocket mirror and watches his every move.

We see the action through her mirror—a pictorial representation of the female gaze—and Jean narrates over her voyeuristic display. This agency is a rare example that flies in the face of Kaplan’s theory when she argues, “men do not simply look; their gaze carries with it the power of action and of possession which is lacking in the female gaze. Women receive and return a gaze, but cannon act upon it” (Kaplan 31). Quite the contrary, Jean’s voyeurism and narration assert her power over Charles who becomes an objectified pawn in her control. Jean’s power is even omniscient as her narration dictates how Charles will act: “Look at the girl over to his left. Look over to your left, bookworm, there’s a girl pining for you. A little further, just a little further, there.” In a film which already undermines patriarchal ideologies, Jean’s female gaze through Sturges’s formal technique present us with a female who is in control of her actions and desires as well as the actions of others. It is not simply a case of a woman stepping into the role of men in which women are still objectified; Charles becomes the objectified and Jean’s desires, whether romantic or financial, are met solely through the power of her own action.

When men aren’t being bested by their female counterparts, Sturges’s own symbolism and wordplay suggest implicitly what the Production Code wouldn’t allow explicitly. Sturges’s suggestiveness is usually in the same vein of his mockery of masculinity: despite the charade of patriarchal order, women hold the power in domestic relationships. Kay Young argues screwball comedies are unique in that women are given agency in active roles without playing “masculine” leads. A symbolic castration is present in these strong female roles as “the American man of screwball comedy retains his sexual organ but comes perhaps to wonder just what to do with it” (Young 196). This is very much the case of Charles in The Lady Eve who is content staying in his cabin with his pet snake locked up. The Wienie King in The Palm Beach Story is seemingly rendered impotent by age, yet made his fortune in the sausage business. Masculinity is neutered as Sturges refuses his male leads to define themselves by profession, renders chivalry archaic (Hackensacker of The Palm Beach Story laments, “Chivalry is not only dead, it’s decomposed!”) and symbolically removes their libido. If prewar screwball comedies sought to reinstate patriarchal ideologies to keep women in a domesticated role, Sturges refuses them by offering his female characters increased agency while decreasing male power. As the role of women would become more socially visible with the onset of the American war effort, Sturges’s female characters, too, would grow more independent.

The American workforce took a hit as men went off to war, and the number of working women increased from 12 million before the war, to 18 million by 1944 (Campbell 100). These women attained a disposable income (with little product during the war time on which to spend it) and an independence from domesticity they hadn’t seen before. Film attendance, now more female than ever, “continued to grow and be strong throughout this era. Between 1942 and 1945, Americans spent 23% of their total recreational dollar on films (compared to 2% today)” (Pautz 71-72). These working-class women could identify with the strong, independent characters they saw on screen. While the female leads in many screwball comedies were wealthy heiresses, how much more could these women identify with a Gerry Jeffers or Trudy Kockenocker? These young working women were “suddenly transported into a realm of excitement, prominence and wealth ... the women in the movies had the same objective as the middle- and working-class female inhabitants of Muncie, Indiana” (Lent 331).

The questions of female agency and the domestication of men become more clearly defined as Sturges’s work progresses out of the screwball genre. Unlike conventional screwball comedy which at least tempers demasculinization with beautiful men (Cary Grant may have been forced into a woman’s robe in Bringing Up Baby, but he was still Cary Grant), the increased power of women in Sturges’s films is coupled by emasculated male leads represented by milquetoast, comedic anti-hero Eddie Bracken. Bracken became the perfect face for Sturges’s American masculinity during World War II. The humor in his nebbish portrayals subverts traditional patriarchy while a now more-female audience is empowered through masculine mockery.  Cary Grant he is not.

As World War II works its way into American consciousness, Sturges intrinsically links military service with masculinity. Eddie Bracken’s Norval Jones and Woodrow Truesmith, too, recognize the patriarchal importance of civic duty, but both characters are denied the opportunity to become a patriot on the battlefield: Norval a 4-F rejectee breaks out in “bumps” as a nervous wreck; Woodrow has been discharged due to chronic hay fever. It is no coincidence that each of these Bracken characters is denied the possibility of war hero due to trivialities. The conditions themselves become laughable, much to their characters’ chagrin for, much like everything else in the Sturges universe, the incidentals of fate hold authority over either patriarchal intentions or feminine subversion. Perhaps coincidence is the great equalizer. This doesn’t prevent the women from trying, however for, like Jean in The Lady Eve, teenaged Trudy and Emmy in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek continually get the best of their father, Constable Edmund Kockenlocker who is a symbol of both patriarchy and justice in the town. Trudy’s night out is full of the excitement and decadence Lent spoke of in discussing the desires of the newly independent female working-class (all in the name of patriotism, mind you), but the consequence of pregnancy after a night of dancing, drunkenness, revelry, and a sham marriage is very real and calls for a new kind of hero: a demasculinized Norval, the virgin father of six who devotes his life to a woman named “Kockenlocker.”

