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Sullivan's Travels (1941)


speedracer5
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I saw Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels last night for the first time.  It was hilarious.  Up until now, I had only seen Veronica Lake in her sultry noir roles, it was nice to see her in a comedic part.  It's too bad that she was apparently difficult to work with and had so many personal issues.  She was talented. 

 

I loved the movie.  I cannot decide if I liked Sullivan's Travels or The Palm Beach Story better.  Both were equally fun and entertaining films.  In 'Sullivan,' I especially enjoyed the beginning scene with Joel McCrea in that kid's homemade car trying to escape from the studio crew in the bus.  The chase scene was hilarious. 

 

Sturges is very good at mixing up the screwball comedic scenes with the more serious scenes that add some "heart" to the film.  The mix of the funny scenes of McCrea and Lake trying to make it as hobos against the more serious scenes showing what it's like to be poor and live at homeless shelters were very effective.

 

Lake was apparently 6-8 months pregnant during the making of this film.  I'll give kudos to the costume designers for hiding it so well.  I couldn't even tell she was pregnant.  Only when Lake was in her hobo outfit could you kind of see what might be a belly, and even then, it's believable that Lake's coat wouldn't be flattering (making her look like she has a pooch) because she's obviously wearing men's clothing. 

 

Excellent film.  I'll definitely looking to be adding this to my film collection.

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speedracer, baby;

I love Sullivan's Travels.  I'll even go so far as to say it's one of my favourite movies.

 

Nice write-up, I agree with all your observations about the film.

 

I think what I like best about it is Preston Sturges' point that laughter is an extremely significant part of life, of the nature of human beings, and that comedy, and the desire to make us laugh- is at least as important, if not more so, than drama.

I don't like "Message" movies, and I suspect, nor did Mr. Sturges. So I won't insult this great, profound comedy by saying it's a "message film".  But clearly the statement the filmmakers are making here is that laughter is as essential to human life as food or water.

 

As for the actors. what  can I say? Joel McCrea is always likable, a big, vaguely goofy, good-looking guy who excels at playing vulnerable heroes.

I had not heard that Veronica Lake was difficult to work with - a little disillusioning, but not enough to interfere with my enjoyment of her movies, including this one.

 

The scene in which McCrea is taken, along with the other prisoners, to the movies, and they all watch a cartoon, is deeply moving.

It could be argued that, at least by today's audience, the cartoon is not particularly funny, certainly not funny enough to merit all the laughter it engenders among the audience.

But that's not the point. The point is, the weary down-trodden prisoners saw something that made them laugh, and for at least an hour or so, they were transported out of their misery.

 

ps: Anyone familiar with the Coen Brothers film,  O Brother Where Art Thou? When it came out (in 2000), I was very surprised that none of the critics talking /writing about the movie mentioned the title, and how of course it is a direct reference, an "hommage", if you like, to this 1941 classic.

I think the opening scene, where McCrea the famous maker of comedies is expostulating about how and why he wanted to make a "real" movie, a serious drama called "O Brother Where Art Thou?", is very funny and telling.

 

You made a great point, speedracer, when you noted how the mix of comedy and tragedy in Sullivan's Travels works so well. While I value comedy for its own sake, and anything that can make me laugh is good enough for me, it's icing on the cinematic cake when a movie that makes me laugh also makes me think. I can hear how cliched that sounds, but like all cliches, it is one because it is true.

 

By the way, there's a thread going on right now about Woody Allen, who is a master of the "serious" funny movie.

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Thanks MissWonderlytoo. 

 

I have seen Oh Brother Where Art Thou? When they mentioned this in the movie, I immediately thought of the Coen Brothers film-- which I really liked.  I believe that the Coen Brothers' Oh Brother Where Art Thou? is supposed to be loosely based on The Odyssey but takes place during the Great Depression.  I did notice some similarities between the Coen Brothers film and 'Sullivan.' I imagine that the Coen Brothers' film is an homage to Sturges'.

 

I also found it interesting that this film featured Mickey Mouse cartoons.  I wonder how much Paramount paid for the rights to use these? I knew that Walt Disney wouldn't allow Mickey to dance alongside Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh, so it was surprising to see Mickey Mouse and Pluto in this film.

