Sullivan’s Travels (1942)
Sullivan’s Travels (1942)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

Release Date: February 6th, 1942 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Preston Sturges Actors: Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Robert Warwick, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Porter Hall, Byron Foulger, Margaret Hayes, Eric Blore

 


 

D

irector John Lloyd “Sully” Sullivan (Joel McCrea) wants to make a movie about the problems that confront the average man; a true canvas of the suffering of humanity that reflects the corpses piling up in the streets and the people being slaughtered like sheep. With war, joblessness, and starvation at every corner, the public has no interest in comedies. His new feature, titled “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” will be an epic about misery. “What do you know about hard luck?” inquire Kansas City producers Mr. LeBrand (Robert Warwick) and Mr. Jones (William Demarest), trying desperately to convince their valuable filmmaker to helm the lighthearted musical “Ants in Your Plants of ‘41” instead. Acknowledging that he knows nothing of poverty, wretchedness, or trouble, Sully becomes even more determined to familiarize himself with the topic. Proceeding down to the wardrobe department to pick out tattered old clothes, he places 10 cents in his pocket and heads out onto the unforgiving road.

Donning his best hobo impersonation and intent on descending into the “valley of the shadow of adversity,” John negotiates to ditch his studio entourage for a couple of weeks so that he can get the full effect of the common man’s hardships. He quickly picks up manual labor work from a lustful, elderly widow who essentially kidnaps him, before hitching a ride to Hollywood. At a breakfast joint, he’s treated to ham and eggs by a sharply groomed blonde (Veronica Lake) who tells him of her lack of success with becoming a movie star. Suddenly, he has a need for his wealth and connections, but only manages to steal his own car and wind up in jail. Returning to his luxurious estate, taking the mysterious girl with him, Sully decides to re-embark on his tramp expedition – with the petite waif in tow.

They may be amateurs, but they certainly make an amusing go of it. From sloppily boarding a moving train to losing their only dime to re-re-inserting themselves into privation, John and the oddly unnamed, fair-haired beauty come to recognize the power of companionship and kindly strangers. In their effort to experience the rift between the elite (including theorists) and ordinary people (the deprived masses), they always seem to be rescued by coincidental meetings with wealthy associates, never quite capable of enduring genuine affliction. Despite tolerating the loss of shoes, uncomfortable public showers, and crowded sleeping quarters, their first encounter with borderline famishment results in giving up the experiment altogether. It all becomes a shade darker when John is dramatically introduced to real misfortune after a bum assaults him.

Though the foray into mournful (yet unlikely) circumstances gives the story its genre-blending fascination and gravity, it is the sensational slapstick (primarily witnessed during a chase sequence with a large bus careening about, with chefs, secretaries, photographers, and all manner of employees jostling to and fro inside) that is generally most memorable. And, akin to the opening scene – which features a lightning fast train that speeds across the screen with a duo grappling atop, then under, the rattling cars – the dialogue is unleashed without a second for breathing, revealing a script that bridges the gap between screwball efforts “The Good Fairy” and “Easy Living” and the more tragicomic “Remember the Night” and “The Lady Eve.” Writer/director Preston Sturges exhibits his obvious love of movies with referential jokes and a butler character (Robert Greig as Burroughs) who speaks as if he’s Sturges’ own alternate ego, before the unexpected severity of the hero’s predicament is abruptly alleviated (but not before imparting self-discovery and a clue to societal inclinations). It’s a dynamic storyline, ultimately serving as a celebration of laughter – that unalienable element of universal appeal.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10