Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

sullivans travels poster 1941 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Classic Hollywood travel, romantic comedy with interesting dramatic themes

Contradiction of story within the movie

Movie Info

Movie Name:   Sullivan’s Travels

Studio:   Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):   Romance/Comedy/Drama

Release Date(s):   December 5, 1941 (Portugal)/January 15, 1942 (US)

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

sullivans travels veronica lake joel mccrea diner

Impersonating the poor and destitute is wrong!!!

Big-time director John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) wants to make the great American drama O, Brother Where Art Thou?, but he feels he doesn’t know the plight of the common man.  Deciding to cross America as a tramp, Sullivan finds it might be more difficult than he thought to separate himself from Hollywood…even with the aid of a wantabe starlet (Veronica Lake).  Sullivan hopes to tap into the people, but it might take a strange twist of fate to find the connection he hoped for.

Written and directed by Preston Sturges, Sullivan’s Travels is a romantic comedy drama.  The film was released to positive reviews but a luke-warm reception in theaters.  The movie went on to become a classic and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1990.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #118).

I (like many) knew of Sullivan’s Travels more because of the fake movie within the movie O, Brother Where Art Thou? which was borrowed by multiple sources since the release of the film and culminated in a spiritual companion piece by the Coen Brothers in 2000 (the Coens believed their film is the type of film that Sullivan would have made after his adventure).  Sullivan’s Travels is an interesting film that continues to remain relevant in today’s society.

sullivans travels joel mccrea veronica lake tramps

…ok, let’s impersonate the poor and destitute

The story is largely about the path of Sullivan who first wants to make a drama because he think it would be good for recognition of the “lowly” people’s plight, but through the course of the movie, Sullivan realizes that laughter can be just as good of a solution if not better when in dire situations.

To get to the conclusion the movie takes some weird twists and turns both in story and tone with Sullivan pretty much being above “but among” the poor and paying them off for their service to him…until he knocks in the head and thrown in a work detention center with a six year sentence.  This makes him learn his lesson, see the real people, and learn what they need.  It also has an interesting sequence in which the prisoners go to an African-American church to watch a movie…and receive the kindest of reception unlike many who Sullivan encountered (the NAACP organization wrote Sturges thanking him for the portrayal which didn’t resort to stereotypes).

sullivans travels laughing church joel mccrea mickey mouse

This group really digs Mickey Mouse and Pluto…

Both Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake are strong as the leads in the picture.  Their acting style fits the time.  It isn’t today’s style of acting or performance, but it works in the movie.  It is pretty hard to make both characters “rough” in scenes where they are supposed to be undercover and on the roads of America, but it (like the acting) is pretty typical of films at the time.

Overall, Sullivan’s Travels is an interesting picture, but it also raises some questions through its story.  Sturges preaches within the movie against movies with heavy handed drama and a social message, and the last third of the movie turns into exactly what he claims to be against.  This was a criticism of the film at the time and still seems to be a valid criticism.  I wish the picture in that sense had been a bit more balanced because it almost feels out of left field in the way it is presented and so deep in the film.  Regardless of this oddity in its telling, Sullivan’s Travels is a great picture of the time and worth seeking out.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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