Watched: November 04 2016
Director: Preston Sturges
Starring: Veronica Lake, Joel McCrea
Runtime: 1h 30min
John L. Sullivan (McCrea) wants to make a serious film with real social issues and deep meaning (with a little sex in it) which will educate his audience and make them think about the social and economic structures in place in 1940s USA. The only problem is, he’s a pampered Hollywood director who’s never really experienced any of these problems himself. Also, his producers would rather have him make silly comedies and fun action flicks (with a little sex in them).
Naturally, he decides to go undercover as a hobo to experience firsthand the suffering of the penniless, with nothing but ten cents (or something like that), the clothes on his back and a crew of five or six reporters, producers and chefs following him in a bus.
His first venture is somewhat fruitless. Although he hilariously manages to shake his entourage with the help of a little boy in a “whippet tank” and then convinces them to take a vacation in Las Vegas, he doesn’t do too well on his own and is eventually kidnapped by a sexually frustrated woman. After escaping through the window he finds a diner where a failed actress (Lake) buys him breakfast and he then “borrows” his own car to give her a ride home.
The Girl (who needs a name anyway?) finds out his true identity and decides to join his experiment, dressed (rather unconvincingly) as a boy. Together they go on fun hobo adventures!
More problems ensue and after a stint in prison Sullivan realises that comedies aren’t really that bad after all and that serious films with real social issues are actually more interesting to the people not experiencing these issues themselves than the ones living them.
It’s pretty much impossible to explain how funny this film is. We loved the fast, snappy dialogue, the long, silent Chaplinesque scenes, the wonderful bass voice of the minister who invites the prisoners to movie night in his church, and the satirical view of 1940s Hollywood (and U.S. society in general). This was also our first Veronica Lake (we know – for shame!) and we have now developed major girl crushes on her. Not only is she gorgeous, but she has a very particular presence which is completely fascinating.
Give Sullivan’s Travels a chance. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’ll change your life!
What we learned: if we know what we want, we’ll never live in Pittsburgh. Also, the value of escapism in films is not to be underestimated.
Next time: Suspicion (1941)