Like Hackensacker in The Palm Beach Story, Norval is a sucker for the feminine mystique. And, like Gerry, Trudy isn’t hesitant to lord this power over her admirer, as unpolished as he might be. Again, marriage is desired by the female lead but again she rejects conventional domesticity. Norval admits to taking home economics classes throughout his high school career just to be near Trudy, and it becomes evident that Norval is the more successful homemaker. Trudy becomes the agent of Norval’s misadventures which include taking on a false identity, jailed on (and guilty of) several criminal charges, homelessness and hiding on the lam, all of which leading up to (and somehow narratively compatible to) marrying into the position of presumed father of Trudy’s sextuplets. Norval has greatness “thrust upon” him, and doesn’t have time to be a reluctant hero. He becomes the public scapegoat who must inversely take on the shame Trudy would were her indiscretion revealed. It’s a sophisticated gender role reversal which doesn’t seek to moralize in regards to drunken fornication, but toward the hypocrisy of small-town haughtiness. The film certainly isn’t patriarchal, but is a farce on the feminine desires of the melodrama as well. Norval gets marriage without a domesticated wife and kids without consummation. Trudy gets protection, but not romantic love. The genre rift goes both ways as the film “makes clear that Trudy would never have married Norval but for her pregnancy. She doesn’t give this ungainly clunk the time of day when her mind’s on romance” (Jacobs 298). So unconventional family rules the day when marriage is a consolation anything but romantic or patriarchal.

If male frustration is ignited in screwball comedy by coupling the modernity of urban landscape with female agency, Sturges shifts the setting to small-town America—conservative values in tow—for his two greatest examples of patriarchal obstruction. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek risked chiding the war effort, for it is the anonymous soldier who impregnates Trudy. And just as Norval goes through a gender role reversal, playing societal scapegoat for the castigation a female would likely receive, he also goes through a masculine role reversal, becoming town hero though denied the possibility of military hero or sexual potency. Bracken’s Woodrow in Hail the Conquering Hero is, too, heroized despite deceit, caricature, and military impotence during a time when war made the man. Only rather than rebelling against the father, it is the other half of the Oedipal complex that defines Woodrow: mother worship.E. Ann Kaplan argues, “the domination of women by the male gaze is part of patriarchal strategy to contain the threat that the mother embodies and to control the positive and negative impulses that memory traces of being mothered have left in the male unconscious” (Kaplan 205). If Sturges’s strong female characters don’t already eschew domination by the male gaze, Hail the Conquering Hero must be considered an anti-patriarchal text as its hero, Woodrow embraces mother worship—a philosophy endorsed by both servicemen and the community.

We are told Libby is Woodrow’s life-long love, only he shows little interest throughout the narrative. He appears genuinely relieved when Libby admits to have taken a fiancĂ© in Woodrow’s absence. “That’s marvelous,” Woodrow tells her, calm for an instant. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all day. At least I don’t need to worry about you.” It isn’t the only instance where Woodrow’s machismo is challenged. When he explains his dilemma to the Marines on his train ride home, he tells them of Libby (though concerns of her are always secondary to those or his mother) saying, “it’s not only my mother, I’ve got a girl. I mean, I did have.” “What did you tell her?” asks Sgt. Heppelfinger, “You was going in the navy?” This jab at Woodrow’s effeminate stature and nebbish behavior insinuates the possibility of homosexuality: a challenge to the patriarchal masculinity Kaplan argues the male gaze tries to prevent. Yet when the truth of Woodrow’s charade comes out, the most trustworthy man in town, mayoral candidate Doc Bissell comes to his defense saying, “if tenderness toward and consideration of one’s mother was a fault, it was a fault any man might be proud of.”

That the film’s resolution reunites Woodrow and Libby is secondary to the fact that he has made his mother proud and gets to return home to her on an assumed permanent basis. Though the agency of the film certainly rests with its male characters, the feminine influence over their agency challenges Kaplan’s patriarchal strategy. As women held down the home front, they metaphorically shed their domestication. Bracken’s Norval and Woodrow represent the jolted male who returns from war to find his gender roles reversed. Traditional concepts of masculinity are tempered by the agency of girlfriends and mothers and Norval becomes the perfect husband because “he can do all the housework.” These films suggest the shared (if not displaced) domesticity and leveling of gendered power is a good for women.

But power, in the Sturges universe, had shifted with the war. The traditional screwball comedies which urged reestablishment of patriarchal ideologies was never embraced by Sturges. In both theme and form, Sturges acknowledges the desire of the male gaze, but refuses it any leverage. From a Lacanian pretext, one would expect a film like Unfaithfully Yours to be rife with male gaze as much of the narrative takes place in a man’s head. After coming to suspect his young, attractive wife may have committed adultery, virtuoso symphony conductor Sir Alfred De Carter (Rex Harrison) spends the entire second act of the film imagining three different ways to confront his wife, Daphne with his newly discovered knowledge of infidelity: an elaborate murder of his wife and framing of supposed co-conspirator Tony, a melodramatic martyrdom in which Alfred nobly pays Daphne $100,000 to leave, and a duel in which Alfred demand the three play a game of Russian roulette until satisfaction is achieved.

