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Sullivan's Travels Overview

Sullivan's Travels Overview

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Published by anzrain
interesting Movie and novel
interesting Movie and novel

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Published by: anzrain on Jun 11, 2008
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05/09/2014

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Sullivan's Travels
(1942)
This film is generally considered one of celebrated writer/director Preston Sturges' greatest dramatic comedies - and a satirical statementof his own director's creed. One of his more interesting and intelligentfilms from a repertoire of about twelve films in his entire career, Sturges'
Sullivan's Travels
satirizes Hollywood pretension and excesses with hisparticular brand of sophisticated verbal wit and dialogue, satire and fast-paced slapstick. Sturges was one of the first scriptwriters in the soundera to direct his own screenplays. He was assisted by future westernsfilm director Anthony Mann, and cinematographer John Seitz (who later filmed such notable film noir's as
This Gun For Hire (1942)
,
DoubleIndemnity (1944)
,
The Big Clock (1948)
, and
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
,as well as two other Sturges works,
Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
and
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)
).This witty journey film from Paramount Studios skillfully mixes everyconceivable cinematic genre type and tone of film possible - tragicmelodrama, farce, prison film, serious drama, social documentary,slapstick, romance, comedy, action, and even musical, in about a dozensequences. Due to confusion over the varying, inconsistent moodswithin the film, the marketing campaign decided to focus on VeronicaLake's peekaboo hairdo instead, with the tagline: "VERONICA LAKE'sON THE TAKE." Visual gags in the comic scenes include a prolongedcross-country car chase, a pratfall into a mansion's swimming pool,changing facial expressions in a portrait, and tramps scampering ontoboxcars, among others. The film's title is a vague reference to
Gulliver's Travels
(Jonathan Swift's satirical 1726tale of Lemuel Gulliver's fanciful journey into strange, unknown worlds of Lilliputians, Brobdingnags,Houyhnhnms, and Laputians).The film tells of the 'mission' of 'Sully' (Joel McCrea), a big-shot Hollywood director of lightweight comedies toexperience suffering in the world before producing his next socially-conscious film of hard times - an epic titled 'OBrother, Where Art Thou?' about the common man. [Film-makers Joel and Ethan Coen paid homage to Sturgesand his admirable film by naming their own 21st century film
O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000)? 
] After somefailed attempts dressed as a hobo and companionship on the road with an aspiring blonde actress simply calledThe Girl (Veronica Lake in her second picture following her work in
I Wanted Wings (1941)
) and wearing boy'sclothes, he succeeds in losing his freedom, identity and name, health,pride and money. Incarcerated in a prison work camp as the end result of his misadventures, and as part of an audience of chain-gang convictswatching a screening in a Southern black church of a Walt Disney cartoon(starring Mickey Mouse and Pluto), he retains one final ability - - to laugh.He succeeds in understanding that his attitude toward the poor hadbordered on patronization. He finally realizes the uplifting power of laughter, and decides to return to his true calling - the making of entertaining comedies to entertain rather than to edify.Preston Sturges pokes fun at virtually everything in
Sullivan's Travels
-including (luckily) himself. While sparing neither the single-mindedhucksters otherwise known as producers nor the successful director of comedies suddenly gripped with a social conscience, Sturges also attacks just the sort of movie Frank Capra was making at the time -
Meet JohnDoe
(1941). Capra himself had also been a successful director of comedies (
It Happened One Night 
[1934],
You Can't Take It With You 
[1938]), before his seriousness got the better of him. When Capra tried tocombine his social conscience with his comedic genius, the results wereusually uneven. While
Mr. Deeds Goes To Town
(1936) was initially successful as a serio-comic look atDepression-era economics, Capra found himself increasingly at odds with the status quo. And his populismpushed both
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
(1939) and
Meet John Doe
into perilous territory. Neither film had asuitable ending, as if Capra, having confronted Good and Evil so convincingly, couldn't decide who should win.
 
Sturges never possessed such ambitions, yet he approaches, in
Sullivan'sTravels
, the very territory that would ultimately undo the Capra ethic. One of the cardinal rules of dramaturgy is never to tamper with what is generallyknown as the
tone
of a piece. Sturges knew that his bread & butter wassatire (even if it employed the very broadest slapstick). He bravely tried toleaven his bread with an altogether serious episode in his satire - themoment when Sullivan is hit in the head. Thereafter, Sullivan's goodintentions become the paving stones of the Road to Hell. Ironically, of allSturges' films,
Sullivan's Travels
is probably the best known today preciselyfor its peek at the altogether depressing facts of Depression-era America: thehordes of hobos jostling for a place on the bread line or a space on thefreight car or a cot in the flop-house. But, rather than seek some sort of 
message
from this brush with reality, Sturges only uses it to reinforce hislabored point - that none of this matters to your average audience, that whatwe want above all is to forget all that, to be
entertained 
by something sorichly superfluous, so magisterially superficial that we are taken, with our hearty consent, to a place so beautiful or ridiculous that life itself -
our 
life -becomes a distant murmur, a bothersome echo outside the tender confines of the theater, a world with which wemust all rudely reacquaint ourselves at the end of every such movie.The script for 
Sullivan's Travels
is almost perfect. Peppered with brilliant one-liners and fast-paced dialog, you'llenjoy the film even more with subsequent viewings. But just as compelling is what Sturges is able to convey
without 
dialog. Early in the film, Sullivan watches a movie in a crowded theater, filled with noisy kids andsnacking adults. Sullivan's a long way from a studio screening room, and, though annoyed at the distraction, herealizes these people are his audience. Later in the film, Sturges constructs a montage in which Sullivan andLake's character come face to face with real poverty. Their shadows play on the faces of the poor as they walkthrough a shantytown straight out of 
The Grapes of Wrath
. It's a haunting image that lends a little weight to thislight comedy. This film could be criticized for light treatment of a serious subject, were it not for this sequence,and the entire final half hour of the film, in which Sullivan truly finds the destitution for which he's been looking.Despite the fact that the guy is fabulously wealthy and more famous than you'll ever be, you can't dislike Sullivanbecause he's so well intentioned, if a little naive. He truly wants to make his work meaningful. He's not arrogant,indeed he doesn't think he's a great director, he just wants to be better. Sullivan is also virtuous - he refuses toget involved with Lake's character because he's stillmarried - albeit only legally. Joel McCrea turns inarguably the greatest non-Western performance of hiscareer. His natural likability is key is making this filmwork.Veronica Lake is such a powerful force in this film thather character didn't even need a name. She's simplycalled "The Girl" in the credits; it enigmaticallycaptures her beauty, wit and charm. For those of youwho've never heard of or seen Lake, you're in for quitea treat (especially the pool robe scene). Incidentally, itwas Lake for whom Kim Basinger's character wasmodeled (literally) in L.A. Confidential.Having chosen a misguided film director as the maincharacter of his own film, many critics have generallyassumed that the film has a personal, introspective,autobiographical slant, with Sturges arguing for andaffirming the production of light comedies (to liftviewers' spirits) while providing commentary uponserious 'message' films. This superb film lacked evena single Academy Award Oscar nomination when itwas released, but is now listed as number 61 on theAmerican Film Institute's 100 Greatest Movies of AllTime.

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