Library Classics: Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Library Classics is back with a vengeance! I hope.

For my “Race, Class and Gender in Cinema” class I had to watch Sullivan’s Travels. Blindly, I had no idea what it was about. It’s a very rare occasion for anyone to go in so naive about a movie, especially an older one like this. I’m glad I had. Sullivan's Travels

From the beginning, I loved this movie. It began with a thrilling train top fight scene between two men. The two fall into the water below and THE END is superimposed in the shot. What the!? I almost made sure I hadn’t skipped chapters. Luckily, I didn’t. Ends up it was just a small showing of the protagonist’s new movie, director John Lloyd Sullivan (Joel McCrea) to a couple of Hollywood producers. He pitches his next idea for his next movie, a challenging picture “O, Brother Where Art Thou?” which focuses on the current economic hardships. When one of them questions Sullivan’s experience with hard times, he decides to live like one of the poor in order to understand and to make a compelling picture.

Sullivan strives to live his humble life but his PR people tail him while taking pictures to chronicle his journey. But all this is in vain when he finds himself always ending up back in Hollywood. He just can’t escape the comfortable life. He meets The Girl (Veronica Lake) who begs to tag along with a threat that she’ll just follow him anyway and expose his true identity.

For the sake of not giving too much away, I’ll leave it at that. What comes out in the wash is an intelligent look at class and privilege.  Smartly, it comments that those in the upper class don’t easily drop to the lower, and vice-versa. Yet it’s a romantic comedy in almost every sense of the phrase. There are zany sequences that only the 40s can produce. A definite product of its time.

The movie moves quickly in time and pacing. The rapid dialogue is especially fun in its own way, similarly to His Girl Friday. McCrea’s and Lake’s chemistry is undeniable and lights up the screen with their banter in every scene they’re in. It’s just a shame we didn’t see Lake take the helm of the silver screen’s sweetheart. She definitely had the charisma and chops for it.

Many movies of this time period have a stigma of not being too approachable. This isn’t the case for Sullivan’s Travels. Once you get the chance, gather the family together and enjoy this classic.