Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sullivan's Travels

Preston Sturgis' Sullivan's Travels (1941) has a lot to recommend, and more to consider. Veronica Lake ("The Girl"), in her late teens, has a sophisticated vibe that belies her youth. Joel McCrea, later known for his role in Westerns, plays John L. Sullivan, a financially secure but naive movie director who wants to make a film about the "forgotten man" during the Great Depression, O Brother Where Art Thou? In order to do this, he must step away from Hollywood and roam the American countryside like a "hobo." This character arc is akin to the arc in Herman Hesse's Siddhartha (1922), however without as much depth.

Sullivan picks up "The Girl" while ordering coffee on the road, or rather she picks him up through an act of kindness. Subsequently, there is train-hopping, food-sharing, and much contrast between the life of the rich and the poor. And, remarkably for the time, there's an acknowledgement of race without it being entirely transformed into a stereotypical farce.    

Sullivan's Travels is at its best in the final half hour or so, when Sullivan finds himself on a prison farm, isolated from his Hollywood support team and entourage. The scenes with Veronica Lake are also good, but somewhat restrained, thanks to the prudish Hollywood Code that had put a damper on sexual realism since the early 1930s. This particular movie has to dance around the realization that Sullivan, when he's roaming around with The Girl, is joylessly married to another woman who eventually "hooks up" with his business manager (who are seen together, but in separate beds); of course, "The Girl" wants to be with Sullivan, but first he must divorce the shrewish current wife (who's only in it for the money, apparently) and then marry her. Meanwhile, Sullivan comes to the conclusion that laughter is the Balm of Gilead enjoyed by rich and poor alike, to hell with gender issues. (So: as long as people are laughing, socio-economic and gender-based imbalances can be safely swept under the rug?).

Final note: I don't know if this was intentional or just a coincidence, but the name John L. Sullivan hearkens back to "Manifest Destiny," a phrase coined in the 19th century by John L. O'Sullivan. 

Today's Rune: The Warrior.   

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