Friday, February 19, 2016

Family Movie Night: Sullivan's Travels

Title: Sullivan's Travels
Director: Preston Sturges
Original Release: 1941
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
My Wife is on a mission, a mission to share as many screwball comedies as possible with our daughter.  It all started with a couple of Cary Grant movies over Christmas break.  The Purple Penguin expressed curiosity in more of the same.  Now there's a list of 30+ films posted on the refrigerator.  I expect our Family Movie Nights will draw heavily from that list in the coming months.

Preston Sturges was one of the masters of the genre.  Sullivan's Travels, produced during his strongest creative period, is a social satire.  The title character, played by Joel McCrea, is a movie director, successful but restless.  Bored with his usual comedies, he longs for something with more relevance.  He sets off on an adventure, determined to observe the plight of the downtrodden.  Nothing goes according to plan, though he manages to learn quite a lot anyway.  He makes a friend, too: an unnamed "Girl" played by Veronica Lake, all of 18 years old at the beginning of filming, not to mention six months pregnant.

Some of the film's commentary is obviousSullivan discovers the societal importance of comedy, as expressed in the movie's most famous line: "There's a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that's all some people have? It isn't much, but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan. Boy!"  Other messages are more subtle.  Sullivan is consistently able to get out of what could be life-ruining trouble simply because he is rich and well-connected.

Sullivan's epiphany comes at a movie screening at a Southern African-American church.  The minister and the congregation sing "Go Down Moses" before playing host to a group of white prisoners.  Despite the memorable musical performance, none of the black actors in the scene were credited.  Even so, the film earned high praise from the NAACP at the time for the characters' respectful portrayal.

14 comments:

  1. This is one of my favorite old movie--I am pretty sure I've blogged about it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looked on your site but couldn't find it. I'd be very interested to know more of your thoughts.

      Delete
    2. Neither could I... I thought I had written about it. I showed this movie to a film group I used to be a part of. When we started to discuss, a guy who was generally quiet, and who had spent some time in the Pacific during WW2, told this joke that was going around on the islands: "What's a fisherman's paradise?" Answer, "A night on Veronica Lake" The group laughed so hard it took a while for us to get back to the discussion.

      Delete
    3. It's easy to imagine how she would have been a popular pinup for the GIs...

      Delete
  2. Too bad they never credited the actors, but I have a soft spot for those old comedies mainly because Carey Grant was wonderful at it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He certainly was and I'm pretty sure there are more Carey Grant movies on the list. Philadelphia Story, especially, is one of our family favorites.

      Delete
  3. I love this film because it can be relevant even today. My favourite scene is the famous one where he is watching a cartoon and comedy. I also found this scene to be very respectful of the African Americans at a time when it was still aok to wear blackface (thinking they were being respectful), every movie had some black maid in it and if the Nicholas Bros. were in a musical, they could easily be edited out for the Southern States. Cary Grant is one of the best in this type of comedy at this time. Why did you give this film only 3 stars? I would have given it 4.5:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tend to be generous with 3s but stingy with 4s and 5s. Sullivan's Travels is a very strong 3 but for me to give a movie a 4, I have to want to watch it again. That said, given the interests of the women in my family, I expect I'll watch it again anyway. As such, it's entirely possible the film could grow on me over time. We'll see.

      Delete
  4. As always, I find myself attempting damage control. Probably irritated you with my thoughts about old movies. And won't do myself any favors by admitting I saw Cary Grant in Philadelphia Story last week and wasn't overly impressed (although I'm more familiar with North by Northwest, and a slightly less recent rewatch of that was enjoyable), despite its glowing reputation. Anyway, I do like old movies, and some of them, more than just Citizen Kane, are timeless in my book, such as Bogie's one-two punch of Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, and Marlon Brando has proven equally reliable. Older comedy I enjoy would apparently heavily feature Peter Sellers (the Pink Panther movies, Dr. Strangelove), plus James Garner's wacky Westerns (Support Your Local Gunfigher/Sheriff).

    And eventually, I'll just stop bugging you entirely. Probably by spontaneously combusting...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't mind thoughtful disagreements, Tony.

      I'll address more thoughts re: the history of film on your blog but as long as we're here, what I love about Philadelphia Story is the writing. The stretch from when the journalists first enter the house to when Stewart gets caught swiping the lighter is darn near flawless. Come to think of it, Grant isn't even in that sequence. It's all Hepburn, Stewart and the under-appreciated Ruth Hussey. So, so good.

      Delete
  5. I have never seen this one- but I absolutely love that you have such a long list of movies for family movie night. What an awesome tradition! :)
    ~Jess

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a wonderful tradition. Six years and counting!

      Delete
  6. I might have to check it out! I've never heard of it!

    ReplyDelete