Sullivan’s Travels Screen 13 articles

Sullivan’s Travels

1941

Sullivan’s Travels Poster
  • The New Republic: Manny Farber
    December 21, 1942 | Farber on Film (p. 41)

    "Sullivan's Travels," unlike his other movies, was immature in its philosophy, formless, and without a single discerning characterization; but it had an astonishing display of film technique. Taking the best qualities of all his movies, it is apparent that Sturges is the most progressively experimental worker in Hollywood (aside from cartoon-makers) since the early days.

  • Sturges never possessed [Frank Capra's] ambitions, yet he approaches, in Sullivan’s Travels, the very territory that would ultimately undo the Capra ethic.

  • Despite often being cited as his masterpiece, SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS is Preston Sturges' most deeply ambiguous and contradictory film. Though much of his work subtly underscores the discrepancies between varying levels of the socioeconomic strata, SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS explicitly centers on issues of upper crust naiveté and class guilt...

  • The film has sometimes been read as a defence of Hollywood escapism, but what Sturges is really doing is putting down the awful liberal solemnities of problem pictures and movies with a message. Whatever, Sullivan's Travels is a gem, an almost serious comedy not taken entirely seriously, with wonderful dialogue, eccentric characterisations, and superlative performances throughout.

  • Preston Sturges's remarkable autobiographical fantasy (1941) about a famous comedy director (Joel McCrea) who, after years of turning out things like Ants in Your Pants of 1940, yearns to create a great social statement. The lesson he learns—on a research trip through America's seamy underside—is that the downtrodden masses need Mickey Mouse more than Marx. A dubious proposition, but in Sturges's hands a charming one, filled out by his unparalleled sense of eccentric character.

  • Sullivan’s Travels is quite unequivocal in its stance: a full recognition of the fact that the American experience is a real nightmare to a large segment of its citizens, and the almost equally plain conclusion that there is nothing one can do about it, making the film a curious mix of daring social criticism and tremendous resignation.

  • In scrutinizing the erosion of Sullivan’s certainty... Sullivan’s Travels challenges us in the way a genuinely apolitical movie never could. It records experiences that are familiar, even for those without a filmmaker’s wealth: the feeling that we can’t get away from our station, the fear that our efforts at understanding other people will reek of fraudulence. Comedy’s hard, but empathy’s harder.

  • SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS mixes Sturges' signature sharp dialogue and with "autobiographical fantasy" (Dave Kehr) that manages dignity to those featured in the Walter Evans-like scenes of the less fortunate while maintaining the charm and humor of its main storyline.

  • Peculiarly, Sturges creates two movies in one: the comedy it's framed as, and the earnest and grim drama that the story, and for that matter, ultimately Sullivan himself repudiate. Sullivan's thesis, about the frivolity of comedy in difficult times, is one thing. Sturges' turns out to be another. In effect, he's attempting to justify the making of a comedy during the Depression, the idea of providing frivolous entertainment to people in desperate straits.

  • To understand the depths of Sturges's reflexivity, nearly each scene requires a double take where what's being stated by the film's characters is taken bluntly in one sense, but read as procedural, Hollywood hypocrisy in another. That is, characters spend much of the film's first half explaining why filmmakers should steer clear of lingering within impoverished spaces, only for the second half of Sullivan's Travels to do just that...

  • If Sullivan's Travels mounts an argument for anything, it's complexity and ambition in filmmaking, as practiced by an artist who is, unlike Sullivan, rather smarter than he lets on. Sturges might have conceived the film as a journey that would lead you to the belief that he was a simple workman, unconcerned with developing his art—but I say you can't get there from here.

  • Sullivan’s epiphany comes with the laughter he and the other prison inmates share at a screening of a Disney cartoon (Playful Pluto, 1934). The rescued Sullivan’s final speech about the necessity of comedy is delivered almost directly to us. That it follows the bleakest scenes Sturges had ever filmed is completely appropriate for an artist who never met a paradox he didn’t love.

  • Glorious in ways that need no belaboring, held back only by its slightly simplistic moral and the necessity to mostly sideline Veronica Lake once Sully is presumed dead. Lake's subsequent career trajectory is a frighteningly speedy slide into obscurity, and only Sturges appears to have recognized where her talent lied: right at the improbable intersection of jaded and ardent. Her largely blasé yet still visibly excited reaction when she learns Sullivan's true identity is miraculous.

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