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USA 1941
Directed by
Preston Sturges
87 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Sullivan's Travels

One of a clutch of commercially and critically very successful comedies that Preston Sturges made for Paramount in the early 1940s and now widely regarded as a classic "screwball" comedy, Sullivan's Travels is a multi-layered affair of uneven tone and pace that impresses for its opening critique of Hollywood shallowness but ultimately affirms the very opposite.

Successful Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) goes on the road as a hobo during the Great Depression in order to research a social conscience film he wants to make entitled ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Along the way he meets an aspiring young actress (Veronica Lake) and learns a lesson or two about the reality of poverty.

The film opens brilliantly with a scene between Sullivan and his two producers arguing over the morality of film-making, Sturges's dialogue is dazzlingly frentic and the first third of the film certainly qualifies it as one the best examples of the screwball style with Ms Lake doing a tidy turn as Sullivan's sceptical companion. We also are treated to a very funny bit of physical comedy as 'Sully" tries to shake off his Hollywood minders. Subsequently however the film lurches back and forth as it tries to mirror the theme outlined in its opening - does film have a moral duty or is its job to entertain? After wandering into some quite dark territory that has a social realist heavy-handedness it concludes all too easily that its moral obligation IS to entertain.

FYI: Robert Greig, who plays Sullivan's portly butler, Burroughs, was a Melbourne-born character actor who made a career in the USA in this kind of role. Those genre masters, the Coen Brothers, made Sullivan's film O Brother Where Art Thou? in 2000.




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