Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Sullivan’s Travels – 1941

Director – Preston Sturges

Starring – Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake

Sullivan’s Travels is the story of a motion picture director, played byJoel McCrea, who is sick of making comedies despite their fantastic success.  Against the studio’s protests, he decides that he wants to make a movie with a message, something that tells the story of the long-suffering everyman.  His brilliant idea is that he’s going to go out with nothing but the clothes on his back, and nothing in his pockets, and live among the common poor.  Through these adventures, or misadventures to be more accurate, McCrea’s titular John Sullivan gets a rude awakening.  It turns out the poor, downtrodden masses simply want to laugh.  They don’t want to spend their miserable lives watching their own miserable lives.

Along the way, Sullivan meets up with an attractive young woman known only as “The Girl” played by Veronica Lake, and falls for her almost immediately.  At first the problem is she thinks he is down and out, just like she is, but eventually she joins him on his decidedly well thought out adventure along the rails and slums of the United States.  Together they sleep on floors, pick food out of garbage cans, get their pockets picked, and occasionally clean up, eat, sleep, and put on brand new clothes on the luxury bus that the Sullivan’s studio sent to follow him around.  Needless to say, they are able to paint a true portrait of what it is to be down on their luck.

At its heart, Sullivan’s Travels is a romantic comedy just shy of screwball, and a little too light to be melodrama.  The film’s attempt to hammer its message home, and really show how laughter is the best medicine is nearly ruined by the rather serious consequences that  Sullivan faces while trying to do a good deed for the poor people who opened his eyes, and in the end seems like a rather convenient plot point to help our couple get together at the end of the picture.

Lake in the role of “The Girl” makes the most effort to make her character convincing and at the same time likable.  Even though she is not entirely believable as a hobo, she does a fantastic job as a romantic lead, and as a sympathetic out of work actress, she is the best part of this movie.

In the end, it seems like Sullivan’s Travels can’t decide what it wants to really be, a buddy/romantic comedy, a film with a message, or a commentary on both.  Worth watching for sure, but best-of-list worthy?  Not so sure.

5 thoughts on “Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

  1. Welcome to the wonderful world of Preston Sturges. He had about a 10 year run in Hollywood. His stories are not always believable but I find them quite entertaining when taken with a grain of salt. Probably as relevent in their day as Garry Marshall’s films are today. This is probably the favorite for me of his three film in “The Book” (running a close second with “The Palm Beach Story” for it’s wackiness may comparable to a Coen Brother’s film, let’s not forget the nod they give him with picking the title “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) but would also recommend “Hail, The Conquering Hero” if you have not seen it yet.

    You are really burning up the list. Good Job!

    • Though it was not believable, it was indeed entertaining. I was particularly impressed with Veronica Lake. I had assumed (with no real reason) that she was just a pretty face. I was pleasantly surprised to find that she could more than hold up her share of the film.

  2. I have to say that I loved this film. Wouldve liked to have seen the pair dealing with the “real” world a little bit more though. They seemed to keep ending back up in either the mansion or the bus a little too often! The car chase was hilarious.

    • I agree, it would have been nice to see them interacting more with the real world. They didn’t seem to know which sort of movie they wanted, a light-hearted romantic romp, or a film with a message. When it was good though, it was real good. Thanks for reading!

  3. Pingback: 1001 Movies – The Complete List | 1001 Movies…Before I Die!

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