Director: Preston Sturges
Original Release: 1941
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
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 obvious. Sullivan 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.