Sullivan's Travels Reviews
The chemistry between Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake is the heart of this hilarious and life affirming meta-cinematic exercise.
I think I've only seen one other Sturges film, The Great McGinty, and I noticed social issues seem to be a favorite theme. He pokes fun at the Hollywood machine. There is lots of great dialog, some of which I didn't appreciate till I saw the clips again in a special feature doc. There are quite a few laughs, but it turns at times to thoughtful drama and a touch of romance. Then it also deals with the darker side of society, the danger of giving charity to the poor too freely, the treatment of chain gang prisoners, and a particularly grisly death for the time when this movie was made. The movie cautions against taking the art and social power of moving pictures too seriously.
The story of John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea), a popular young Hollywood director fresh from a string of very profitable, but shallow comedies, tells his studio boss, Mr. Lebrand (Robert Warwick), that he is dissatisfied and wants his next project to be a serious exploration of the plight of the downtrodden, to be based on the socially-conscious novel O Brother, Where Art Thou? by Sinclair Beckstein. Of course, Lebrand prefers that he directs lucrative comedy instead. Idealistic Sullivan refuses to give in, and decides to go out in the world to "know trouble" first-hand as a tramp so he can return and make a film that truly depicts the sorrows of humanity. People close to him openly question the wisdom of his plan. With only 10 cents in his pocket, Sullivan dresses as a hobo and takes to the road. However, no matter how hard he tries, somehow he always ends up back in Hollywood. Luckily, in time of trouble, he meets a young failed actress (Veronica Lake, credited only as "The Girl") who had enough of Hollywood is contemplating quitting the business...
I understand why Sullivan's Travels was not as immediately successful at the box office as earlier Sturges films such as The Great McGinty and The Lady Eve, and also received a mixed critical reception - it is clearly divided into separate parts which I call the Yo-yo story (which helps the character to feel like a yo-yo, going back to the riches and then back to the street). At the time the reputation of the movie wasn't great and my biggest complaint even now is that lacks down to earth quality and sincerity which made the director's other three pictures a really enjoyable experience. But, it is good for relaxation and entertainment without too much thinking!
"I don't know. Hollywood, I s'pose."