This masterpiece by Preston Sturges is perhaps the finest movie-about-a-movie ever made. Hollywood director Joel McCrea, tired of churning out lightweight comedies, decides to make O Brother, Where Art Thou-a serious, soci... more »ally responsible film about human suffering. After his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, he hits the road as a hobo. He finds the lovely Veronica Lake-and more trouble than he ever dreamed of.« less
Wayne Klein | My Little Blue Window, USA | 03/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Any Preston Sturges film even the lesser ones are worth watching for their snappy dialogue and comedic sequences alone. With "Sullivan's Travels" we catch Sturges at the top of his game. Joel McCrea the everyman of the 40's turns in a terrific performance as the bright but lightweight director John Sullivan (Sully to his friends). Sully wants to make serious pictures after a career of churning out lightweight comedies. His next project "O Brother Where Art Thou" (wittily referenced in the Cohen brothers film of the same name nearly six decades later)will be a socially conscious look at the suffering of the common man. The only problem is that Sully knows absolutely nothing about suffering or hardship. Sully decides to rough it as a hobo and discovers much more than he wanted to about suffering. He meets "The Girl" (Veronica Lake lovely as ever)and discovers more about the world than he ever imagined.
Sturges fell into drama when he became ill and read about creating dramas while recooperating. His first major play "Strictly Dishonorable" became a huge Broadway hit in the 30's. As a child Sturges' mother became "friends" with Isadora Duncan and Sturges was dragged around with the two of them and had a very unconvetional upbringing nicely profiled in the original PBS Emmy winning documentary "Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer". "The Power and the Glory" Sturges first written screenplay earned him over $17,000 in the 30's against the profits of the film by producer Jesse Lasky. Sturges already had made enemies in Hollywood by becoming wildly successful as an independent writer and later director. Featuring interviews with friends and Sturges' last widow, vintage footage, stills & footage from his productions and home movies of Sturges, Kenneth Bowser's excellent documentary provides insight into Sturges' career as a writer and film director.
There's also storyboards, blueprints for the sets, original publicity materials, the original theatrical trailer, a Hedda Hopper interview with Struges, recordings of Struges' original song "My Love" and poem "If I Were King", this is one of the best Criterion releases out there. The image quality on the disc in this new digital transfer is beautiful looking. While the price is a bit steep, this terrific DVD is well worth it
VERONICA LAKE'S BIG BREAK A TREAT ON DVD
Nix Pix | Windsor, Ontario, Canada | 04/22/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After a string of B-movies, legendary cool babe, Veronica Lake graduated to the big time in this screwball message picture by director, Preston Sturges. Actor, Joel McCrea is John L. Sullivan, a director of frothy film comedies who desires to make a truly gritty motion picture about the "suffering of humanity". One problem - he doesn't know the first thing about suffrage, having been born with a silver spoon and thrust into a lucrative career with money to burn. So what's a desperate rich guy to do? He decides to impersonate a hobo and ride the rails in search of 'real' life. He finds Veronica Lake and a heap of trouble instead.
For once - a Criterion disc I can actually recommend on every level. First, the DVD quality of this classic film is bar none the most outstanding effort from Criterion thus far. The gray scale is superbly balanced. Blacks are black. Contrast and shadow levels are amazing. Fine details are well represented. There is some minor edge enhancement and aliasing, but it is so slight and infrequent that I really shouldn't be mentioning it at all. There's barely any digital or film grain for a smooth, thoroughly captivating visual presentation. The audio is mono but cleaned up in such a way that one hardly notices its dated shortcomings.
AT LAST - as an extra, Criterion gives us "Preston Sturges: A Life" a thoroughly engrossing, in-depth, full fledged documentary on the man, the making of this movie, as well as a time line documenting Sturges' many other films with a multitude of background material and snippets from each of the movies in Sturges' canon. The documentary is so good, you'll want to watch it twice. Yes, there's also an audio commentary and the usual Lux Radio junket that accompanies most Criterion classic titles. But the documentary is what counts here.
BOTTOM LINE: A MUST HAVE DISC FOR ANY FILM BUFF!"
