32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sturges' Travels well worth the journey
Any Preston Sturges film even the lesser ones are worth watching for their snappy dialogue and comedic sequences alone. With "Sullivan's Travels" we catch Sturges at the top of his game. Joel McCrea the everyman of the 40's turns in a terrific performance as the bright but lightweight director John Sullivan (Sully to his friends). Sully wants to make serious pictures...
Published on March 26, 2005 by Wayne Klein
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Criterion version is better.
I bought this Universal 100th Anniversary DVD of "Sullivan's Travels" thinking it would be the same quality as the Criterion DVD that came out a few years ago. It's ALMOST the same but the quality of the Criterion version is better overall. Also, the Criterion version has a bunch of bonus features that are not on this DVD. It's a good thing I didn't sell the Criterion...
Published 24 months ago by Asaidi
Most Helpful First | Newest First
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sturges' Travels well worth the journey,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Any Preston Sturges film even the lesser ones are worth watching for their snappy dialogue and comedic sequences alone. With "Sullivan's Travels" we catch Sturges at the top of his game. Joel McCrea the everyman of the 40's turns in a terrific performance as the bright but lightweight director John Sullivan (Sully to his friends). Sully wants to make serious pictures after a career of churning out lightweight comedies. His next project "O Brother Where Art Thou" (wittily referenced in the Cohen brothers film of the same name nearly six decades later)will be a socially conscious look at the suffering of the common man. The only problem is that Sully knows absolutely nothing about suffering or hardship. Sully decides to rough it as a hobo and discovers much more than he wanted to about suffering. He meets "The Girl" (Veronica Lake lovely as ever)and discovers more about the world than he ever imagined.
Sturges fell into drama when he became ill and read about creating dramas while recooperating. His first major play "Strictly Dishonorable" became a huge Broadway hit in the 30's. As a child Sturges' mother became "friends" with Isadora Duncan and Sturges was dragged around with the two of them and had a very unconvetional upbringing nicely profiled in the original PBS Emmy winning documentary "Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer". "The Power and the Glory" Sturges first written screenplay earned him over $17,000 in the 30's against the profits of the film by producer Jesse Lasky. Sturges already had made enemies in Hollywood by becoming wildly successful as an independent writer and later director. Featuring interviews with friends and Sturges' last widow, vintage footage, stills & footage from his productions and home movies of Sturges, Kenneth Bowser's excellent documentary provides insight into Sturges' career as a writer and film director.
There's also storyboards, blueprints for the sets, original publicity materials, the original theatrical trailer, a Hedda Hopper interview with Struges, recordings of Struges' original song "My Love" and poem "If I Were King", this is one of the best Criterion releases out there. The image quality on the disc in this new digital transfer is beautiful looking. While the price is a bit steep, this terrific DVD is well worth it
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars VERONICA LAKE'S BIG BREAK A TREAT ON DVD,
After a string of B-movies, legendary cool babe, Veronica Lake graduated to the big time in this screwball message picture by director, Preston Sturges. Actor, Joel McCrea is John L. Sullivan, a director of frothy film comedies who desires to make a truly gritty motion picture about the "suffering of humanity". One problem - he doesn't know the first thing about suffrage, having been born with a silver spoon and thrust into a lucrative career with money to burn. So what's a desperate rich guy to do? He decides to impersonate a hobo and ride the rails in search of 'real' life. He finds Veronica Lake and a heap of trouble instead.
For once - a Criterion disc I can actually recommend on every level. First, the DVD quality of this classic film is bar none the most outstanding effort from Criterion thus far. The gray scale is superbly balanced. Blacks are black. Contrast and shadow levels are amazing. Fine details are well represented. There is some minor edge enhancement and aliasing, but it is so slight and infrequent that I really shouldn't be mentioning it at all. There's barely any digital or film grain for a smooth, thoroughly captivating visual presentation. The audio is mono but cleaned up in such a way that one hardly notices its dated shortcomings.
