Sullivan's Travels

AFI Rank: #61 (on 10th anniversary listing)
Year Released: 1941
Director: Preston Sturges
Actors: Joel McCrea, Robert Warwick, Veronica Lake

Sullivan's Travels is an intriguing movie. It's really a movie about a movie. McCrea plays a director who keeps making silly comedies but who wants to focus on something more serious in his upcoming movie. Unfortunately for him the people at the movie company feel he's too elite and snobby to know anything about real life. So he sets out to prove them wrong. Soon he and Lake are roaming around the country, standing in soup lines, sleeping in shacks, and experiencing what it's like to be really poor.

At first it feels like fun. They're jumping onto trains and exploring the wild life. But soon they realize that this isn't fun at all. They are eating awful food. They are starving. They are sleeping in smelly, cold locations. They realize just how hard it is to be without even the bare minimum of life.

Then things get really bad. Through a series of mis-steps McCrea is sentenced to a chain gang and now looks like he'll be stuck in a desolate life for many years. When he thinks the world can get no more bleak, his chain gang is allowed a special trip to the local movies. It's not a real theater. Rather, it's a baptist church, run by poor blacks, which has kindly opened their hall to this chain gang. The church members even do their best to make the prisoners feel welcome, and to be warm to them. Then the group, together, watches comedy cartoons, and laughs, and forgets for a while about their troubles.

And I was really, truly touched by this. In a world of pain and suffering, with greed and envy all around us, here was a precous moment in time. So many movies portray blacks as servants, or drug dealers, or various other stereotypes. Here we had the community as honest, caring, hard-working people. The NAACP president even wrote the movie producers to thank them for this portrayal. I've watched all the AFI movies on the original and 10th anniversary listing and this one touched me the most in terms of portrayal of blacks. It's a shame it only happened once in all that time.

The movie is less great on the female front. The *only* time any female talks with any other female is a sequence when Lake is showering on the tour bus. A secretary comes by and says something like "you can use make-up in the drawer". Lake laughs and says "I really need it!" and the secretary says "Yes you do!" - What??? That sounds incredibly rude to me! "You better get some make-up on quick because you look hideous without it"??

So good in some regards, but fairly iffy in others.

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