Preston Sturges was one of the great American exponents of the screwball comedy, and is in perfect satirical flow here. Joel McCrea plays Sully, a successful Hollywood comedy director whose proposal to make a film entitled Oh Brother, Where Art Thou (no doubt later referenced by the Coen brothers) has been turned down by his studio. To show his determination to make his socially conscious film, Sully goes on a journey of discovery, with beautifully crafted comic twists and turns. “Sullivan’s Travels is … the best social comment made upon Hollywood since A Star Is Born. And that, we quietly suspect, is exactly what Mr Sturges meant it to be.” Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (Cert PG)
Dir: Preston Sturges 90mins USA 1941
Tonight’s film is generally considered one of celebrated writer/director Preston Sturges’ greatest dramatic comedies – and a satirical statement of his own director’s creed. One of his more interesting and intelligent films from a repertoire of no more than twelve in his entire career, Sullivan’s Travels satirises Hollywood pretension and excesses with his particular brand of sophisticated verbal wit and dialogue, satire and fast-paced slapstick. Sturges was one of the first scriptwriters in the sound era to direct his own screenplays.
He was assisted by future Westerns director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Seitz, who later filmed such notable films-noir as This Gun For Hire (1942), Double Indemnity (1944), The Big Clock (1948), and Sunset Boulevard (1950), as well as two other Sturges works, Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944).
The film tells of the self-imposed ‘mission’ of Sully (Joel McCrea), a big-shot Hollywood director of lightweight comedies, to experience suffering in the world before producing his next socially conscious film about the hard times of the common man – an epic entitled Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?. (The Coen brothers paid homage to Sturges and his admirable film by using the same title for their 2000 release, starring George Clooney made up to look like Sturges.) After some failed attempts dressed as a hobo and with companionship on the road of an aspiring (but failed) blonde actress wearing boy’s clothes and simply called The Girl (Veronica Lake), Sully eventually comes to understand that his attitude towards the poor had bordered on patronising. Accepting, finally, the uplifting power of laughter, he decides to return to his true calling – making lightweight comedies to entertain rather than to edify.
Having chosen a misguided film director as the main character of his own film, many critics assumed that the film had a personal, introspective, autobiographical slant, with Sturges arguing for and affirming the production of light comedies (to lift viewers’ spirits) while providing commentary upon serious ‘message’ films.
Although this superb film lacked, on its release, even a single Academy Award Oscar nomination, in 1990 it was chosen by the USA Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.
Acknowledgements: Tim Dirks, Filmsite.org
Eddie Cockrell, Variety
“Preston Sturges once said ‘Too much security is bad for art’ and this became the motto, not only of his full life and dazzlingly abrupt Hollywood career but of his fourth film, the daringly eccentric yet pitch-perfect comedy Sullivan’s Travels” Eddie Cockrell, Variety
John Sullivan: Joel McCrea
The Girl: Veronica Lake
Mr LeBrand: Robert Warwick
Mr Hadrian: Porter Hall
The Secretary: Margaret Hayes
Director: Preston Sturges
Producers: Paul Jones, Preston Sturges
Screenplay: Preston Sturges
Cinematography: John F Seitz
Music Department: Sigmund Krumgold
Wonderful end of year treat!
Ridiculous but delightful and with a vein of awareness of poverty and deprivation. I was riveted throughout
A great parody, with some great scenes. You would need to watch this several times!
Very good and enjoyable
Lots of humour, fast moving, highly improbable – betrayed [sic] the seamy side of 1940s USA
A good movie
Short and sweet – most enjoyable!
No good turn goes unpunished
Not a masterpiece but amusing and had some interesting social commentary
A bit of an oddity – tons of political conscience in the script but the comic sequences made it a bit
Cartoonish at times. An interesting film indeed
A very odd film. ‘Making people laugh’ was the main message, mixed with graphic scenes of deprivation vs. insane wealth. Things haven’t changed much!
A bit of everything – comedy, social messages, pathos
I loved the old American locos and Veronica Lake scrubbed up pretty well!
Some interesting bits
Overrated. Forced humour, unconvincing amalgam of comedy and social commentary. Give me Laurel & Hardy any day!
Probably didn’t seem so silly in 1941
The humour hadn’t aged well – maybe a more ‘Christmassy’ film next Christmas?