AT LAST - as an extra, Criterion gives us "Preston Sturges: A Life" a thoroughly engrossing, in-depth, full fledged documentary on the man, the making of this movie, as well as a time line documenting Sturges' many other films with a multitude of background material and snippets from each of the movies in Sturges' canon. The documentary is so good, you'll want to watch it twice. Yes, there's also an audio commentary and the usual Lux Radio junket that accompanies most Criterion classic titles. But the documentary is what counts here.
BOTTOM LINE: A MUST HAVE DISC FOR ANY FILM BUFF!
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Criterion Transfer of a Classic,
Sullivan's Travels is one of a group of comedy classics created by Preston Sturges during the early to mid-forties, each and every one a gem. Everyone will have a favourite (my personal weak spot is The Lady Eve) but Sullivan's Travels grows in my affections with every viewing. It is always remarkable to witness how influential the movie is, particularly, but not exclusively, in the works of the Coen brothers. Joel McRae is playing the director who goes looking for the underbelly of America and along the way he finds Veronica Lake. She could not be equaled, from the first moment her famous look is seen in the film until her laughter at the end. She looked like a smoldering noir femme fatale and spoke and acted like a screwball comedienne. It was a style not suited for many pictures but it was a perfect match for Preston Sturges in this one and she does very well by him and vice versa. The change in the movie from comedy to pathos, troubing and too abrupt for some viewers, is beautifully handled and the church sequence with the prisoners and the black parishioners is astonishing and handled with great cinematic skill. Criterion must also be congratulated, again, for the wonderful extras, particularly the documentary on Sturges.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh Preston, Where Art Thou?,
This review is from: Sullivan's Travels [VHS] (VHS Tape)
I, like many others of my generation I suspect, first came to know of writer/director Preston Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels" via its association with the Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The latter movie took its name from a film-within-the-film from the former. John L. Sullivan, a director of successful lowbrow comedies, unhappy with his lofty lot in life, itches to make a socially conscious drama about poverty called... wait for it... "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" When it's pointed out that Sullivan, borne from the lap of luxury, could not possibly know the first thing about being poor, he decides to raid the movie studio's costume department for a hobo's outfit, and ride the rails in order to gain some life experience.
From these rather high concept beginnings, one would expect to find a straightforward comedy wherein our hero comes to realize that the poor are people too. That movie is here, to be sure, but it's not presented in any conventional manner. In fact, that part of the story is basically covered within the first thirty minutes. Which leaves the discerning audience member, one who's been paying attention all along and is well-versed in cinematic narrative convention, wondering, "Where do we go from here?" It is to Sturges' ultimate credit that this question is answered in due time and with tremendous skill.
The film is mostly a pure comedy, able to dabble in all different kinds of humour, indulging in farce, screwball, verbal wit, and light romance. But Sturges proves a master at mixing tones, as he is also able to dip a toe into harsh drama, straight social commentary, suspense thriller, and bold satire. It's one of the most versatile films I know, in that it takes a bite from every dish at the buffet, allowing them all to digest together perfectly. Sturges is also a master at using a variety of visual styles to tell his story. He is a wizard of shot composition, framing each scene for maximum stylish effect, but never putting too heavy a hand on the audience's shoulder. And he is at home equally in scenes composed entirely of long, dialogue-heavy takes, or in quickly-edited scenes of mayhem and madness.
But it is Sturges' script that best exemplifies the man's limitless talents. Despite its unconventionality, it's perfectly structured. And even though it relies on several far-fetched coincidences to move the story along, those coincidences never feel manipulative, in that they fit in perfectly with the rag-tag universe Sturges has created. The dialogue, Sturges' bread and butter, is voracious in its wordiness, but very rarely is a word wasted. Every line either contributes to the plot or provides some quick comedy. And oh what lines he's written! There's the oft-quoted rejoinder, which follows Sullivan's plea to the studio execs to allow him to make a movie about society's ills, that it also include "a little sex?" These same studio execs typify the oxymoronic, paradoxical, and epigrammatic dialogue when they proclaim the eccentric but successful Sullivan a "bonehead... but what a genius!" Even the opening dedication is a paradigm of pyrotechnic wordplay, as it calls attention to the "motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons" who make us laugh. That being said, while letting the audience rely on his verbosity to understand the story, Sturges throws in a rather lengthy dialogue-free montage near the movie's middle, that succinctly moves the story through a lot exposition, without ever seeming tedious. O Preston, in these times of hack screenwriters and half-baked ideas, where art thou now?
