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|Index||132 reviews in total|
When it comes right down to it, what you `think' you want isn't necessarily
what you `really' want, nor is it likely to be anything you need. But
finding the answer is up to the individual, a prospect that's explored in
the satirical `Sullivan's Travels,' directed by Preston Sturges. Movie
director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) has made a career of churning out
one successful comedy after another, yet he remains unfulfilled. He longs
to do a `serious' film, one with meaning, a drama that will leave his mark
on the industry and the world. And he has a property that he thinks is
perfect, a screenplay entitled `O Brother, Where Art Thou?' The studio he
works for, however, balks at the idea; Sullivan's comedies are not only
good, they're a cash cow for the studio, so why fool with
Sullivan is adamant, though, and determined to make his film he strikes a bargain with the studio and gets the green light. But once he's given the go-ahead, he wants to do it right-- and he realizes that to make a truly meaningful film, he must first experience himself the hardships of life he will be examining in `O Brother.' So with only a dime in his pockets, he sets out on the road to find out what `life' is really all about. And before it's over, he will get all he's looking for and more, in an odyssey that will be unforgettable for Sullivan, and for the audience, as well.
Filled with pathos and poignancy, Sturges' film is an insightful sojourn across the territory of the human condition. It'll make you laugh and it'll make you cry, as along with Sullivan you come face to face with some hard truths about reality. And Sullivan's eventual epiphany regarding his personal wants and needs may be your own, as well, because this is a film with a definite message that is honest and undeniable. A lesson in life delivered subtly and sensitively by Sturges, who makes it entertaining and thought provoking at the same time. It's refreshing, in fact, t discover a film that delivers such an impact without having to resort to any kind of sensationalism, relying instead on the inherent humanity of the story, which Sturges conveys masterfully. With exceptions, of course, it's a sensibility few of today's directors seem to possess. Some notable exceptions would be Ang Lee with `The Ice Storm,' Kenneth Lonergan's `You Can Count On Me' and Tom DiCillo's `Box of Moonlight.' All are films that, like `Sullivan,' are journeys of discovery, profound in sentiment without being overly sentimental. There are more, to be sure, but they seem too few and far between.
One of the elements that makes this film so engaging is its colorful cast of characters, and the actors it employs to bring it to life, beginning with it's star, McCrea, who hits his stride as Sullivan with facility. He credibly reflects Sullivan's ideals and principles with a look, as well as an attitude, that makes it work quite naturally. You can believe this is a man with, perhaps not a naive, but certainly a rather guarded perception of life in the real world. Which is not to say he lacks insight or wisdom; it's merely one of the basic truths this film points out-- that people live within parameters of their own design, established through personal experience and frame of reference. And that's the John Sullivan McCrea presents here, with a portrayal that is honest and incisive.
Veronica Lake was one of the hottest actresses around in 1942 when this film was made, and as the girl who becomes a part of Sullivan's journey, she lends considerable charm and a bit of mystique to the film. It's a fairly straightforward role that benefits from her sparkle and personality; a notable performance that adds a touch of humor and some class to the proceedings, without being particularly exceptional. But watching her, it's easy to understand the attention she received, especially after draping her long blond hair across her eye, peek-a-boo style-- which started a craze that swept the country, while creating an indelible image that ultimately defined her career.
The supporting cast includes Robert Warwick (Mr. Lebrand), William Demarest (Mr. Jones), Franklin Pangborn (Mr. Casalsis), Porter Hall (Mr. Hadrian), Byron Foulger (Mr. Valdelle), Margaret Hayes (Secretary), Robert Greig (Sullivan's Butler) and Eric Blore (Sullivan's Valet). Call it a lesson in life, or a lesson about human nature; however you see it, `Sullivan's Travels' is an experience you're going to remember. Entertaining, enjoyable and enlightening, it's an uplifting appreciation of the way things are, and not necessarily the way you `think' they should be. It's a film that celebrates the comfort to be found in finding your own niche and realizing the importance of whatever it is that you contribute to your world and those around you. It leaves you with a sense of purpose and the understanding that the grass is not always greener on the other side. And it makes your own grass look pretty good in the bargain. It's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 10/10.
