Made in 1941, this has to be one of the great classic comedies. Sure, we had the work of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, The Marx Brothers et al, but theirs could hardly be described as feature films with serious storylines. Sullivan's Travels manages to combine a meaningful story with subtle moral overtones and lightness and humour. Yet it is no simple fable.

John "Sully" Sullivan (Joel McCrea) appears to have everything. Young, handsome, talented, he is highly prized as a director of escapist films by his Hollywood bosses. But Sully has ideals. He wants to make films about "the suffering of humanity and the human condition... If you pander to the public we'd still be in the horse age. We'd still be making keystone chases, bathing beauties... I want to hold a mirror to life."

"What do you know about trouble?" responds his wise, corpulent boss. "What d'you know about garbage cans? When did you last eat from one?"

Sullivan is stung, but instead of being deterred, his idealistic streak rises to the challenge. "I certainly had a nerve wanting to make a picture about humanity." He informs them he is off, with 10 cents in his pocket, for "maybe a week, maybe a month, maybe a year." Kitted out in torn jacket, hobo's hat and ancient looking hobnail boots, Sully's butler tells him he is not sympathetic to the caricature of the poor. "Only the morbid rich find the topic glamorous. Rich people think of prosperity in the negative. Poverty is to be shunned."

Sullivan's search for poverty and truth, however, is about to start. Despair at the temporary loss of their talented director has turned to glee. "I'm using de Mille's land yacht. It will follow you discreetly."

But escape he does. The story twists and turns, frustrations abound. "The girl" (Veronica Lake, possibly in her most charming role) has latched onto Sully by now in the belief that he is indeed a hobo, trying, like her, to get into Hollywood. And trouble he finds. Serious trouble. How he gets out of it is genius indeed.

Writer/director Preston Sturges has nimbly performed this double act with rare talent. Shot in black-and-white, the film moves with verve, wit and compassion. It gives a unique insight into the minds of the moviemakers of yester year, in particular of Sturges himself, in this rare satire with a conscience.

Reviewed on: 01 May 2005
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Hollywood film director dresses up as a tramp to experience how the other half lives.
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Director: Preston Sturges

Writer: Preston Sturges

Starring: Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Robert Warwick, William Demarest, Franklin Pangxorn, Porter Hall, Byron Foulger, Margaret Hayes, Robert Greig, Eric Blore

Year: 1941

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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