Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Sullivan’s Travels (32:45)

Sullivan's Travels

The 29th edition of The Top 100 Project takes us on a roadtrip of screwball! This is the only time we’ll review a Preston Sturges picture and it’s also our only peek at actors Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake. We name-drop a half-dozen great directors and many of their films in this podcast…everything from Hugo to Argo! We also debate the merits of Sullivan’s Travels’ message (and its comedy…or lack thereof). And we do it all…“with a little sex.”

7 thoughts on “Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

  1. Bev, I totally agree that the tone of this movie is inconsistent. The latter part starting with Sully going to jail seems like a different movie altogether, jarringly so, and it kept me from loving the film the first time I saw it. Your other main point about justice never being served on him never occurred to me, but you’re right. And really, the message of the film is on the simple side. But even with these flaws, I still love this film. And I do find the funny parts very funny. Lake and McCrea may not have had romantic chemistry, but they had great comedic chemistry. I enjoy the fast pace of the banter between them in the diner and in the car; those back-to-back scenes are my two favourites in the movie. It’s unfortunate that Lake let herself slide so quickly, because she’s got lots of star appeal in this one. And yes, Sully’s meeting with the studio heads at the beginning is sharp, too. And the opening scene on top of the train must have influenced ‘Top Secret,’ among other things.

  2. Hi Ryan and Bev,
    I felt compelled to reply to this one. I had never heard of this film prior to the AFI list. Upon researching it, the concept seemed vaguely intriguing, so I decided to check it out.
    After seeing the film and listening to the podcast, I’m glad you guys didn’t pull any punches…I detest this film.
    It has no business being on this list. I was so offended by many aspects of this movie, I was actually angry watching it. I’m very forgiving of old movies that contain things we deem offensive nowadays, but I couldn’t with this. I thought John L. Sullivan was irredeemably narcissistic. Veronica Lake added nothing. Their performances are wooden, devoid of any charm or chemistry. The humor is forced and derivative. It’s emotionally manipulative. But most egregious of all, I feel as though Sturgess treats the plight of the less fortunate with as much flippancy as his title character (who, let’s face it, still doesn’t giving a flying turd about the poor even after putting himself through all of those experiences). I’m not even convinced that Sullivan’s intentions are in any way altruistic, it seems he simply wanted to improve his reputation as an director and for people to pat him on the back for being such a martyr to his art. The film’s characters and director seem equally out of touch, and the self-congratulatory 360 this movie takes really left a bad taste in my mouth. I mean, honestly, Sullivan deciding he didn’t want to make “O Brother, Where art Thou?” wasn’t a reflection of the healing power of humor. That was him saying “I don’t wanna experience all that again. Better let those people deal with it rather that than me”. (The Coen Brothers surely did a better job than he would have anyway). When he returned to his “normal” life, he wasted no time in divorcing his wife, hooking up with the Girl (at least give her a name!), and reveling in his coddled lifestyle. Ultimately, he learned nothing, and it’s all inconsequential.
    I can defend the very progressive views of race relations the film depicts for its time, and the church scene is quite stirring. But on the whole, it just didn’t work for me at all. Really, how is this on the list? Is it that scene? Is it because they use the word ‘sex’ and that was groundbreaking for it’s time? Or was it that they wanted to include the original “kiss their own butt” hurray for Hollywood film?
    Did I miss that boat on this one? Am I being too harsh? Am I missing the satire of it, as you guys mentioned? Don’t get me wrong, I will always be a movie nerd and I thank Hollywood for bringing so much joy into people’s lives. However, movies like this really turn me off. If you hadn’t noticed.
    Maybe I should watch “The Lady Eve”. I want to like Sturgess, but it seems we’re off to a rough start.

    1. Haha, I was so worked up about this film I made a bunch of goofy typos! “An director” lol, sorry about that!

      1. Thanks Scott! It’s reassuring that I’m not the only one! I was worried after we recorded this episode that my hair trigger was too sensitive and I was overreacting. But, months later, I’m still bothered that Sullivan’s Travels is held up as a pillar of cinema. It’s one thing to forgive a film for anachronistic social attitudes when it’s a real pillar like Gone With The Wind (which shows far more nuance to the subject of inequality than ST does), but Sullivan’s Travels just isn’t good enough to make up for its condescending portrayal of poverty and injustice. I hope this doesn’t spoil The Lady Eve for you. Sturgess, like Sullivan, was better when he stuck to escapist comedies.
        -Bev

  3. Update…one year later…

    I FINALLY caught the Lady Eve on TCM this week, and…I really liked it!! After listening to your ‘cast on that one, I agree that there was some chemistry lacking between the two leads, but it didn’t sully the film for me. It’s a rock solid rom-com with delightful characters and wonderfully snappy dialogue!
    Sturgess, you have been (mostly) forgiven.

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