Sturges' most daringly double-edged film, laced with bitter ironies. It is
also arguably the most audacious film in Hollywood's (mainstream) history,
audacious because it takes the kinds of risks that can so easily fall flat
on their face, and right until the final image, as Sturges becomes
increasingly ambitious and multi-layered, you wonder how long he can keep it
up without getting ridiculous. It never does, but the film is so full of
contradictions, tensions, suppressions, clanging lurches in tone - 'Travels'
is ostensibly a comedy, and one of Hollywood's best, but the last twenty
minutes are truly painful to watch, harrowing and not at all
The overriding source of tension, of course, is the film itself, the plot, and the emotions that are supposed to be elicited. It is very difficult, and frequently impossible to gauge the tone of any one scene. Sometimes this is straightforward, as when information is deliberately withheld from the audience, it is asked to make a judgement, and then shown to be wrong, as in the scenes where the studio moguls claim a background of deprivation (which is historically plausible). This kind of comedy is familiar enough.
But what about the later montage of Sullivan and the Girl experiencing the 'reality' of poverty - are these scenes supposed to be genuine representation of poverty? Are they part of a wider satire on pious films like 'Grapes of Wrath', which dubiously aestheticise poverty - there are a lot of Expressionistic flourishes in this sequence? Are they a kind of abstract purgatory through which Sullivan finds spiritual understanding?
There is a big difference between the representation of poverty in this sequence and the one where Sullivan is attacked and sent to prison. But is one more 'authentic' than the other - the second one bravely rejects the view of 'noble' poverty, shows how it dehumanises people, turns them instinctual and brutal; but it also provides a neat moral, which suggests that if you do somebody wrong, you will be (horribly) punished for it. This realism, therefore, is as contrived as the first. Is this Sturges' point, that the good intentions of realism are always tainted by ideological assumptions, patronising good-will, or motives of elevation. This sense of artifice, of a film comprised of varying self-reflexive modes rather than a plausible narrative, runs through 'Travels', with characters talking about the film they're in as a plot - in direst danger, Sullivan acknowledges the need for a helluva twist which duly arrives, filmed in silent slapstick with barely concealed Sturges contempt (and did his friends seem terribly put out by his death?).
This would seem to uphold 'Travels'' ostensible theme, its celebration of comedy as a sugar with which to sweeten the harshness of reality. This is a very cynical view of comedy, and a highly manipulative, conservative one - distract an unhappy populace from the injustice of their lives. The best comedies - from 'Sherlock Jr' and 'Modern Times' to 'Playtime' and 'The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie' have always been about real life, encouraging their viewers to think harder about the society they live in, much more effectively than so-called naturalism.
'Travels' is no exception. It might be a celebration of comedy, but this is comedy a million miles from 'Ants in your Pants'. What other 40s film still manages to show the brutality of poverty, of the prison system, of race relations, the fate of young women in sexually voracious Hollywood (the Girl's ease with her body in the swimming pool scene speaks volumes), however we choose to read them? When Sullivan's determination at the end to continue making populist comedies is endorsed by the ringing laughter of the world's meek and suffering, the disjunction is grotesque. This is a man, on an airplane, completely removed from reality, surrounded by wealthy toadies. Those happy laughs could so easily be contemptuous guffaws, because what Sullivan wants to do, and Sturges hasn't, is hide the inequalities of capitalism, the system on which Hollywood thrives, and the flaws in which they would be only too happy to cover up with inanity. But to even suggest this is to fall into the 'Capra' trap mocked at the beginning.
This difficulty is what makes 'Travels' such a stunningly modern film - its shifts from sophisticated verbal wit to elaborate slapstick to blatant Carry On-like innuendo (the matronly sister dusting the bedpost after seeing a sweating, shirtless Sullivan work) to tragedy to hallucination and dream to satire foreshadows Melville and the New Wave, while the privileged rich man who cannot escape Hollywood would transmute into the guests who can't leave the house, or can't get dinner in later Bunuel films; or the film that begins with an end. The opening sequence takes off 'Citizen Kane'. The deadpan genderplay is quietly gobsmacking, and Veronica Lake as a (gorgeous) tramp would be alluded to by Jeanne Moreau in 'Jules et JIm'. But the joys are all Sturges', as he democratises comedy (see again that swimming pool sequence); I love in particular those glorious supporting actors: my favourite being the immortal Eric Blore and Robert Greig as Sullivan's servants.
"Sullivan's Travels" is one of the best films that came out of
Hollywood in 1941. Preston Sturges showed he was an original with this
story about self-discovery for a man that has a different view of the
world. In a way, this is a satire about the movie industry.
Hollywood in the early years, wouldn't touch any project that it deemed non commercial. Which is why when John Sullivan, a successful director of film comedies decides to do a movie based on a serious book, the studio thinks he must be going crazy. Why would this director want to make the movie going public think? It was a preposterous notion then, as well as today, when basically all movies making any points are independently produced. After all, the industry wants everyone to have a great time, be entertained, and not make them think about at all.
