Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sullivan's Travels

Sullivan's Travels; Comedy/ Drama, USA, 1941; D: Preston Sturges, S: Joel McRea, Veronica Lake, Robert Warwick

John Sullivan is a famous Hollywood director who plans a new movie, drama "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". In order to meet poor people for the needs of the movie, he disguises himself as a bum and starts to explore the world. But, by luck, he constantly gets the easiest and most glamorous jobs and always ends up in Hollywood. Then he meets an unemployed actress who also disguises herself as a bum. At the end of her adventure, Sullivan decides to give all unemployed people 1.000 $, but gets robbed and arrested. He ends up as a convict on a farm, but then "admits" in the newspaper how he killed Sullivan (himself!) and thus the producers go to get him and bail him out.

"Sullivan's Travels" starts with a brilliant sequence: on a train, two men are fighting and then fall into the river and die while the title "The End" shows up on the screen. Then director Sullivan stands up from his seat and starts explaining his movie to the producers with these words: "You see the symbol? The message is that the capitalists and the working class destroy each other!" It immediately shows that Preston Sturges has a sly sense for satire, but as the movie progresses it also shows that he can quickly get lost in aimless writing. Namely, the wonderful absurdity of the story becomes marginalized in the second, weaker half, yet "Travels" are still a very good "old" classic in which the famous author inserts a lot of autobiographical elements and smoothly leads the plot. A few kitschy dialogues, convulsive situations, unfunny jokes and regression into drama in the last third are still minimal flaws compared to the main virtues. One of them is definitely the hilarious getaway scene where the hero escapes from a house while he is "observed" by a face of a man on a painting that constantly subtly "changes" it's expression. The other one is when he is angered that convicts are laughing at a silly Mickey Mouse cartoon, but then starts to laugh himself, wherein the author sends a message how even the most primitive form of entertainment is needed to ease the harsh lives of the viewers.


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