Sullivan's Travels

Sullivan's Travels isa 1941 American comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges.


It is a satire about a movie director, played by Joel McCrea, who longs to make a socially relevant drama titled O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but eventually learns that comedies can be a more valuable contribution to society.

 

The title is taken loosely from Gulliver’s Travels, another story of self-discovery.

 

When the film was released, the U.S. was at war & the government's Censorship Office wouldn’t allow it to be exported overseas because of the brutal prison chain-gang scenes. They were afraid the scenes could be used as propaganda by the enemy.

 

The scene in a black Southern church is notable for the way the film treats the African-American characters with a level of respect unusual in films of the period.  In fact, the Secretary of the NAACP, wrote to Sturges to thank him for the “dignified and decent treatment of Negroes in this scene”.

 

In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked it as the #61 of the top 100 Greatest Movies of All Time.

 

Preston Sturges was one of the most successful and respected writer-directors of the 1940s. He was the 1st screenwriter to break though as a director, paving the way for the likes of John Huston & Billy Wilder.

 

He only became a playwright because a successful actress taunted him by saying that she was dating him only as material for the play she was writing, & he made an excellent guinea pig.

 

Preston retorted that if she could write a play, he could write a better one. As a result, he wrote his first play, titled The Guinea Pig, and it made it all the way to Broadway.

 

He continued writing plays & screenplays, some good, some not, and jumped between Hollywood studios for a number of years. Then, while watching the filming of a script he wrote, he noticed the respect accorded the director, and decided right then to become a director.

 

Sturges agreed to be paid a dollar to write a screenplay titled The Great McGinty, but only if he could direct it. The screenplay won an Oscar & his career as a director began. Curiously, he accepted the award with a speech claiming that Mr. Sturges could not be present, and that he was accepting the award in his stead.

 

After WWII, he & Howard Hughes formed a short-lived production company called California Pictures Corp. But after a decade of critical and commercial success his career slowly fell apart and he died in 1959 while working on his autobiography.

 

Throughout the 1960s, 70s and into the 1980s, his work was largely forgotten. But his career is being favorably re-assessed, & his comedies of American life are being recognized as first-rate examples of Hollywood filmmaking and humor.

 

Joel McCrea (Sully) grew up in Hollywood, and as a boy, had a paper route that included Cecil B. DeMille and others in the film industry.

 

Starting as a stuntman and extra, in 1928 McCrea was chosen from the crowd & given a major rolein The Jazz Age with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Very well-respected as a horseman, he was regarded as one of the two best riders in Western films along with Ben Johnson, who had actually been a real cowboy.  

 

McCrea's grandfather was a stagecoach driver in the Old West who had fought against the Apaches. McCrae was also a shrewd real estate investor and was a multi-millionaireby the end of the 1940s.

 

The McCreas ultimately donated several hundred acres for a YMCA in Thousand Oaks, California. Today, the land on which that YMCA rests is called "Joel McCrea Park".

 

Prior to 1940, Veronica Lake (The Girl), used her real name, Constance Keane. Then, in 1941, for the film I Wanted Wings, her name was changed to Veronica Lake — she was 17.

 

She was at her peak when teamed with Alan Ladd, the only actor in Hollywood relatively close to her in height. Ladd was 5' 6" and she was just 4' 11" & they made 7 movies together.

 

In 3 years (1941-1944), she went from making $75/week to $4500/week.

 

During filming for this film, she was about 16 inches shorter than McCrea & sometimes had to stand on a box so their heads could be seen in the same shot. Notice the big hats she wears to make her look taller.

 

She was six months pregnant at the beginning of production,a fact she didn't tell the director until filming began. Edith Head, Hollywood's most renowned costume designer, had to find ways to conceal Lake's pregnancy.

 

Production ended on July 22 1941, and Lake gave birth on August 21, so she was definitely cutting it close.

 

Lake's trademark was the 'Peek-a-boo' hairstyle, covering the right side of her forehead and sometimes partly over her right eye.

 

During World War II, her hairstyle was so popular it became a hazard when women in the defense industry would get their bangs caught in machinery. Lake had to do a PR campaign in order to heighten public awareness about the hazard of her hairstyle.

 

Mismanagement by director-husband André De Toth and intermittent heavy drinking ended her film career by 1952 and she took a series of unfulfilling jobs, including bartender & hostess of a TV talk show in Baltimore.

 

When former lover Marlon Brando read in a newspaper that a reporter had found Veronica Lake in a Manhattan bar, he sent her a check for $1000. Out of pride, she never cashed it, but kept it framed in her living room to show her friends.

 

Her last film was 1970’s Flesh Feast, a really bad low-budget horror film & she died of hepatitis in 1973 at the age of 53.

 

For 3 years, her ashes sat on a funeral home's shelf until her cremation was finally paid for and the ashes were then supposedly spread on the Florida coastline. But some 30 years after her death, in October 2004, her ashes reportedly resurfaced in a New York antique store.


Look for Preston Sturges in the scene where the Girl sees Sullivan's picture in the paper and recognizes him. You can see him to the right in the background when she reads the newspaper and just as she throws up her hands in delight.

 

And the man she almost runs into on the street after she knocks over the Indians is Ray Milland.

 

The associate producer Paul Jones appeared as "Dear Joseph", the late husband of "Miz Zeffie", in the photograph where the man's expression changes.

 

In the airplane scene, the author of the book Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? is shown to be "Sinclair Beckstein", a combination of the names of authors Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, and John Steinbeck.

 

Look for a goof-up when the supposedly unconscious Sullivan is being pulled into an empty boxcar by a bum who hit him - you can see McCrea helping by pushing himself along with his foot.

 

This witty film from skillfully mixes every conceivable cinematic genre type - tragic melodrama, farce, prison film, serious drama, social documentary, slapstick, romance, comedy, action, and even musical, in about a dozen sequences.