John Sullivan gets much more than what he bargained for when he decides to take to the back roads of the country, dressed as a hobo and with only ten cents in his pocket. The first check on reality comes when he meets the kind girl at the road side diner. He is hungry, but what can one get for a dime? This girl, who has had it trying to make a name in the movies, orders ham and eggs for him, no strings attached. If there is a more kindred soul than this young woman who wants nothing in return, we haven't met her yet.
Sully and the girl go back on the road where they witness the reality of America's indigents traveling back and forth in empty cattle cars all over the country in search of jobs, or perhaps a better living. Sullivan ultimately wants to give money anonymously to the poor people he has met, but he meets with disaster and ends up in jail, the victim of circumstantial evidence and he is sent to jail. One night Sully discovers the great mystery about the allure of the pictures: It's the laughter stupid! Sullivan realizes how far off the mark he has been in trying to bring drama to the masses.
Joel McCrea makes a fantastic Sullivan. This under estimated man was a great comedian, as well as an actor that is always believable. The whole reason for watching this movie is Mr. McCrea's performance. His chemistry with the ravishingly beautiful and young Veronica Lake is one of the best things in the film. Both these actors, under Mr. Sturges' direction do their best work on screen. Sturges makes fun at his own expense when the girl asks Sully if he can introduce her to the great Hollywood director, Ernst Lubitsch. Mr. McCrea and Ms. Lake seem to be having a fun time together.
Mr. Sturges always surrounded himself with a group of actors that one sees in his movies. Robert Greig, Eric Blore, William Demarest, and the rest of the cast contribute to make this a winning comedy. The best scene that involves most of these actors happen at the beginning of the film when they are chasing Sullivan in the R.V. and things inside the trailer begin falling all over the place. That was priceless movie making.
Preston Sturges combines a social commentary with comedy in this brilliant film that is a tribute to his genius.
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.
This is one of those films I keep rating higher each time I watch it.
At first I thought it was just "fair" and, frankly, overrated, but I
don't think so now. I especially would recommend seeing this on the
Criterion DVD version to get the best picture available. I'm not
plugging that company because I think their discs are overpriced, but
they do a great job giving you the best transfer of these classics
you'll ever find and it made this film even better.
The story is very different: one that suddenly turns 180 degrees in the last segment. After a more lighthearted combination of drama and humor through much of the story, the film gets surprisingly rough in the last 20 minutes and is not always fun to watch and the leading man, Joel McCrea, goes through some very, very tough times.
This is one of Veronica Lake's more appealing roles and, although not a beautiful women, she's intriguing enough - especially with her fabulous long blonde hair - to make me glad I have at least one sharp-looking film of her.
Overall, this Preston Sturges-directed movie is good stuff and a classic film that deservedly still has a solid reputation.
As a TV Producer of "entertainment" shows, I make a point of watching
this film at least once a year and giving DVDs of it to all who may
disparage what I do.
Preston Sturges achieves the impossible in this movie: he has his cake and eats it too. He makes a perfect film - he manages to make a socially significant statement while wrapping it up in a comedy confection.
His hero, John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea - a very underestimated actor) is a
succcessful director of frivolous musicals and comedies who, one day, decides he needs to make a Capra-esque "serious"film. His studio chiefs and immediate staff are against it and point out that he is rich and privileged, what does he know about the less fortunate? Sullivan retorts with an ingenious plan:
Sullivan: "You're perfectly right...but I'll tell you what I'm going to do first: I'm going to get some old clothes and some old shoes from wardrobe and start out with ten cents in my pocket...and I'm not coming back till I know what trouble it..I'm going out on the road to find out what it's like to be poor and needy and then I'm going to make a picture about it."
Burrows(his butler): If you'll permit me to say so, sir, the subject is not an interesting one. The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous.
Nevertheless, Sullivan does it and unwittingly (and hilariously) discovers the true value comedy has in the lives of those with little else to laugh about...
It's genius. Exquisitely written, directed and acted (Sturges uses his usual ensemble plus the ever watchable Veronica Lake, even here in her most improbable disguises [I met her, professionally, in England in the 70s, she was still a class act and her "rider" demanded her drink of choice - vodka and cranberry juice).
Sullivan's Travels is a true gem of American Cinema. Ten out of ten.
As a professional circus clown for twenty years,I think that Sullivan's
Travels is the best, most lucid, explanation of what comedy is all about
that has ever been made. Sure it's hokey, corny, contrived, and meandering.