For the titular character, Sturges chooses Joel McCrea, a rather likable fellow and a bit of a Ryan O'Neal look-alike. He plays Sullivan with straight-laced comic timing and just a hint of gravitas. McCrea, who made three movies with Sturges, ably fills Sullivan's shoes, detailing the man's self-satisfaction, his obliviousness to the world around him, but also his humanity. McCrea also has to act as the film's de facto straight man, especially in the scenes featuring the manic menagerie sent by the studio to watch out for him. Despite some slight fumbles in the middle of the longer takes, McCrea is a proficient guide through Preston-land.
"How does the girl fit in this picture?" asks a jailhouse police officer of Sullivan. "There's always a girl in the picture," comes the reply. "Haven't you ever been to the movies?" With this quick exchange, Sturges is able to both parody and consent to the practice of having a love interest in light comedies. So Sullivan must be matched with a girl. His partner in crime, billed cheekily as "The Girl" in the film's credits, is Veronica Lake. Lake, combined with the solid part that Sturges gives her, rises above her seemingly stock character, to portray a woman of intense realism. In her first scene with McCrea, she brings forth all the girl's most tangible qualities: she is morose, witty, cute as a button, generous, attractive, and armed with a super sexy laugh. Lake is a spunky little spitfire, the prototype for an actress such as Holly Hunter, but armed with a mountain of real-girl sex appeal that makes her far more attractive. She is more than an able match for McCrea, giving credence to their burgeoning, but always subdued, love affair.
"Sullivan's Travels" is many things to many people. I, for one, think its greatest thematic strength is in its satire (its title isn't similar to Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" by accident), detailing how the liberal upper class loves to pander to those less fortunate, but really doesn't want to get too close to the unwashed masses, lest their white gloves get dirty. Sullivan, in the end, does learn some lessons, but is he really a changed man at all? Best set up shop again behind his guarded gates, and focus on his trifling little comedies. For, as the film's ostensible thesis statement says, "There's a lot to be said for making people laugh." Touche, Mr. Sturges, touche.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sullivan's Travels: Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow,
At the beginning of writer-director Preston Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels," worried Hollywood studio heads resist director John Sullivan's (Joel McCrea) desire to make a socially important movie about America's poor, telling him that such a movie cannot be made, least of all by him -- a director of such cheerful comedies as "Hey Hey In The Hayloft" and "Ants In Your Plants of 1939" -- because he simply doesn't know anything about the huddled masses upon whom he intends to shine his moral lantern. Sullivan therefore dresses as a tramp and sets out to get a first-hand look at what a tramp's life is really like. For the rest of the movie (ostensibly a comedy), Sullivan endures the indignities, hardships and outrageous injustice to which tramps are indifferently and routinely subjected. By this amazing feat of paralepsis (that is, the device of emphasizing a thing by omitting it or mentioning it only cursorily), Sturges manages to present precisely the socially-significant, "Important" picture that he never stops telling us cannot be made. Along the way, he also succeeds where Shakespeare's clowns in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" fail, viz., he creates "very tragical mirth."
