Having been discharged from the Marines for a hayfever condition before ever seeing action, Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith (Eddie Bracken) delays the return to his hometown, feeling ... See full summary »
Sullivan is a successful, spoiled, and naive director of fluff films, with a heart-o-gold, who decides he wants to make a film about the troubles of the downtrodden poor. Much to the chagrin of his producers, he sets off in tramp's clothing with a single dime in his pocket to experience poverty first-hand, and gets some reality shock. Written by
Bob Doolittle <Bob.Doolittle@east.sun.com>
Laughter, A Precious Commodity In This Cockeyed Caravan
Sullivan's Travels is a twofer for me, it's my favorite Preston Sturges film and my favorite Joel McCrea one. It's an anti-message film, loaded with humor, with a most sublime message indeed.
Joel McCrea plays director John Sullivan who's tired of making silly comedies and musicals for his studio. He wants to make films of social significance with a message about the troubles in today's world.
Problem is that he doesn't know anything about poverty and unemployment, he's a rich kid who's been to boarding school. So off he sets, several times it turns out, to discover how the other half lives.
That last time he sets out is a bit unplanned and through a combination of circumstances he winds up on a prison chain gang in some southern state. He learns some really profound lessons from that experience.
But that's the serious side of Sullivan's Travels. Before that the film has some really gut splitting funny moments like McCrea learning about the speed of a whippet tank, being accused of stealing his own car. But my favorite is when he falls in the clutches of spinsters Elmira Sessions and Esther Howard. McCrea sets out to learn about poverty and deprivation and the two sisters see him as the answer to some poverty and deprivation they've been suffering for some time. Maybe the chain gang didn't look so bad.
Veronica Lake in her memoirs said that one of the films she enjoyed most was Sullivan's Travels where she plays an disillusioned Hollywood hopeful who befriends the tramp McCrea without knowing who he really is. The following year Lake would be paired with Alan Ladd who was closer to her height. She said McCrea was a kind and decent man and wonderful to work with. The disparity of their height was the source of some amusement and some problems for Preston Sturges. Lake was a tiny thing, it was why she was teamed with Alan Ladd, and McCrea was well over six feet tall. Check the shots of them together, very rarely will you see them standing side by side.
Sturges used a lot of his regular company of players. My two favorites in the supporting cast are Robert Grieg and Edward Blore who are McCrea's butler and valet. Both turn out to be wise men in their warnings to their boss about this folly he is undertaking.
It's been said that Sullivan's Travels is supposed to be the anti-Frank Capra film about messages. I'm not sure Capra saw it that way. If you look at the portion of the film when Sullivan falls into this unfamiliar universe of the chain gang, it's very similar to what George Bailey was experiencing in that parallel universe he was sent to in It's A Wonderful Life. I think Sturges and Capra would find a lot of common ground in the messages of It's A Wonderful Life and Sullivan's Travels.
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