Another movie where I knew zero about it going in… Another awesome surprise… Another explanation of why I know they name of actor from decades ago, even though I had no idea what they looked like or what movies they were in. I think the name always made me assume it was a of spoof of Gulliver’s Travels. And although I knew Veronica Lake was some sort of black and white starlet, I wouldn’t have been able to pick her out of a line up. Now I know that Veronica Lake has remained famous because she was pretty gorgeous and a great actor with a really unique presence. I also now know that Sullivan’s Travels is one of the best comedies I’ve seen from the 40s.
John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a big shot Hollywood Director. He makes more money in a day than most people do in a year. The only problem is, he makes his money by making big, silly, broad comedies, with titles like Ants in Your Pants. While he’d rather make serious dramas, like the adaptation of a door stop sized novel called O Brother Where Art Thou.
Not wanting to lose their comedy cash cow, the studio heads convince Sullivan he could never make a movie about the downtrodden and suffering, because he’s lived a charmed life and never experienced anything even close to downtrodden suffering. They’re a little too convincing and their argument backfires when Sullivan decides to give up all of his possessions and hit the road as a vagabond, with only 10cents to his name.
His first attempt at forced destitution is thwarted by his overprotective bosses who agree to let him go, only if they can keep an eye on him by following closely in a lushly appointed bus, complete with chef, doctor and tabloid reporters. After inadvertently ending up back in the luxuries of Hollywood, the apparently broke Sullivan meets The Girl (Veronica Lake) in a diner. All but broke herself, she still buys him breakfast and is soon not only in on his plan, she’s inviting herself along.
The majority of Sullivan’s Travels is just a series of silly sketches and set pieces, showing how naïve the character of John Sullivan really is. It kind of attempts to say something about the nature of misfortune and poverty, but really, it works best when it forgets its lofty ambitions and just focuses on the jokes, physical comedy and amazing chemistry between McCera and Lake. Because the jokes are generally hilarious, the physical comedy is top notch and the chemistry is undeniable.
The only misstep in Sullivan’s Travels, and this is a tiny quibble in an otherwise great movie, is its Hollywood back slapping. There’s something just a little too self fellatiastic about a broad, silly comedy where the lead character eventually learns the value of broad, silly comedies and how important they are to the world. But even then, the rest of the movie was so much fun, that even when I thought the movie industry circle jerk was a bit much, I forgot about it seconds later and was back on board with everything this movie threw my way.