Preston Sturges simultaneously lampoons and embraces Hollywood in his comedy masterpiece Sullivan’s Travels (1941).
A very low-key Joel McCrea play John Sullivan, a popular Hollywood director of lowbrow hits like Ants in Your Pants of 1939 who decides to make a serious film about social strife and human suffering called O Brother, Where Art Thou (a title later borrowed by the Coen Bros. in tribute to Sturges) and hits the road as a hobo to research the film.
Nobody marries crackling wit and spirited slapstick like Sturges, who brings a sassy edge to this satirical road movie through depression era America and the out-of-touch plenty of la-la-land (where well-meaning rich white men take it upon themselves to speak for the common man), yet imbues his heroes with a loving dignity. The celebration of the simple joys of Hollywood comedies may seem like a self-serving defense of Sturges’ art, but it’s so magical and genuine and full of hilarious ego-puncturing moments that it overcomes the overly sentimental finale.
Veronica Lake gives a career best performance as the sadder-but-wiser starlet wannabe who joins his odyssey and the whole darn Sturges stock company checks in with marvelous jewels of character bits. It’s a masterpiece from Hollywood’s master of satire, and the most personal film of his career.
It was added to the National Film Registry in 1990.
Black and white
Criterion presents the supplements featured on the special edition Blu-ray, including a documentary on Sturges and video essay.
Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Sullivan’s Travels (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Sullivan’s Travels (Criterion Collection) [DVD]
Sullivan’s Travels (Universal) [DVD]
On DVD from Universal and special edition Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. The latter includes commentary by filmmakers and fans Noah Baumbach, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean, the documentary feature Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer originally made for the PBS showcase American Masters, a video essay by film critic David Cairns featuring filmmaker Bill Forsyth, an interview with Sturges’ widow Sandy Sturges from 2001, and audio interviews with Sturges (one by Hedda Hopper).