But so is all great comedy, from Shakespeare to Seinfeld! If you want your
comedy to be tightly constructed, meaningful, unambiguous, and logical, then
you do not want comedy at all -- you want some stuffy college professor's
idea of What is Comedy for a term paper.
The glorious truth is that you cannot domesticate great comedy. It occurs on no regular basis, from no reliable source, and is accountable to no one for what it says and does. Preston Sturges wanted to make that point in Sullivans Travels and he does so exceedingly well with everything from slapstick frolics in the land cruiser to fleas in the bed to hectoring soliloquies about poverty from the butler.
Ten years before Chaplin tried to explain the same thing in his movie Limelight, Sturges tells a tale meant to both hearten and cozen us. It heartens us to know that a cynical, moneygrubbing place like Hollywood will continue to spin out comedies, because they make money. And it cozens us into thinking there is something magical about comedians. Anyone who has ever actually known or been married to a professional funnyperson knows they are by turns grumpy, lazy, tempermental, stubborn, and always insecure. Not the life of the party. But so what? They're clowns, god bless 'em, and that's all that counts.
You'll never understand the craft of humor if you don't watch, and love, Preston Sturges Sullivan's Travels!
After the opening credits, the film opens with the following statement.
"To the memory of those who made us laugh: the motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons, in all times and in all nations whose efforts have lightened our burden a little, this picture is affectionately dedicated."
With this film, Preston Sturges made one of the smartest and most insightful comedies ever to come out of Hollywood, in which he especially held up the mirror to Tinseltown itself. A Hollywood variation on Gulliver's Travels, it's the tale of Hollywood director John Sullivan (Joel McCrea), tired of making Hollywood Fluff, who wants to branch out with a socially conscious epic, called "O Brother, Where Art Thou", and sets out to research the meaning of poverty. His studio bosses (very funny roles by Robert Warwick and Porter Hall) try to tell him it's a ridiculous idea but Sullivan insists, puts on some hobo clothes and sets out to see what it's like to experience poverty and suffering. The studio soon sees it as potential publicity stunt and sent an entire crew to follow him around during his trip.
Some very enjoyable references to socially conscious movie-making, to Ernst Lubitch in particular, make this particularly fun with some knowledge of the period and the films mentioned, albeit not necessary. And almost worth seeing alone for Veronica Lake's memorable performance as a failed starlet.
According to Sturges, the film did contain a little "message":
"SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS is the result of an urge, an urge to tell some of my fellow filmwrights that they were getting a little too deep-dish and to leave the preaching to the preachers."
By any means, he made a uniquely self-reflective comedy about Hollywood with wonderful characterizations and superlative performances. A brilliant satire with a "message" just as poignant as ever.
Camera Obscura --- 9/10
This movie is, simply, one of the best Hollywood ever made.
From the marvelous collection of great actors, with one of the greatest of motion picture directors, to an intelligent script by the director, Preston Sturges, everything comes together to produce a wonderful story wonderfully told.
Veronica Lake has probably never been more charming.
Joel McCrea is and always has been one of my favorite actors and he is great in this, for him, somewhat unusual role.
All the supporting players, including William Demarest, Eric Blore, Jimmy Conlin, Al Bridge, and Richard Webb, are ... well, perfect.
I hope this is no spoiler, but the scene at the church is one of the most touching and moving I have ever viewed. I'm amazed that Hollywood could capture the pathos so well. It made Sullivan's eventual point and should make that same point to movie producers and audiences alike.
As a film school student, I was taught that when people make lists of "greatest movies," seldom are comedies included.
"Sullivan's Travels" helps dispel the notion a comedy can't be great. It is both significant and thoroughgoing entertainment.
This is one of those real joys -- the film you always hope you were going to
see when you take the act of faith of going to a theater. This is as good
as it gets. McCrea is Sullivan, a successful director (of such films as
"Ants in Your Pants of 1938") who decides that in order to make his
"important" film -- "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" -- he must take to the road
as a hobo and discover suffering. Bringing along lovely Veronica Lake
would, of course, tend to defeat the purpose of his "experiment" -- but she
is such a wonderful person in this role you could overlook even the extreme
silliness of her posing as a boy!
Very funny and still effective, while managing to avoid typical story elements (such as his fight with the girl) that infuse all these road trip/romance movies since "It Happened One Night." An exceptional example of its genre and an exceptional film in any estimation. Probably will be popular even with people who propose to not like "old movies".
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