[Moving picture of popcorn]

Laramie Movie Scope:
Sullivan's Travels

A classic film from a maverick director

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

October 18, 2009 -- I have long heard about this classic film, often referenced by a 2000 film which took its title from this earlier film, “O Brother Where Art Thou.” It turns out that this film actually lives up to the hype, unlike many others. “Sullivan's Travels” is a rare work which combines realism and whimsy, optimism and cynicism, intellectualism and slapstick comedy to conjure up a unique kind of entertainment. It is just as relevant today as it was when it was released in 1941.

Written and directed by the legendary Preston Sturges, it tackles Hollywood head on with its own version of the endless struggle between pure art and commerce. Although some of the slapstick comedy is a bit dated by today's standards, the basic story about the struggle between pure art and pure entertainment is as timely as ever. There is a strong anti-intellectual streak in American thought, but it has never been examined in a more adroit way than it is in this film. “Sullivan's Travels” represents storytelling of the highest order. It is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Sturges was one of the first Hollywood filmmakers to make the leap from screenwriting to directing. He was also one of the greatest of the writer-directors. The DVD of “Sullivan's Travels” has several interesting features about Sturges and his topsy-turvy career.

Joel McCrea stars as the protagonist, John L. Lloyd 'Sully' Sullivan. Later in his career, McCrea went on to star in numerous westerns including the notable 1962 Sam Peckinpah film, “Ride the High Country.” At this point in McCrea's career, however, he was doing romantic comedies, and he is very adept in mastering this difficult genre. Sullivan's love interest is another Hollywood legend, Veronica Lake, who plays a young woman who wants to be an actress. The romantic relationship between these two is always balanced delicately on a tightrope of believability, but Sturges manages to pull it off as only he could.

Sullivan is a successful Hollywood director who has made a string of comedies. He wants to make a meaningful film, however, and the studio bosses are not happy about the idea. They would rather Sullivan keep making films that reap box office gold, comedies and musicals. Sullivan wants to make a film about human misery and suffering. One studio executive asks what Sullivan knows about suffering since he lives a life of wealth and power. Sullivan decides that the criticism is valid. He sets off to live as a hobo so he can learn about suffering. This leads Sullivan to a series of adventures, some humorous and some tragic. He also meets a beautiful girl during one of these adventures. The story is full of interesting, eccentric characters and many surprising twists and turns. It is, quite simply, a dazzling piece of filmmaking. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

[Strip of film rule]
Copyright © 2009 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
[Strip of film rule]
Back to the Laramie Movie Scope index.
[Rule made of Seventh Seal sillouettes]

Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)