Sullivan's Travels (1941)
May 18, 2021 10:27 PM - Subscribe
John L. Sullivan, a $4,000-a-week director of comedies such as So Long, Sarong and 1939's Ants in Your Plants sets out to experience the hard life as a tramp to prepare himself for his next more serious movie: O Brother, Where Art Thou? -- against the wishes of his studio and staff, and with the somewhat involuntary help of an owl wagon met frail, or perhaps beasel is the term.
Watching the movie again, it’s easy to see how the Coen brothers also modelled their screenwriting style—with its conspicuous coinages, sassy catchphrases, and blend of the high-flown with recondite slang—on Sturges. They also took from Sturges the fundamental tension between the desire to say something and the need to show something. And, as great as the Coen brothers are, Sturges has stayed a step ahead of them in one particular regard: he filmed his Hollywood conflicts and self-doubts in the present tense.
-- Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Preston Sturges need make no excuses for the dominance of comedy on the screen, since he has done more than any one over the last two years to give brightness and bounce and authority to this general type of fare. But apparently he thinks it time that some one break a lance in the muse's defense—and maybe he also is anxious to quiet a still, small voice within himself. For his latest film, "Sullivan's Travels," which rolled into the Paramount yesterday, is a beautifully trenchant satire upon "social significance" in pictures, a stinging slap at those fellows who howl for realism on the screen and a deftly sardonic apologia for Hollywood make-believe.Sardonic? How comes that word to creep in so slyly there? The answer is simple. Mr. Sturges is a charmingly sarcastic chap, and his pokes are not aimed exclusively at the "deep-dish" in screen attitudes. He also makes pointed sport, in his own blithely mischievous way, of Hollywood's lavish excesses, of baldly staged publicity stunts and of motion picture producers whose notion of art is "a little sex." As a writer and director, Mr. Sturges believes in pictures which will make the customers laugh, but he obviously has his own opinions about the shams of showmanship. And thus this truly brilliant serio-comedy which makes fun of films with "messages" carries its own paradoxical moral and its note of tragedy. Laughter, it says, is "better than nothing in this cock-eyed caravan."
-- Bosley Crowther, NYT, 1942