Review: Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

sullivan's travels

I travel a lot, most of it by ambulance, occasionally by rail!

Written By: Preston Sturges
Directed By: Preston Sturges

For most of its run time Sullivan’s Travels is very, very funny. Then it reaches a ten minute stretch where it becomes deadly serious. The humor leaves, there’s absolutely nothing funny happening in the movie. This detour ends with a group of people watching an old Mickey Mouse short film and laughing their behinds off. The film quickly returns to the world of comedy and funny, pretending that the ten minute vacation to serious town had never taken place. At first I was taken aback by the detour, and not in a good way. I didn’t understand the need for the seriousness, or why Sullivan’s Travels contained a serious segment at all.

I thought about the film some more, something that I sometimes forget to do. The more I thought about the ten minute serious segment the more I realized that said segment is tied into the whole of the film. Not a stunning realization, I’ll give you that. But, realizing that Preston Sturges had not messed up was a happy moment for me. Mr. Sturges is a comedy filmmaker, and there’s nothing wrong with that because people deserve a hearty laugh every now and then.

The message of Sullivan’s Travels appears to be that there’s more than enough serious in real life so when we have the chance to laugh we should take said chance. I don’t think Mr. Sturges is decrying “serious” cinema, rather he’s making the case for comedy cinema to sit right alongside all the award winning “serious” cinema. Life isn’t just tragedy after all, it’s humor as well. There is humor before, during, and after tragedy. The two live and breath together every single day of every year. Sullivan’s Travels is a successful attempt to take a step back and realize the importance of seeing funny movies.

The message of Sullivan’s Travels wouldn’t be worth much if the film weren’t actually funny. Luckily for all involved Sullivan’s Travels is quite funny. The film oscillates between the realms of screwball and slapstick, relying on physical humor just as much as it does spoken humor. To call a Preston Sturges film witty is to state the obvious, but sometimes the obvious is needed. The dialogue in Sullivan’s Travels is witty in a most impressive manner. Mr. Sturges pokes fun at the industry of Hollywood, the rich, and the poor, sometimes all at the same time. What always impresses me about Mr. Sturges, and Sullivan’s Travels is no different, is how Mr. Struges can burn the entire world to the ground and do so in a way that is fueled by smart and witty dialogue.

I laughed a lot during Sullivan’s Travels, and I got a lot out of the films message. Cinephiles are usually in a rush to laud praise upon the newest super important film. I’m not about to deny that a film like Citizen Kane has a serious importance in addition to being a well made film. The fact that it’s serious doesn’t mean that Citizen Kane is automatically better than a less serious comedy. As a matter of fact I believe Sullivan’s Travels is a better film than Citizen Kane. That doesn’t mean that Citizen Kane is a lesser film for being serious, just that sometimes I prefer a little more funny in my motion picture. Sullivan’s Travels provided that funny in a rather exquisite and endearing package.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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