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Sullivan's Travels (1941)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Sullivan's Travels (1941)

In writer/director Preston Sturges' brilliant screwball comedy and satire about Hollywood movie-making, with added social commentary about class divisions:

  • butler Burrows (Robert Greig) delivered a speech about the 'realities' of poverty to Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea), who had become tired and disgusted with making escapist comedies: ("Poverty is not the lack of anything, but a positive plague, virulent in itself, contagious as cholera, with filth, criminality, vice and despair as only a few of its symptoms. It is to be stayed away from, even for purposes of study. It is to be shunned")
  • comedy-film director Sullivan decided to learn about poverty and misery firsthand; he dressed up as a 'hobo' to 'travel' the country so he could use his acquired socially-meaningful insights from the common folk for his next dramatic film
  • in a classic comedic chase scene with old-style slapstick, the studio's entourage (a land-yacht) trailed Sullivan in order to observe and protect him
  • Sullivan met and paired up with a job-seeking, would-be, disenchanted and nameless starlet known as The Girl (Veronica Lake) in an all-night, roadside diner
  • The Girl, dressed as a male hobo, wandered and toured with Sullivan (also dressed as a hobo) across America to both experience poverty (and the underside of life) for themselves
  • in a case of mistaken identity (his stolen shoes ended up on the feet of a bum who was hit and killed by a train), Sullivan ended up in a real predicament when he accused of an assault on a rail-employee in a train yard
  • imprisoned in a prison work farm for a term of six years of hard labor, the presumed-dead and incarcerated Sullivan was brought to a black church one night to watch a screening of a 1934 Pluto/Mickey Mouse cartoon (Playful Pluto) on a flimsy white sheet - he laughed along with his fellow, hardened Georgia chain-gang prisoners at the crazy antics when Pluto became stuck on flypaper and attempted to extricate himself but became even more entangled - a relevant image for Sullivan's own situation; he rhetorically asked himself: "Hey, am I laughing?" then suddenly realized that humorous movies, like religion, were the therapeutic solution to the pain of poverty or to the enmity between races
  • to escape from the prison farm, Sullivan made a false confession to his own murder, in order to be recognized in pictures printed in newspapers - the ploy worked; his studio and friends realized he was still alive
  • back in Hollywood, Sullivan was inspired to return to making film comedies: ("There's a lot to be said for making people laugh! Did you know that's all some people have? It isn't much but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan! Boy!")

Director Sullivan's Butler Burrows (Robert Greig): Speech About Poverty

John L. Sullivan's (Posing as a Hobo) First Meeting With The Girl in a Diner

Sullivan With the Girl (Disguised as a Boy), Duing Their Travels

Sullivan in a Prison Farm Laughing at a Screening of "Playful Pluto"


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