Wonderful Criterion Transfer of a Classic
Ricky Hunter | New York City, NY United States | 07/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sullivan's Travels is one of a group of comedy classics created by Preston Sturges during the early to mid-forties, each and every one a gem. Everyone will have a favourite (my personal weak spot is The Lady Eve) but Sullivan's Travels grows in my affections with every viewing. It is always remarkable to witness how influential the movie is, particularly, but not exclusively, in the works of the Coen brothers. Joel McRae is playing the director who goes looking for the underbelly of America and along the way he finds Veronica Lake. She could not be equaled, from the first moment her famous look is seen in the film until her laughter at the end. She looked like a smoldering noir femme fatale and spoke and acted like a screwball comedienne. It was a style not suited for many pictures but it was a perfect match for Preston Sturges in this one and she does very well by him and vice versa. The change in the movie from comedy to pathos, troubing and too abrupt for some viewers, is beautifully handled and the church sequence with the prisoners and the black parishioners is astonishing and handled with great cinematic skill. Criterion must also be congratulated, again, for the wonderful extras, particularly the documentary on Sturges."
Oh Preston, Where Art Thou?
Mike Stone | 09/13/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I, like many others of my generation I suspect, first came to know of writer/director Preston Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels" via its association with the Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The latter movie took its name from a film-within-the-film from the former. John L. Sullivan, a director of successful lowbrow comedies, unhappy with his lofty lot in life, itches to make a socially conscious drama about poverty called... wait for it... "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" When it's pointed out that Sullivan, borne from the lap of luxury, could not possibly know the first thing about being poor, he decides to raid the movie studio's costume department for a hobo's outfit, and ride the rails in order to gain some life experience.From these rather high concept beginnings, one would expect to find a straightforward comedy wherein our hero comes to realize that the poor are people too. That movie is here, to be sure, but it's not presented in any conventional manner. In fact, that part of the story is basically covered within the first thirty minutes. Which leaves the discerning audience member, one who's been paying attention all along and is well-versed in cinematic narrative convention, wondering, "Where do we go from here?" It is to Sturges' ultimate credit that this question is answered in due time and with tremendous skill.The film is mostly a pure comedy, able to dabble in all different kinds of humour, indulging in farce, screwball, verbal wit, and light romance. But Sturges proves a master at mixing tones, as he is also able to dip a toe into harsh drama, straight social commentary, suspense thriller, and bold satire. It's one of the most versatile films I know, in that it takes a bite from every dish at the buffet, allowing them all to digest together perfectly. Sturges is also a master at using a variety of visual styles to tell his story. He is a wizard of shot composition, framing each scene for maximum stylish effect, but never putting too heavy a hand on the audience's shoulder. And he is at home equally in scenes composed entirely of long, dialogue-heavy takes, or in quickly-edited scenes of mayhem and madness.But it is Sturges' script that best exemplifies the man's limitless talents. Despite its unconventionality, it's perfectly structured. And even though it relies on several far-fetched coincidences to move the story along, those coincidences never feel manipulative, in that they fit in perfectly with the rag-tag universe Sturges has created. The dialogue, Sturges' bread and butter, is voracious in its wordiness, but very rarely is a word wasted. Every line either contributes to the plot or provides some quick comedy. And oh what lines he's written! There's the oft-quoted rejoinder, which follows Sullivan's plea to the studio execs to allow him to make a movie about society's ills, that it also include "a little sex?" These same studio execs typify the oxymoronic, paradoxical, and epigrammatic dialogue when they proclaim the eccentric but successful Sullivan a "bonehead... but what a genius!" Even the opening dedication is a paradigm of pyrotechnic wordplay, as it calls attention to the "motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons" who make us laugh. That being said, while letting the audience rely on his verbosity to understand the story, Sturges throws in a rather lengthy dialogue-free montage near the movie's middle, that succinctly moves the story through a lot exposition, without ever seeming tedious. O Preston, in these times of hack screenwriters and half-baked ideas, where art thou now?For the titular character, Sturges chooses Joel McCrea, a rather likable fellow and a bit of a Ryan O'Neal look-alike. He plays Sullivan with straight-laced comic timing and just a hint of gravitas. McCrea, who made three