Yet this postwar comedy presents us with Sturges’s most frazzled male lead: this third scenario played out in Alfred’s head ends quickly, as Alfred shoots himself in the temple. Formally, these daydreams play out like three different patriarchal genres: horror, melodrama and chivalric romance. Yet Alfred is not only the gazing voyeur but omniscient author of these scenarios. Never one for superfluous camera work, Sturges employs a rare technique emphasizing point of view. As we enter each reverie, the camera long zooms all the way into Alfred’s pupil. In these three daydreams, Alfred holds sole agency and takes on the patriarchal role ascribed to the male lead in each parodied genre, but such masculine grandeur is thwarted when Alfred must carry out his plan in the real world. Alfred’s apartment is turned into shambles through slapstick before all three of his plans fail him in the face of his wife.

A careful combination of Linda Darnell’s sophisticated performance as Daphne and Sturges’s screenplay and form suggests a female gaze trumping Alfred’s agency. Darnell subtly works minor variations into the different portrayals of Daphne which Alfred fails to recognize. In the scenes that take place in Alfred’s head, Daphne “says only the lines that he imagines she would say; and she responds exactly the way his mind thinks she would respond. Of course, she came out as still as a dummy, because she was allowed to say only what was in his mind” (Pirolini 141). Alfred is another of Sturges’s highly patriarchal characters whose hubris fails to recognize his wife’s true agency. Daphne is no “dummy,” she plays into Alfred’s patriarchal ego with a sublime touch absent in Alfred’s imaginings of her.

At the film’s resolution, Daphne tells Alfred, “I know what it’s like to be a great man, that is I don’t really but having so many responsibilities... so much tenseness... watching out for and protecting so many people.” These words, though bearing no truthful testament to anything we’ve seen of Alfred’s character, illicit his response which informs us of Daphne’s intentions. After the reconciliation, Alfred desires to again lavish his wife with riches, asking “will you put on your lowest cut, most vulgarly ostentatious dress with the largest and vulgarest jewels that you possess?” Alfred speaks to Daphne as if she was his possession, but Daphne’s sly manipulation of her husband shows the audience who is in control. Even when Alfred’s phallic imagery gets upgraded from small conductor’s wand to pistol, he renders himself useless in his own mind by losing at Russian roulette. Like the man who has returned home from war to find his patriarchal power impotent in a changed world, any fulfillment of male gaze is granted through the grace of the woman who perceives her own power. Sturges’s male leads grow from patriarchally frustrated in the prewar years to emasculated and destitute at war’s end.

As screwball comedies shifted during the war years and male leads became more anti-heroic, the comedies of Preston Sturges stepped away from traditional patriarchal ideologies that so many screwball comedies sought to reestablish. Female characters not only find increased agency at a time which paralleled female independence in the United States, Sturges couples this female power with formal techniques which suggest a female gaze. For Sturges, masculinity is never associated with capability, and even in his comedies which feature male leads, they fall victim to the feminine power of Oedipal binds. Sturges’s comedies offer subversive gender representation which question patriarchal ideologies. Though his films often end in (actual or presumed) matrimony, the gender roles Sturges employ far from purport domestic stereotype. Sturges’s female characters are never fixed stereotypes. While it would be a stretch to call his films feminist, the combination of female agency and male emasculation defy patriarchal categorization. Marriage is a given—for the best in the societal view of Sturges’s world—but the seemingly patriarchal trappings don’t reestablish the male as the sole proprietor of authority. Women author their own destinies in Preston Sturges’s romantic comedies and men are bound to their agency.

Works Cited

Campbell, D'Ann. Women at War with America: Private Lives in a Patriotic Era. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Gehring, Wes D. Screwball Comedy: Defining a Film Genre. Muncie: Ball State University Press. 1983.

Gamman, Lorraine. “Watching the Detectives: The Enigma of the Female Gaze.” The Female Gaze: Women as Viewers of Popular Culture. Ed. Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment. Seattle: Real Comet Press, 1989. 8-26.

Jacobs, Diane. Christmas in July: The Life and Art of Preston Sturges. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Kaplan, E. Ann. Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera. New York: Methuen, 1983.

Lent, Tina Olsin. “Romantic Love and Friendship: The Redefinition of Gender Relations in Screwball Comedy.” Classical Hollywood Comedy. Ed. Kristine Brunovska Karnick and Henry Jenkins. New York and London: Routledge, 1995), 315-331.

Pautz, Michelle. “The Decline in Average Weekly Cinema Attendance: 1930-2000.” Issues in Political Economy, Vol. 11 (2002): 70-87. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

Pirolini, Alessandro. The Cinema of Preston Sturges: A Critical Study. Jefferson: McFarland &
Company Inc., 2010.

Rowe, Kathleen. “Comedy, Melodrama and Gender: Theorizing the Genres of Laughter”. Classical Hollywood Comedy. Ed. Kristine Brunovska Karnick and Henry Jenkins. New York and London: Routledge, 1995), 39-59.

Sklar, Robert. Movie-Made America. New York: Random House, 1994. 175-194.

Young, Kay. Ordinary Pleasures: Couples, Conversation, and Comedy. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. 2001.

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