Comedy director John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) decides to give up his life of luxury and sets off on the road to research how the other half live. He plans to make "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?", a somber, social conscious movie inspired by his experiences of poverty and desperation. A chance encounter with failed starlet Veronica Lake enables him to escape the studio publicity machine and learn at first hand the true value of entertainment.
Still entertaining after all these years
- Sullivan's Travels review by LR
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Made in 1941, Sullivan's Travels is amazingly fresh and amusing even 74 years later. It is a classic Hollywood comedy, full of snappy dialogue and with an incident-packed plot. The casting is excellent, especially Joel McCrea as the idealistic star who knows little of the real world, but also in terms of all the commercially-minded Hollywood executives that Sullivan/McCrea is up against. He wants to engage the film industry in a campaign against poverty. The execs only agree when they begin to see PR opportunities in the research expeditions that he embarks on. Hence the ludicrous scenes when he tries to go out and meet the poor with an army of execs and the studio catering van on his heels.
There is a timeless quality to the story. Literature has many idealistic young men whose intentions are admirable but who lack the worldly wisdom that is needed to realise them. Fortunately the idealist meets a young woman who has slightly more of a clue (Veronica Lake) and they start to make progress together, both in terms of his quest and in terms of romance, of course. It is to the great credit of the film-makers that this delightful comedy also has the decency to show some scenes of real Depression-era poverty - homeless people sleeping in communal shelters and relying on the soup kitchens to survive. Acknowledging that reality gives the film an extra dimension and shows that great comedy can have a sense of moral commitment and still be deliriously funny. The idealistic young reformer may be shown to be laughably naive, but he is right about the existence of poverty and the need for political action to remedy it. We may laugh at his mistakes, but we recognise his worth as a decent, compassionate person. Likewise we recognise the film as a hilarious comedy, but we feel also the decency and compassion which give it substance.