Sullivan's Travels: The Terrible Plight of the Rich and Famous

The next film we'll be watching is Sullivan's Travels, a 1941 comedy about a director who takes himself far too seriously and needs a good dose of reality.  I am unfazed, as this accurately describes every director I've ever worked with.  Regardless, it earns a position of #136 on our venerable list.

Sullivan is a wealthy, well-bred film director who has made up his mind to start making pictures that tackle tough social issues.  Only problem is, being a privileged upper class white man, he has no concept of what hard times are.  So he decides to set out alone, in raggedy clothes, with only ten cents in his pocket, so that he can truly experience poverty.  I imagine, however, that most poor people would feel a lot less sad about being poor if they knew that they had a posh Beverly Hills mansion to return to after they were done being poor.

After he repeatedly tries (and fails) to get more than about ten miles away from Los Angeles, he decides to start from scratch.  He and a failed actress he meets hop a train hobo-style and head for Las Vegas -- where he quickly gets sick and has to be rescued by a tour bus full of studio employees, doctors, chefs, etc, etc.  He is really not very good at being impoverished.

Third time's the charm: he and The Girl set out once again to try the whole poor thing.  There's a montage of them shuffling along pathetically, experiencing what it feels like to be one of the great unwashed.  Unsurprisingly, they get over the glamour of poverty and quickly scamper back to the Hollywood Hills.  They don't exactly say how long they play the homeless game, but in my head I like to think it was just under 48 hours.

Sullivan decides to go out amongst the homeless and start handing out five dollar bills.  Predictably, he gets knocked unconscious by a tramp.  To be fair though, that's probably what you should expect if you plan on walking around a Hooverville liberally flashing wads of cash.  Instant karma, though - the hobo quickly gets hit by a train.  Sick burn, train.  Sick burn.

So everyone thinks Sullivan is dead, but really he's just sleeping on a train.  Unfortunately, after he wakes up, he picks a fight with a yard worker, hits him with a rock, and gets sentenced to six years hard labor.  Sometimes reality just shows up and bitch slaps you hard, doesn't it?  

To be fair, he did smash a rock into a dude's face.  I realize people in Hollywood usually aren't held responsible for their actions, but...well, it's hard for me to be totally sympathetic.

The last twenty minutes of the film suddenly and inexplicably turn into Cool Hand Luke.  Sullivan tries to think of a good way to get out of the chain gang, so he decides to...confess to murder?  Really?  He does realize they hang people for that, right?  So like, it works out great if someone recognizes him in the paper, but it still seems a little risky.  Luckily for him, it does work out great, and he's back in Hollywood in no time.  Where he decides that he's going to stick to making comedy films, because "that's all some people have".  I now present to you the final scene of the film.

That is all.

Random Musings:

  • "It [Sullivan's last film] died in Pittsburgh." "What do they know in Pittsburgh?" "They know what they like." "If they knew what they liked, they wouldn't live in Pittsburgh!" Touche, my friend. Sullivan: 1, Producers: 0

  • Word of advice, artistic director guy.  Never try to explain your vision to The Money.  Their minds aren't built to think about that kind of stuff.

  • I like that the producers point out that this director who wants to make a picture about hard times went to boarding school and college and has had everything handed to him his entire life.  Even if they are talking out their asses, it's a fair cop.

  • The director is having his butler help him pick out hobo clothes.  If irony had an actual physical force, it would hit you over the head with a cricket bat.

  • "The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic fascinating."  That is just a great line.

  • Is he seriously walking down the street with a bundle on a stick over his shoulder -- followed by a bus full of studio employees?  That's just humiliating.

  • So he embarks on this whole Poor Like Me expedition only to get sidetracked by trying to pick up a wannabe actress?  Way to have your priorities sorted.

  • I 100% LOVE the butlers calling the train station, trying to get information on how a hobo would catch a train. "Could you tell me please, does that train carry tramps, and if so, where do they get on?"  Classic.

  • Oh, the old falling in the swimming pool gag.  I think it's become a sort of Chekhov's Gun: Don't introduce a swimming pool unless you're going to have someone fall into it.

  • Haha they're such noobs at being homeless and I love the tramps mocking them on the train.

  • I like the church scene - the juxtaposition between the minister singing Let My People Go and the chain gang shuffling down the aisle is really well done.  But Jesus, they need to find some less funny cartoons to show before someone dies of a humor-related heart attack.

  • I love how even Sullivan knows that if the court knew he was a film director, he wouldn't have gotten sentenced nearly as harshly.  Self-awareness FTW.

So that's Sullivan's Travels.  I liked it, I really did, but I think that it started off a lot stronger than it finished.  The dialogue at the beginning of the film was so clever and witty, and then it sort of tapered off.  For me, the laughs weren't delivered as frequently as they probably should have been once he actually started experiencing poverty.  I feel like the movie was either in comedy mode or message mode, and had a hard time reconciling the two, whereas truly great comedy films know how to use both simultaneously.  I LOVED the butlers throughout the film, doing their research on hobo life and just trying to take care of their boss.  I thought Veronica Lake as The Girl was adorable and really funny, and I enjoyed the relationship between her and Sullivan.  So overall, well done, although I wish the message-y aspects of the film had been dialed down a notch.

That's it for me.  Thanks for reading, and come back next time for The Manchurian Candidate!

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