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Cinematographer John Seitz admired Preston Sturges' unconventional approach to his work. The opening scene comprised ten pages of dialogue to cover about four and a half minutes of screen time. It was scheduled for two complete days of shooting. On the morning of the first day, Seitz found Sturges inspecting the set with a viewfinder, looking for where he could cut the scene and change camera set-ups. Seitz dared him to do it all in one take. Never one to refuse a dare, Sturges took him up on it, although the nervous Seitz had never attempted to complete a two-day work schedule in one day. With the endorsement of McCrea and the rest of the actors, Sturges pressed on, determined to set a record. The first take was fine, but the camera wobbled a little in the tracking shot following the men from screening room to office, so they tried again. They did two or three takes at the most and that was it - two full days work by 11 a.m. on the first day, a feat that had the entire studio buzzing.
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Preston Sturges had originally intended to use a clip from a Charles Chaplin film for the church sequence, but Chaplin wouldn't give permission. In an earlier scene, Joel McCrea does parody the Little Tramp character. The cartoon eventually used was Walt Disney's Playful Pluto (1934).
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Not only was Veronica Lake pregnant during the making of this movie, she was between six and eight months pregnant. Production took place from June 12 to July 22, 1941, and her daughter Elaine Detlie was born on August 21, 1941. The only other people involved in the production who knew of her condition were the costume designer Edith Head and Preston Sturges's then-wife, Louise. Head designed costumes to hide the condition. Lake was afraid that she would not be allowed to make the film if her advanced state of pregnancy was revealed, owing to the physical demands of the role.
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Preston Sturges wrote the film with Joel McCrea in mind. McCrea was the only actor ever considered for the role of Sullivan.
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Reportedly, Preston Sturges got the idea for the movie from stories of John Garfield living the life of a hobo, riding freight trains and hitchhiking his way cross-country for a short period in the 1930s.
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John L. Sullivan plans to make a movie entitled "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" - a title borrowed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for their 2000 film.
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In his autobiography, Preston Sturges noted that he wrote the film as a reaction to the "preaching" he found in other comedy films "which seemed to have abandoned the fun in favour of the message."
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NAACP Secretary Walter White wrote a letter to Preston Sturges congratulating him for his "dignified and decent treatment of Negroes in this scene."
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Joel McCrea credited Preston Sturges with instilling confidence and treating him as if he were a bigger star than Clark Gable. "I have to say the money I got for it was unnecessary," McCrea said later in life. "I don't know any other director where I had so much fun. I really felt like I'd do it for nothing."
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Anthony Mann was Preston Sturges assistant on the film. He recalled, "I'd stage a scene and he'd tell me how lousy it was. Then I watched the editing, and I was able to gradually build up knowledge. Preston insisted I make a film as soon as possible. He said it's better to have done something bad than to have done nothing."
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Paul Jones, the associate producer, appears as the portrait of "Dear Joseph", the dead husband, early in the film.
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The film's opening dedication, "To the memory of those who made us laugh: the motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons, in all times and nations, whose efforts have lightened our burden a little, this picture is affectionately dedicated." with the added phrase "...in this cockeyed caravan..." was initially to be spoken by Joel McCrea in an epilogue as if it was to be the prologue for the comedy he intended to make. In the original script the prologue Preston Sturges initially wrote was, "This is the story of a man who wanted to wash an elephant. The elephant darn near ruined him."
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Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake did not get along during filming. McCrea subsequently turned down the lead role in I Married a Witch (1942) because he did not want to work with Lake again. They did, however, appear together again in Ramrod (1947).
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The U.S. government's World War II Office of Censorship in New York formally disapproved exporting this film during wartime because of the "long sequence showing life in a prison chain gang which is most objectionable because of the brutality and inhumanity with which the prisoners are treated." This disapproval conformed with the department's policy of not exporting any film that could be turned into enemy propaganda. The department suggested deletions which would have made the picture acceptable under their guidelines; however, the producers declined this opportunity.
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The movie's poster was #19 of "The 25 Best Movie Posters Ever" by Premiere.
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Preston Sturges wanted Veronica Lake from the very beginning after admiring her work in I Wanted Wings (1941).
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The opening sequence - with Capital and Labor fighting on top of a moving train as it crosses a moonlit lake - is scored with the third movement of Beethoven's (so-called) "Moonlight" sonata. It was probably chosen for the connection with the sonata's popular title, and because the music itself sounds like silent-movie "chase" music.
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Paramount purchased Preston Sturges's script for this movie for $6,000 (adjusted for inflation: approximately $105,000 in 2019).
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The "Poverty Montage" took seven hours to film, four hours longer than anticipated.
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In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #61 Greatest Movie of All Time. It was the first inclusion of this film on the list.
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This film was selected into the National Film Registry in 1990 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
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In the airplane scene, the author of the book "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" is shown to be "Sinclair Beckstein", an amalgamation of the names of authors Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, and John Steinbeck.
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Frances Farmer tested for the role of The Girl, which eventually went to Veronica Lake.
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Studio brass thought Veronica Lake was wrong for the part and suggested a number of other actresses, including Ida Lupino, Lucille Ball, Frances Farmer and Ruby Keeler.
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The title of the movie is taken from Jonathan Swift's 1726 novel 'Gulliver's Travels', which also follows the titular character embarking on a journey of self-discovery.
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The studio boss Mr. LeBrand seems to be based on Sturges' champion at Paramount, production chief William LeBaron; LeBrand's acidic right-hand man Mr. Hadrian seems to be based on Paramount executive producer B. G. "Buddy" DeSylva, who took over as production chief from LeBaron the year Sullivan's Travels was released. The actors in these roles, Robert Warwick and Porter Hall, resemble the two producers. As implied by the scene, Sturges the director had a lot more difficulty working for DeSylva without LeBaron to run interference. DeSylva so infuriated the director by trying to recast and re-cut his films that Sturges finally quit the studio; after a disastrous preview of DeSylva's cut of his final Paramount picture, Sturges returned at no salary to re-cut and re-shoot Hail the Conquering Hero.
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Uses the term "owl wagon" to refer to all-night diners.
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Jerry Seinfeld, while on Norm MacDonald Live, said for what it's about, Sullivan's Travels is his favorite movie while The Graduate is his favorite to watch.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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The film's opening dedication was originally meant to be the film's epilogue.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 2000 list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
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"Lux Radio Theater" broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on November 9, 1942 with Veronica Lake reprising her film role.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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This film has a 100% rating based on 33 critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
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The tear-off calendar on the kitchen wall, just after the 37-minute mark, shows "1941 AUGUST 17 SUNDAY".
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This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #118.
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One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. Its earliest documented telecast took place in Milwaukee Thursday 9 April 1959 on WITI (Channel 6), followed by Seattle 24 April 1959 on KIRO (Channel 7), by Phoenix 24 May 1959 on KVAR (Channel 12), by Pittsburgh 11 September 1959 on KDKA (Channel 2), by Detroit 6 December 1959 on WJBK (Channel 2), by Indianapolis 19 July 1960 on WFBM (Channel 6), and, finally, by New York City 25 August 1960 on WCBS (Channel 2). It was released on DVD 21 August 2001 and again 6 March 2012 as part of the Criterion Collection and also 21 November 2006 as one of seven titles in Universal's Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection and . Since that time, it's also enjoyed frequent cable TV airings on Turner Classic Movies.
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