Possibly his best movie, "Sullivan's Travels" is one of the greatest movies ever made. Sturges' extraordinarily literate and witty dialogue has never been matched, very rarely even approached (although John Collier's wonderful dialogue in "Deception" is a real contender). Yet for all his sophistication and the scintillating brilliance of his rapid-fire dialogue, Sturges was also a master of lowbrow buffoonery and regularly included extended sequences with no dialogue whatsoever. He was adept at everything he took an interest in, and he was interested in everything. He loved all aspects of movie making, and his pictures -- "Sullivan's Travels" especially -- are wonderfully cinematic, full of amazing crane shots, extraordinarily long dolly shots and other displays of virtuoso camera work. But his virtuosity -- unlike, say, Orson Welles' -- is at all times tempered by discretion and an irreproachable sense of what is suitable and necessary. His cinematography is as ingenious as Welles', but less ostentatious, more aesthetically pleasing, and always, always to the purpose. "Sullivan's Travels" is one of the strangest blends of comedy and drama that you're likely to see. It's usually categorized as a comedy, but despite the exceptionally witty banter and a few masterfully choreographed slapstick set-pieces, don't be surprised if you don't remember laughing when it's over. For despite the superbly antic dialogue and the incredible number of sharply-delineated comic types capering about on its surface, "Sullivan's Travels" is an unusually serious-minded picture. Each comic sequence plays in the shadow of drama; the drama, moreover, is of rare and surprising intensity. It presents as stark a depiction of Depression Era misery as anything in "The Grapes of Wrath" -- starker, if you ask me. For one thing, since "The Grapes of Wrath" takes place entirely among the poor, Tom Joad and his family exist, as it were, in a vacuum of destitution. Keeping the story entirely within the narrow confines of the Joad's world demonstrates restraint and (perhaps) artistic integrity, but such integrity comes at a price. For the poverty that initially startles and sickens us, loses, as we grow familiar with it, its powerful hold on our emotions. John Ford also succumbs, as he always does, to sentimentality: the sodden sweepings from Emotion's banquet -- as if the grim world he presents would be too much for us to bear if left unpalliated by a few Fordian flourishes of sugared-over "humanity."
"Sullivan's Travels" is an overtly emotional movie, refreshing for the sincerity and grandeur of its emotionalism. Often overbroad, nearly crude in its obviousness, it is never sentimental because, for all its exaggeration, it tells the truth. Sturges places poverty in context by emphasizing the stark difference between the lives of the rich and poor. Witty scenes depicting the empty-headed idle rich at play provide ironic contrast to scenes played among crowds of starving, hollow-eyed wraiths huddled into nightmarish work camps, charity wards and Hoovervilles. By themselves, the comic scenes at the Hollywood studio and at Sullivan's shimmering stucco mansion would be delicious and charming; juxtaposed amidst depictions of want, however, comedy starts to looks frivolous, even callous, nearly poisonous: the antithesis of comic relief. In "Sullivan's Travel's" comedy makes tragedy more desperately cruel. Yet it also argues convincingly that comedy is our only hope against despair.
The Criterion Collection's recent release of "Sullivan's Travels" is what DVD technology is all about. The crystal clear digital transfer alone makes the DVD well worth having, but there is also an excellent Emmy Award winning documentary about Sturges' life as well as an interesting interview with his widow, Sandy Sturges (an amazingly well-spoken, beautiful and likeable woman), and an often amusing commentary track featuring, among others, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my all time favorite films,
One of the great screen comedies, and one in a string of absolutely brilliant comedies that Preston Sturges made in the space of only a few years, unquestionably the hottest streak any comedy director has ever gone on in a short period of time. This film contains a great deal more slapstick than his other films, and a great deal more social satire. Sturges doesn't quite mean it as a "message" picture, but in the end it does have overtones of an apologia pro vita sua as a comedy director. Sturges wants to say that he is a comedy director, and he isn't going to apologize for it, because making people laugh in hard times is one of the highest functions of art.
SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS is one of two superb comedies that Joel McCrea made with Sturges, the other being the equally outstanding THE PALM BEACH STORY. As most are aware, McCrea plays director John L. Sullivan, who has made his mark in Hollywood directing lightweight comedies, such as the "Ants in Your Pants" series. But now he wants to make a serious, "meaningful" film: O Brother! Where Art Thou? The studio head points out that Sullivan knows nothing about real life, and conceding his point without giving up his intentions, Sullivan decides to hit the road and live as a hobo in order to discover real life.
