Starring: Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Robert Warwick
Director: Preston Sturges
Running Time: 90 mins
Sullivan’s Travels is an American film about a Hollywood comedy director who decides to go out on the road acting as a tramp to find out about the plight of the poor, but soon finds something far more important.
The highest praise that I can give this film is its effortless ability to take you to places that you never imagined it would go. Often an enjoyable comedy, Sullivan’s Travels hugely impresses in its latter stages with a very clever and moving message set against a surprisingly dark climax to the story, making for an absolutely fascinating watch.
However, let’s start with what dominates the first half of the movie: the comedy. The film is never intended to be a riotous, laugh-out-loud comedy, but in its first two acts, there’s a lot of light humour to enjoy. Establishing its characters almost instantly, the great thing about Sullivan’s Travels is that it allows you to have a really fun time whilst following along to an ever more serious story.
Early on, the side characters surrounding Sullivan in Hollywood make for a few good laughs, but the best comedy comes from his unexpected teaming up with a young actress who has failed to make it in Hollywood. Whilst once again presenting an interesting idea about how brutal show business is for aspiring stars, the best part about the two’s relationship is the comedy that comes from it.
Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake have brilliant chemistry throughout, always impressing in their characters’ love-hate relationship early on. Whether they’re bickering or innocently chatting, there’s always a fantastic dynamic between the two, and that makes their relationship always engaging to watch.
The film keeps up its comedic atmosphere for the best part of an hour, before turning to a surprisingly dark place. Normally, when films make such a drastic switch from comedy to drama, it can be jarring and unsatisfying, but I was stunned to see how Sullivan’s Travels got even better as it transitioned to a more serious side.
I won’t spoil exactly what happens in the final act, but suffice to say it’s a story that you won’t see coming (not even one minute before it kicks off), and has amazing emotional power.
In fact, the emotion is the icing on top of the cake in this film. On the one hand, the final act brings to light a devastating reality both to Sullivan and the viewer, but the ultimate goal of this film is to bring a positive message to all that are watching. Made just before the USA’s entry into World War Two, this film demonstrates how important comedy and happiness are. Even if they’re not as intellectually thrilling as a real-life drama, it was the only thing that was keeping people’s spirits up when the world was in pieces, and that’s a fascinating and ingenious idea that absolutely thrilled me.
Overall, I really enjoyed Sullivan’s Travels. It’s not always a brilliant film, but its two leads give wonderfully entertaining performances, and its ability to switch from a simpler comedy to an ingenious drama was stunning, and that’s why it gets a 7.6 from me.