Sullivan’s Travels (1942/2012)

by | Apr 2, 2012 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Sullivan’s Travels (1942/2012)
Starring: Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake
Director: Preston Sturges
Studio: Universal 61120207 [3/6/12]
Video: 4:3 B&W
Audio: English PCM mono
Extras: Theatrical trailer, The Carl Laemmle Era, The Lew Wasserman Era
Length: 1 hr. 31 min.
Rating: ****

Another in Universal’s series of reissues celebrating 100 years of their existence, and well worth viewing if you haven’t seen this classic before. It should be of prime interest to all movie fans, since it’s one of the best satires on Hollywood ever filmed. It has similar screwball and romantic elements to the films of Frank Capra, and is probably Sturges’ greatest achievement.
Director Sullivan in the movie is one of the Hollywood’s leading lights, known for his popular escapist-type comedy features. But he wants to direct a more serious film about problems in society—a film he has titled O Brother, Where Art Thou? (about seven decades ahead of its time!). His studio heads think he’s nuts, but he sets out disguised as a hobo to ride the rails and learn about life’s crueler lessons.
He quickly runs into the Veronica Lake character, who is trying to return home after a fruitless attempt to make it big in Hollywood. Somehow she cynically joins him on his hobo odyssey, but they are followed at some distance by a huge RV filled with reporters and studio people to report on his experiences. After a while Sullivan decides he’s learned enough to make the picture he wants to do, and the studio has a big celebration. Part of the celebration involves Sullivan going back to the hobo area and giving out $5 bills to everyone. That makes him the target of a thief who mugs him and throws him unconscious into a leaving railroad boxcar.
Now he really experiences the wrong side of the tracks, including getting unfairly arrested and put on a chain gang. The movie suddenly takes a downbeat, darker turn to social realism. Sullivan learns that the press reported his death, mistaking the thief who robbed him and was then hit by a train for himself, due to his ID sewn into the shoes which the thief also took. Sullivan says he was the killer of the famous movie director, gets his picture in the press, and finally is freed, all explained, and he is returned to his Hollywood life, with lovely Lake at his side. While he was a captive on the chain gang the prisoners were shown a movie cartoon at a black church and all laughed uproariously. Sullivan thinks back to that and realizes that laughter is vital to life and that’s what he’s good at, so he decides not to make the switch to heavy social realist cinematic art after all. (Talk about escapism: there’s not a soul in uniform anywhere in the film and no mention of the war going on.)
The transfer looks excellent, but the two bonus features are the same Universal documentaries found on all of this 100th Anniversary series. The 2001 Criterion Collection version (though more expensive) probably looks about the same, but has many more appropriate extras—including Preston Sturges interviewed by Hedda Hopper, and a 76-minute documentary on him.
—John Sunier

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