I finally saw Sullivan’s Travels for the first time last month. I had heard great things, and it’s on AFI’s Top 100 Film list, but I can’t say it became an instant favourite.
Preston Sturges is often described as a genius, and there were remarkable elements to this film. For one, I’ve never heard a stronger argument for the value of comedy versus more “serious” films. The insights into the nature of poverty are remarkable. The butler’s speech to Sullivan before he heads out on his experiment is possibly my favourite in the film. And I give full credit to Sturges for being one of the first writers in Hollywood to make the successful transition to directing.
But there were also elements of the film that struck me as odd, or just downright silly. The ridiculous pursuit of Sullivan by the entourage in the bus, as they speed through the countryside. The pool scene where everyone, inevitably, falls in. These gags may have been fresh and hilarious in 1941, but they seem tired to me.
When Sullivan is hit over the head as he hands out money to the homeless, and wakes up in court, I thought it was a dream sequence. It’s not until they haul him off to the swamp jail that I realized it wasn’t a dream.
My last gripe about the film: how on earth can you devote so much screen time and lines to a character who is only ever called “The Girl”? Especially when she gives such a strong performance as Veronica Lake does. Incidentally, this was my first VL film, and I have to say I really like her. That husky voice, that wavy hair, and that attitude. Wonderful.
I’m curious to see more of Preston Sturges’ work, but I’d say I’m more enamoured of Veronica Lake.