Wednesday, July 22, 2015

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Silliness in Sullivan's Travels, 1941.

Movie Review: Sullivan's Travels

Director: Preston Sturges

Reviewed: 11 July 2015

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

There is a comedic sequence in Sullivan's Travels that is fall-down funny. A chase ensues with a sort of RV following a speedster car through a bunch of country roads. There is a chef in a kitchen inside the RV who is subjected to the worst: items falling on top of him, dishes crashing everywhere, food spilling with every crazy turn the driver takes. And that's the film in a scene: out-of-control, wonderfully staged, and funny beyond all measure.

My favorite movie of 2000-2009 was the Coen Brothers' comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and now seeing Sullivan's Travels, I get more of the references as that is the name of director John L. Sullivan's (Joel McCrea) socially conscious film of substance that he wants to make depicting the class struggles inside the United States around 1941. Of course, the studio fat cats want him to make more of his slapstick comedies, his surefire box office champions, and in defiance, Sullivan takes it upon himself to disguise himself as a homeless wanderer and walk the earth in search of real hardship to better inform his movie. Sullivan catches the eye and kindness of struggling actress The Girl (Veronica Lake, luminous) in a diner who buys him a cup of coffee and a donut, sharing in his supposed hardship. Next, they are off with Sullivan attempting to hide who he is and his worth to the film studios, an RV following Sullivan as he tramps down the road to his next destination, and then, some twisty turns and attempts at social realism as he finds himself truly down and out.

The film packs all the right punches: great cast with quick dialogue; picaresque journey through America; some heartfelt songs and scenes; lots of physical comedy: and a warm heart that manages to comment on the Hollywood industry while being entrenched within it. The conceit of a rich man posing as a poor man to learn about another world is one that is very much still with us in film and in culture, and the pursuit of artistic integrity leads Sullivan to a nearly hopeless ending where Sturges finds the best possible way to end his film. It truly is a marvelously constructed film.

I've never seen a Preston Sturges film before, and I'm eager to see more based on this one. He seems to be a very capable, able filmmaker with smart characters, great wit, and a camera on the move in creative ways. Sullivan's Travels is quite the film, McCrea and Lake are terrific, and I'm on board for more of this talented team.

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