movies with Sturges, ably fills Sullivan's shoes, detailing the man's self-satisfaction, his obliviousness to the world around him, but also his humanity. McCrea also has to act as the film's de facto straight man, especially in the scenes featuring the manic menagerie sent by the studio to watch out for him. Despite some slight fumbles in the middle of the longer takes, McCrea is a proficient guide through Preston-land."How does the girl fit in this picture?" asks a jailhouse police officer of Sullivan. "There's always a girl in the picture," comes the reply. "Haven't you ever been to the movies?" With this quick exchange, Sturges is able to both parody and consent to the practice of having a love interest in light comedies. So Sullivan must be matched with a girl. His partner in crime, billed cheekily as "The Girl" in the film's credits, is Veronica Lake. Lake, combined with the solid part that Sturges gives her, rises above her seemingly stock character, to portray a woman of intense realism. In her first scene with McCrea, she brings forth all the girl's most tangible qualities: she is morose, witty, cute as a button, generous, attractive, and armed with a super sexy laugh. Lake is a spunky little spitfire, the prototype for an actress such as Holly Hunter, but armed with a mountain of real-girl sex appeal that makes her far more attractive. She is more than an able match for McCrea, giving credence to their burgeoning, but always subdued, love affair."Sullivan's Travels" is many things to many people. I, for one, think its greatest thematic strength is in its satire (its title isn't similar to Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" by accident), detailing how the liberal upper class loves to pander to those less fortunate, but really doesn't want to get too close to the unwashed masses, lest their white gloves get dirty. Sullivan, in the end, does learn some lessons, but is he really a changed man at all? Best set up shop again behind his guarded gates, and focus on his trifling little comedies. For, as the film's ostensible thesis statement says, "There's a lot to be said for making people laugh." Touche, Mr. Sturges, touche."
One of my all time favorite films
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 05/29/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the great screen comedies, and one in a string of absolutely brilliant comedies that Preston Sturges made in the space of only a few years, unquestionably the hottest streak any comedy director has ever gone on in a short period of time. This film contains a great deal more slapstick than his other films, and a great deal more social satire. Sturges doesn't quite mean it as a "message" picture, but in the end it does have overtones of an apologia pro vita sua as a comedy director. Sturges wants to say that he is a comedy director, and he isn't going to apologize for it, because making people laugh in hard times is one of the highest functions of art.SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS is one of two superb comedies that Joel McCrea made with Sturges, the other being the equally outstanding THE PALM BEACH STORY. As most are aware, McCrea plays director John L. Sullivan, who has made his mark in Hollywood directing lightweight comedies, such as the "Ants in Your Pants" series. But now he wants to make a serious, "meaningful" film: O Brother! Where Art Thou? The studio head points out that Sullivan knows nothing about real life, and conceding his point without giving up his intentions, Sullivan decides to hit the road and live as a hobo in order to discover real life. Like nearly all Sturges films (at least before his rapid and dramatic decline in late 1944), this film features an absolutely outstanding cast. His best films seem to feature a cast with literally dozens of great character actors, and this is no exception. Most of the Sturges regulars are here, like William Demarest and Robert Warwick, along with a host of others whose faces will be familiar to any Sturges fan, even if the names are not. The film also features the first major role for Veronica Lake, who enjoyed only a short career at the top, but who endures in memory as one of most stunningly beautiful women in Hollywood history, so much an icon that in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, Kim Basinger's character was a prostitute who would be with men impersonating Veronica Lake.Most Sturges films are characterized by their rapid-fire dialog, manic pace, and enormous wit. He always wrote his own scripts, and as good as he could be as a director, he was much better as a writer. For several years before becoming a director, he distinguished himself along with Billy Wilder as perhaps the premier comic writer in Hollywood. This film contains moments that are classic Sturges. For instance, while arguing with the head of the studio about his next film, his boss makes the point that his last escapist film did well in Pittsburgh. Sullivan retorts: "What do they know in Pittsburgh." Studio Head: "They know what they like." Sullivan: "Then what are they doing in Pittsburgh." But in this film, unlike his others, Sturges dramatically slows down the pace at several points, and allows the film to take a much more serious turn, so as to make his central points about the value of making people laugh."