 

Apparently Veronica Lake was known as "The ****" on the Paramount Lot.  Eddie Bracken, who worked with her on a film said that the title was well earned.  After the success of Sullivan's Travels, Joel McCrea was offered the Fredric March role in I Married a Witch with Lake, but after his experience working with her in 'Sullivan' he declined a second film with her, saying "Life's too short for two films with Veronica Lake." Despite having read this about Lake, I still like her and like her work.  

 

I also found it interesting that the actual film is very similar to the film that Joel McCrea is wanting to make.  He is tired of making fluff comedies, like "Ants in Your Plants of 1939."  He wants to make a more serious film about the human condition.  Then after living life as a hobo and prisoner, McCrea realizes that fluff comedies aren't that bad.  Sturges' film, while a comedy, does show the human condition.  It's a nice melding of fluff comedy and "message films."

 

Having seen Gentleman Jim 500 times, I was distracted by the main character being named John L. Sullivan.  I kept expecting Ward Bond to show up. 

 

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Hmm, poor old "Sullivan" has sunk to the bottom half of the page. And it's such a good movie.

 

All I can think is that it's been discussed many times before in this forum, so people don't have anything more to say about it.

(Although that didn't happen with the "Citizen Kane" thread.)

 

One more try:

Anyone else here think Sullivan's Travels is fun, smart, moving, and wise? (You don't have to go with all four, you can select one or any of the above.)

 

If not, why not? Discuss, in 100 words or less. (100 words or fewer, it should be.)

 

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Hmm, poor old "Sullivan" has sunk to the bottom half of the page. And it's such a good movie.

 

All I can think is that it's been discussed many times before in this forum, so people don't have anything more to say about it.

(Although that didn't happen with the "Citizen Kane" thread.)

 

One more try:

Anyone else here think Sullivan's Travels is fun, smart, moving, and wise? (You don't have to go with all four, you can select one or any of the above.)

 

If not, why not? Discuss, in 100 words or less. (100 words or fewer, it should be.)

 

Sullivan's Travels has its merits, but it seems to have been reduced in some quarters to "all message films are stupid and pretentious", thanks to the movie cartoon scene in the prison.  It's still Preston Sturges, which means it's still pretty damn good, but it's nowhere near in the class of The Lady Eve, The Great McGinty, or Easy Living.*  Maybe that's because (sacrilege alert) Joel McCrea's performance can't hold a candle to Stanwyck's Eve, Donleavy's McGinty, or Edward Arnold's J.B.Ball in those three gems.  And maybe it's because Sullivan's Travels is a bit too much of a message movie itself.

 

*I know Sturges only wrote the script to Easy Living and didn't direct it, but I still consider it to be a "Sturges" movie

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Just to be clear, I'm no fan of the sort of "message movies" that deliver their message with a 2 x 4, but there are many "message" movies that are a lot more nuanced and interesting than that.  This may be splitting hairs, but IMO there's an overly simplistic undertone to Sullivan's Travels' own "message" that detracts from an otherwise near-great movie.

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Sullivan's Travels made it to my Top 100 films the first time I saw it. It is, in fact, my favorite Joel McRea film. I’m always happy to watch it whenever I see that it is on, and I think it is somewhere in my library.

 

Although I agree with MissWonderlyToo’s observation, about the film demonstrating that “laughter is an extremely significant part of life,” the main “message” I got from the movie is one about empathy: primarily that empathy cannot be bought, only earned by first-hand, uncontrolled experience.

 

Regarding the Coen brothers referencing Sullivan’s Travels in their film O Brother, Where Art Thou? I’ve always wondered why, in the movie theatre scene of O Brother (another homage to Travels?) they didn’t take it a step further and show part of their imagined version of Hey Hey In the Hayloft, or Ants in Your Plants.

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I took the cartoon scene not as any type of message; but as a way to show the power of "fluff comedy," the type that McCrea's character was tired of making.  There's nothing overly intellectual about the Mickey Mouse cartoons; but the prisoners are able to escape their reality and find something to laugh about.  While I don't know if the type of laughter they were generating was realistic or not (I don't particularly find that the Mickey cartoons warrant raucous laughter; but that's beside the point).

