Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)
A director of escapist films goes on the road as a hobo to learn about Life...which gives him a rude awakening. – IMDb
This masterpiece by Preston Sturges is perhaps the finest movie-about-a-movie ever made. Hollywood director Joel McCrea, tired of churning out lightweight comedies, decides to make O Brother, Where Art Thou—a serious, socially responsible film about human suffering. After his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, he hits the road as a hobo. He finds the lovely Veronica Lake—and more trouble than he ever dreamed of. – Criterion Collection
Written and directed by Preston Sturges Sullivan’s Travels is a delight as a comedy and a very autobiographical view of the show business about Sturges himself. Sturges is one of the many talented but oft-overlooked comedy directors that gained respect later in his career like Howard Hawks. In the case of Sturges, his films were recognized for their quality much later after his death. One of the first directors to only direct his scripts written without any collaborator and working with a “troupe” of actors. Just like Todd McCarthy wrote in his film essay about Sullivan’s Travels, Sturges was the first director to fully embrace and deserve the authorial billing on the title card.
The satirical comments towards Hollywood and the filmmaking business are some of the most personal elements Sturges has included in his movie. Making Sullivan (Joel McCrea), the director, more opaque than himself, he achieve to take his successful comedy director and plunge him into the lower depths just like Charles Chaplin put his little tramp. The obvious admiration of Joel & Ethan Coen towards Sullivan’s Travels brought them to make a film named after the film Sullivan was researching about with his travels: O’Brother Where Art thou?.
Sullivan’s Travels starts as a comedy but slowly merges into drama. It brought a degree of sophistication that few comedies have ever reached. It is self-conscious of itself, while playing on the unlucky and unwealthy consciousness of people who lived a difficult life, Sturges sees and defines comedy. He demonstrates how this Art is essential to everyone’s lives. It might not be his most hilarious film but it is a very thoughtful and keen film.
One of the most inviting elements of Sullivan’s Travels is the pleasant presence of Veronica Lake. This beautiful blonde was nineteen years old at the time she starred in Sullivan’s Travels. She was that young and that sexy but one thing people don’t know was the fact that she was six months pregnant during the shooting. But it was all covered up with brilliant costumes and camera trickery. Lake also brings the right counter balance to Joel McCrea’s earnest performance. Plus, her presence lifts the beauty of the film.
This masterpiece is a must see especially for any fans of comedies. I highly recommend it.