Like nearly all Sturges films (at least before his rapid and dramatic decline in late 1944), this film features an absolutely outstanding cast. His best films seem to feature a cast with literally dozens of great character actors, and this is no exception. Most of the Sturges regulars are here, like William Demarest and Robert Warwick, along with a host of others whose faces will be familiar to any Sturges fan, even if the names are not. The film also features the first major role for Veronica Lake, who enjoyed only a short career at the top, but who endures in memory as one of most stunningly beautiful women in Hollywood history, so much an icon that in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, Kim Basinger's character was a prostitute who would be with men impersonating Veronica Lake.
Most Sturges films are characterized by their rapid-fire dialog, manic pace, and enormous wit. He always wrote his own scripts, and as good as he could be as a director, he was much better as a writer. For several years before becoming a director, he distinguished himself along with Billy Wilder as perhaps the premier comic writer in Hollywood. This film contains moments that are classic Sturges. For instance, while arguing with the head of the studio about his next film, his boss makes the point that his last escapist film did well in Pittsburgh. Sullivan retorts: "What do they know in Pittsburgh." Studio Head: "They know what they like." Sullivan: "Then what are they doing in Pittsburgh." But in this film, unlike his others, Sturges dramatically slows down the pace at several points, and allows the film to take a much more serious turn, so as to make his central points about the value of making people laugh.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and a Masterpiece,
This review is from: Sullivan's Travels (DVD)
Sullivan's Travels is a truly great movie, a screwball comedy of the highest order, but it is also sort of an unusual one. For one thing, it aims to set forth a justification for comedy. It has a thesis. The first half, or more, of ST is the comedy. Sullivan, a successful Hollywood director, wants to do more with his life through his work. Having made some very successful comedies like So Long Sarong, Hey Hey in the Hayloft, and Ants in Your Plants of 1939, Sullivan now wants to make a serious movie, O Brother Where Art Thou. The studio heads are not happy with that, but since Sullivan is their favorite, and something of a pet, they grudgingly agree.
However, Sullivan makes it hard for himself. Before he embarks on the project, he decides that, because of his sheltered life, he needs to take to the road as a hobo in order to properly experience the vicissitudes of existence. Sullivan is a sweet man, a simple man, and something of a naïf, and Joel McCrea is just perfect in the part. Everyone of course thinks he's crazy, even the girl (of course there's a girl) he meets and falls for, Sullivan has a wild card, his cushion, though. He's not really a bum, and he can always go back to his pampered luxurious existence whenever he chooses. Until one day....
Until tragedy befalls. ST is kind of twp movies. It's a comedy, then a tragedy, and then it attempts to reconcile the two with the comedy supervening. Decide for yourself if it succeeds. It's a gallant attempt, probably Sturges most ambitious movie when it comes to subject matter, and makes for a unique movie experience. Everyone is A+ in their roles. The dialog is as sharp as it can be, and of course this being a Sturges' movie that's saying something. There are eccentric supporting characters (a requisite of good screwball) and the plot keeps developing in novel but believable ways.