 

I did find it interesting toward the end when McCrea had finished his research and decided that he wanted to give money to the hobos at the shelter he visited as a way to thank them for helping him.  Then he ends up being mugged and attacked by a hobo who figures that McCrea must have more.  I suppose this scene may end some realism to the homeless' and poor's plight, in that desperation may drive them to attack someone trying to be a good Samaritan.  In reality, while McCrea's gesture was a nice one, and back in 1941, getting $5 as a poor person would probably be quite the coup for a little while; however, it'll hardly bring them out of destitution. 

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... Then he ends up being mugged and attacked by a hobo who figures that McCrea must have more.  I suppose this scene may end some realism to the homeless' and poor's plight, in that desperation may drive them to attack someone trying to be a good Samaritan. ...

 

I’ve often wondered if Sturges had a subtle intent in the mugging scene. I've always thought of it as a “the-glass-is-always-full” observation: some good, some bad, but full nonetheless. But the script promptly invokes a providential justice of sorts, immediately “punishing” the miscreant for his crime, thus making a heavier-handed statement. I think It would have added an interesting note of complexity had the attacker simply gotten away with it.

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I don't like "Message" movies, and I suspect, nor did Mr. Sturges. 

 

Perhaps what Mr. Sturges meant was that he didn't like movies that were dominated by their message, and expected lenience from the audience for any deficiencies because of the worthiness of the message.

 

This, of course, being the over-arching message of the film.  Some might say it was ham-handed in getting the message across.

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I’ve often wondered if Sturges had a subtle intent in the mugging scene. I've always thought of it as a “the-glass-is-always-full” observation: some good, some bad, but full nonetheless. But the script promptly invokes a providential justice of sorts, immediately “punishing” the miscreant for his crime, thus making a heavier-handed statement. I think It would have added an interesting note of complexity had the attacker simply gotten away with it.

Agreed.  He rips off Sullivan and is immediately run over by a train.  Of course, this does set up the whole "Sullivan is missing and now there's an unidentifiable body in the morgue that has Sullivan's ID in his pocket" situation.  I wonder if this was a way to punish the mugger or was it a way to get Sullivan divorced from his wife so that he can get together with "the girl"? After Sullivan was declared dead, his wife promptly married her lover.  When Sullivan re-emerges, his wife is forced to divorce him, otherwise, she's a bigamist.

 

If the mugger had gotten away with the crime, it would have definitely changed the end of the film; Sullivan and "the girl" probably wouldn't have had the happy ending of them being able to be together at last; unless some other plot device arose that would get Sullivan his divorce.  Perhaps if the mugger had gotten away, it would have allowed Sullivan to add some darker notes to his film, which I think would more accurately reflect the type of film he was originally trying to make.

 

I think the whole point of the film is that Sullivan was tired of making fluffy comedies that didn't mean anything; so he wanted to bring something thought provoking and real to the audience, feeling that these types of films would give him more credibility.  When he saw how the prisoners enjoyed the fluff cartoons so much and allowed them to forget that they were in prison, it made him realize that escapist films aren't that bad.  Everyone needs a chance to escape from the harsh realities of life and that there are worse things to be known for than as a director that makes fun, light comedies. 

 

I would also go on to say, that many films, whether they intend to or not, usually convey some type of message.  Whether it's serious or silly, many films try to say something or make some type of point. 

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I'm glad there's a thread about this film.....it's never completely gelled for me. Nor has any other Sturges' films.

 

I like them ok, but they always seem to just miss the mark of greatness somehow. Sturges just feels to me like he's trying to be Capra, but just falling short.

While some feel Capra's films are way too "heavy handed", re "Capra-corn", they have a good flow and completeness to me that is missing from Sturges' films.

 

Everyone needs a chance to escape from the harsh realities of life and that there are worse things to be known for than as a director that makes fun, light comedies. 

 

This reminds me of the classic Lennon/McCarney fued of Lennon's accusation HOW DO YOU SLEEP? and McCartney's musical reply SILLY LOVE SONGS.

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I'm glad there's a thread about this film.....it's never completely gelled for me. Nor has any other Sturges' films.

 

I like them ok, but they always seem to just miss the mark of greatness somehow. Sturges just feels to me like he's trying to be Capra, but just falling short.

