61. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

A director of escapist films goes on the road as a hobo to learn about life, which gives him a rude awakening.

With the way this list is set up, I go through these moments of watching a bunch of the Top 100 films all at once and then stopping because I’ve hit a film that I’m not as excited about watching. Sullivan’s Travels was one of those films. Thankfully, it was quite enjoyable.

Joel McCrea plays John L. Sullivan, the aforementioned director of escapist films who decides that he no longer wants to make comedies or musicals. He wants to make films about the human condition. He wants to make films about suffering and struggling through life. But, the film execs don’t think he’s suffered enough to make such a film because, well, he hasn’t. So, he decides to go undercover as a hobo in order to get the experience he deems necessary to properly make his film “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”. He soon meets The Girl, played by a very young (and quite pregnant) Veronica Lake. She decides to continue with Sullivan on his journey. She finds him intriguing and she’s got nothing else going on in her life, other than leaving Hollywood and returning home.

Soon, Sullivan’s little social experiment is over, and he has the idea to go to the tramps that were so kind to him and give them each some money. For whatever reason, it never occurs to him that this could be a bad idea and that he could be robbed. Which is baffling to me that that thought never even occurred to him because, like, it occurred to me immediately. Anyway, surprise surprise, he gets knocked unconscious and robbed by the guy who stole his shoes. That thief who is wearing Sullivan’s shoes then proceeds to get killed by a train. Everybody that Sullivan knows now thinks he’s dead, and the actual Sullivan is now part of a chain gang because he tried to beat the shit out of a railway worker with a rock. I mean, this movie just takes a real turn in the last thirty minutes. So, Sullivan realizes, after seeing the paper headline that he’s dead, that nobody will be looking for him. In a stroke of genius, he confesses to murdering John L. Sullivan in order to get his picture in the paper, therefore proving that he’s not dead. He’s then, I assume, excused from finishing the rest of his six year sentence with the chain gang for BEATING A RAILROAD WORKER WITH A ROCK. I also need to mention that, while part of the chain gang, he went with them to see a film, Walt Disney’s Playful Pluto. This is important to note solely because that moment where all these men are laughing at the film, while Sullivan begins to laugh at the film, he realizes how important laughter actually is. So, at the end of the film, he decides to continue making comedies.

It’s clear that Preston Sturgess, the writer and director, had a message that he wanted to get across, and that message was clearly 1) don’t underestimate the importance of comedy and escapist films and 2) rich people can never really understand the struggle of those less fortunate than them and it’s offensive to go undercover to try to understand. Did I get it right?

Overall, this film was enjoyable. It’s not necessarily one that I would go out of my way to watch, but if I saw it on, I’d definitely stop and enjoy it all over again.

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