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Sullivan's Travels

By Heather Joslyn | Posted

Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels is one of those classic movies more people have heard about than have actually seen. That's a shame, because the question raised by Sturges' 1942 tale still matters today: Is it more noble to entertain or inform? John L. Sullivan (the nimble Joel McCrea), director of such Tinseltown fluff as Hey Hey in the Hayloft, wants to stretch by helming a grim drama about poverty, the insufferable-sounding O Brother, Where Art Thou? (a title the Coen brothers swiped for their most recent film). For research, Sullivan sets off to ride the rails and live like a hobo, tailed by trailer full of publicists. Circumstances find him hooking up with a streetwise would-be starlet (Veronica Lake), ditching his studio-paid baby sitters, and finding far more trouble than he bargained for--at which point Travels makes a daring and successful shift in tone, from jolly satire to merciless prison drama. Sturges' final answer to Travels' central question may spark arguments, but what's incontestable is his ambition, his pitch-perfect sense of detail (those movie titles!), and his wise, rueful dialogue

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