Lake is good--very effective, and very believable as the love interest. You want her and McCrea to get together, stays together, and have a good life. But it's McCrea's movie, and he is at the top of his comedy form. When I was growing up, he and Randolph Scott were the cowboy heroes for older kids (the two together more or less went out on a Western masterpiece, Ride the High Country). I didn't know until the advent of TCM and the old AMC that he had had this other career in comedy and romantic drama. Around this time, McCrea was also in The Palm Beach Story (another superb Sturges move), Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, sort of a screwball spy film, a very fine movie, and The More the Merrier, another screwball masterpiece. Earlier he had been in two excellent screwball comedies with Miriam Hopkins: The Richest Girl in the World and Woman Chases Man. Try them. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
McCrea is as adept with drama as he is with comedy. He's has such a natural easy style. He doesn't force effect on his line readings. In fact, like with a lot of actors of the naturalist just play yourself school, you tend to underrate him at first maybe. He gets his effect; he gives you your money's worth emotional payoff. And I don't know of many actors who could have so fluidly reconciled the movie's essential schizophrenia.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Rich People are the Theorists.",
Yes, they are and they refuse to stop trying to "help" the rest of us with their persistent self-righteousness. They always want to lift up the common man and their way of doing it is to sink the population deeply in the muck. Here, unlike with many a Hollywood offering and countless election, it is spoof we are given and thank God for that. That's the best way in which poverty manipulating silver spooned populists should be viewed. Sullivan has it all and decides to become a bum with 10 cents in his pocket-much to the chagrin of the studio heads he made rich. The only thing is that on the way to the gutter he meets a pretty fabulous girl. The plot then turns...well you'll find out.
This dialogue is cleverer than the MIT team that broke Vegas. The rapid fire delivery of the lines made me amazed that I had never heard of it before. When asked why he looked like a bum Sullivan says, "I just got done paying my taxes." His butler, planning his itinerary, they calls and asks the train company which one of their runs had the most tramps. Honestly, I think Sullivan's Travels has tremendous social significance. If only those people who celebrate the poor as being noble creatures would watch this and realize that poverty is never a quaint lifestyle choice. It's not something we can learn from. It's a condition from which everyone should aver.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deserves Its Lofty Reputation,
This is one of those films I keep rating higher each time I watch it.
At first I thought it was just "fair" and, frankly, overrated, but I don't think so now. I especially would recommend seeing this on the Criterion DVD version to get the best picture available. I'm not plugging that company because I think their discs are overpriced, but they do a great job giving you the best transfer of these classics you'll ever find and it made this film even better.
The story is very different: one that suddenly turns 180 degrees in the last segment. After a more lighthearted combination of drama and humor through much of the story, the film gets surprisingly rough in the last 20 minutes and is not always fun to watch and the leading man, Joel McCrea, goes through some very, very tough times.
This is one of Veronica Lake's more appealing roles and, although not a beautiful woman, she's intriguing enough - especially with her fabulous long blonde hair - to make me glad I have at least one sharp-looking film of hers.
Overall, this Preston Sturges-directed movie is good stuff and a classic film that deservedly still has a solid reputation.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EVERY FILM LOVER MUST OWN THIS FLICK!,
There is a certain magic in a Preston Sturges film that only few directors have. He had the knack to delve into every aspect of his films, from the casting to the costumes and when it came down to him directing Sturges knew how to paint a picture full of stark beauty and constant character driven moments! The story is simple film director John Sulllivan (McCrea) wants to make a film about human suffering so he confronts the studio heads about doing so. The sequence is so damn funny and honest you might wet yourself. They comply but when he wants to experince this sort of pain well they turn it into a big media machine that follows his path on a road of hunger and homelessness. On this road he meets "The Girl" (Veronica Lake)she is just as down on her career as he is on his self imposed "luck". The mayhem that ensues is both funny, dark and mostly true to life. Preston Sturges gives the film a "Hollywood" vision of hard luck. It never veers beyond the main characters and we never get a deep conversation between a faux drifter and a real one. But the film more than holds its own as a satire of a film inside of a film. When Sullivan is belived to be dead and must survive as a convicted homeless man he learns more about the human condition than he thought possible. The scenes of McCrea and Lake walking by a moonlit river that seems to sparkle like a thousand candles floating in the sea is just a gem to watch. The magic of this flick doesn't slow down for a second. It's a satire of a film about a man who wants pretend to be a new man, who meets a woman who wants to be a better woman, who just wants the man who is the man for her to love her no matter what kind of lifestyle he lives-now this is Hollywood, in its golden age!
Most Helpful First | Newest First
Sullivan's Travels by Preston Sturges (DVD - 2012)