While some feel Capra's films are way too "heavy handed", re "Capra-corn", they have a good flow and completeness to me that is missing from Sturges' films.

 

Everyone needs a chance to escape from the harsh realities of life and that there are worse things to be known for than as a director that makes fun, light comedies. 

 

This reminds me of the classic Lennon/McCarney fued of Lennon's accusation HOW DO YOU SLEEP? and McCartney's musical reply SILLY LOVE SONGS.

 

Wasn't How do you Sleep a reply to Paul's Too Many People?    (e.g. the line;  you took your lucky break and broke it in two).

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Wasn't How do you Sleep a reply to Paul's Too Many People?    (e.g. the line;  you took your lucky break and broke it in two).

 

The line I'd always heard John Lennon reacted to was "Too many hungry people loosing weight."  Which might be considered insensitive.

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Agreed.  He rips off Sullivan and is immediately run over by a train.  Of course, this does set up the whole "Sullivan is missing and now there's an unidentifiable body in the morgue that has Sullivan's ID in his pocket" situation.  I wonder if this was a way to punish the mugger or was it a way to get Sullivan divorced from his wife so that he can get together with "the girl"? After Sullivan was declared dead, his wife promptly married her lover.  When Sullivan re-emerges, his wife is forced to divorce him, otherwise, she's a bigamist.

 

If the mugger had gotten away with the crime, it would have definitely changed the end of the film; Sullivan and "the girl" probably wouldn't have had the happy ending of them being able to be together at last; unless some other plot device arose that would get Sullivan his divorce.  Perhaps if the mugger had gotten away, it would have allowed Sullivan to add some darker notes to his film, which I think would more accurately reflect the type of film he was originally trying to make.

 

I think the whole point of the film is that Sullivan was tired of making fluffy comedies that didn't mean anything; so he wanted to bring something thought provoking and real to the audience, feeling that these types of films would give him more credibility.  When he saw how the prisoners enjoyed the fluff cartoons so much and allowed them to forget that they were in prison, it made him realize that escapist films aren't that bad.  Everyone needs a chance to escape from the harsh realities of life and that there are worse things to be known for than as a director that makes fun, light comedies. 

 

I would also go on to say, that many films, whether they intend to or not, usually convey some type of message.  Whether it's serious or silly, many films try to say something or make some type of point. 

 

Yes. The hobo’s death is indeed a pivotal part of the film. It provides an easy solution to the two key problems you mentioned: Sullivan’s ID being found on the otherwise unidentifiable body in the morgue, thus affording the presumption of Sullivan's death; and Sullivan being able to marry when he returns. No doubt I am seeing threads sticking out of the sweater that do not exist, and arbitrarily assigning meaning that is not intended. I think, as with music, I prefer a bit more complexity, and harmonies that are not always so sweetly resolved.

 

Still a good movie though!

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Wasn't How do you Sleep a reply to Paul's Too Many People? 

 

Could be. But I know Paul then wrote SILLY LOVE SONGS as a reply to Lennon defending himself.

 

The idea expressed is; not every creation HAS to be a big serious message...you can still contribute to the enjoyment of people writing love songs...or lighthearted movies for that matter.

 

Anyone care to respond to my observation that Sturges' films kind of "miss the mark"? Or am I "missing" something and should revisit them?

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Wasn't How do you Sleep a reply to Paul's Too Many People? 

 

Could be. But I know Paul then wrote SILLY LOVE SONGS as a reply to Lennon defending himself.

 

The idea expressed is; not every creation HAS to be a big serious message...you can still contribute to the enjoyment of people writing love songs...or lighthearted movies for that matter.

 

Anyone care to respond to my observation that Sturges' films kind of "miss the mark"? Or am I "missing" something and should revisit them?

 

As for Sturges' films missing the mark;   I tend to agree.  The screwball moments in his films are well done.   The best of the 40s comedies IMO,  but the need to push a message is there.    This drags down the movie to a degree in the same way Capra films do.     I still watch many Sturges' films especially the first half or so.  e.g.  The Lady Eve and Sullivan's Travels;   the first parts of both of these movies is great.   e.g. in Eve the scenes on the ship until Stanwyck is exposed are right up there with the great 30s comedies.    But the second half of his films after the 'truths' are exposed,  tend to drag on.

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