What Makes “The Great McGinty” the Quintessential Irish American Movie?

By Mike Houlihan

August 21, 2022

When a party gets rowdy, the Irish call it a “hooley.” My family recently screened the Preston Sturges comedy THE GREAT McGINTY for an invited audience at the Lake Theatre in Oak Park. We’re moving our Annual Irish American Movie Hooley film festival in September from our previous home at the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago.

We run a tiny public charity, Hibernian Media, dedicated to Irish and Irish American culture and it’s a labor of love. We do a lot of good each year producing a pair of weekly Irish radio programs, an annual pilgrimage to Ireland, our film festival, and a variety of one-off TV shows and films throughout the year.

The film festival came about from my frustration years ago trying to find a festival for one of our films, OUR IRISH COUSINS, which tells the story of the Houlihans first trip to Ireland in search of our Irish roots. Roger Ebert loved it, but snobs running many of Ireland’s most prestigious fests didn’t; and were even more appalled when I tried flexing my “Chicago way” clout to wire us into the Galway Film Fleadh by asking an old pal and Irish minister of culture to put the fix in for us. Boy did that backfire! I’ll spare you the details of the irate phone call I received from the woman who runs that festival.

So, we started our own festival, with the help of the Gene Siskel Film Center back in 2015 and it was an immediate hit. We put our “Call for Entries” to the world with this pitch: We are out to discover the next John Ford, Ed Burns, Preston Sturges… Irish American filmmakers who epitomize Irish American pride, bravado, and legendary storytelling.

We yearned for the days when Irish Americans were the stars of the movies, like James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, and Grace Kelly, back in the good old days, before everybody had to be Italian fer feck’s sake! That’s when movies were movies. Preston Sturges kind of epitomized that era for me, with terrific films like “The Lady Eve”, “Hail the Conquering Hero” and “Miracle at Morgan’s Creek” starring Eddie Bracken. I was lucky enough to act with the late Mr. Bracken years ago, in a scene in “Rookie of the Year”. I played Eddie’s personal hot dog vendor at the ballpark. Our scene was eventually cut but so what. We connected!

Preston Sturges became famous as the writer and director of “screwball comedies”, winning the Oscar for “THE GREAT McGINTY in 1941. Sturges was born in 1898 in Chicago. His mother, Mary Desti, was an Irish immigrant with dreams of stardom.

I’ve always looked on “McGinty” as the quintessential Irish American film. In this classic comedy, McGinty joins a crooked political boss and rises from extortionist to alderman. Urged by the boss to marry his secretary to give respectability to his run for mayor, McGinty agrees — only to fall in love with his wife and decide to do an honest thing for once in his life.

While prepping this year’s version of our 8th Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of Preston Sturges’ son Tom, a big-time record executive with a heart of gold. We chatted on the phone and cooked up the screening as a fund raiser for Hibernian Media to alert our Oak Park audience we were going to soon be cranking the celluloid in their backyard.

Tom Sturges with his father’s Oscar.

Tom Surges recorded a video intro for our recent screening and showed off his dad’s Oscar for the film. The invited audience loved the film, and it was a great opportunity to invite them and you to return in September when we will be screening a pair of great Irish films, both comedies, and a terrific Irish American documentary film BOYS OF KINGSBRIDGE about a group of guys who grew up together in the Bronx and were all on duty for September 11th at the World Trade Center. It’s a terrific Irish film of bravery and sacrifice and all three films will have you cheering them on.

So, what makes “McGinty” the quintessential Irish American film? Well, it’s a thinly disguised Chicago, everybody’s on the take, nothin’s on the square and Dan McGinty makes a big impression on the mob boss by voting 37 times on election day for the milquetoast corrupt Mayor Wilfred T. Tillinghast.

I’m sure the 1940 audience for McGingty loved to nod and wink at the crooked pols and ward heelers in that film, just as I’m sure that 82 years later they would never believe our current mayor is an African American lesbian with a “little man complex” whose spouse who is said to resemble Herman Munster.

She encourages free reign to the dirtbags and blagguards who corrupt our city, who brags she’s got the largest “manhood” in the city—larger even than that of all the Italians in Chicago.

“Fer ‘de feck’s sake!”- as the Irish would say!

In 1940 they woulda never believed it!

See you at the movies!

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About the author: Mike Houlihan is a Chicago writer and director. He has also written columns for johnkassnews.com, including “Father’s Day and Root Street Dreamsand “Find Your Fortune in Your Irish Heritage

Known around town as “Hooley,” is a former features columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times, Irish American News and currently Chicago correspondent for The Irish Echo. He began his career in 1973 as an apprentice with The American Shakespeare Festival, appearing in the classics there and in regional productions across the nation as well as Off-Broadway, on Broadway, on TV and in major motion pictures. He is a playwright and author of anthologies “Hooliganism Stories” and “More Hooliganism Stories” and the gonzo Mayoral campaign journal “Nothin’s on The Square.

Founder of the Annual Irish American Movie Hooley Film Festival, Hooley was honored as 2020/2021 “Irishman of the Year” by the Emerald Society, the Irish American Police Association.