Director: Preston Sturges
Production: Paramount Pictures; black and white, 35mm; running time: 90 minutes. Released 1941.
Producer: Paul Jones; original story and screenplay: Preston Sturges; photography: John Seitz; editor: Stuart Gilmore; art directors: Hans Dreier and Earl Hedrick; music: Leo Shuken and Charles Bradshaw; special effects: Farciot Edouart.
Joel McCrea (
John L. Sullivan
); Veronica Lake (
); Robert Warwick (
Mr. Le Brand
); William Demarest (
); Franklin Pangborn (
); Porter Hall (
); Byron Foulger (
); Margaret Hayes (
); Torben Meyer (
); Robert Greig (
); Eric Blore (
); Al Bridge (
); Esther Howard (
); Almira Sessions (
); Frank Moran (
); George Renavent (
); Victor Potel (
); Richard Webb (
); Harry Rosenthal (
); Jimmy Conlin (
); Jan Buckingham (
); Robert Winkler (
); Chick Collins (
); Jimmie Dundee (
); Charles Moore (
); Al Bridge (
); Harry Hayden (
); Willard Robertson (
); Pat West (
Counterman—roadside lunch wagon
); J. Farrell MacDonald (
); Edward Hearn (
Cop—Beverly Hills station
); Roscoe Ates (
); Paul Newlan (
); Arthur Hoyt (
); Gus Reed (
); Robert Dudley (
); George Anderson (
); Monte Blue (
Cop in slums
); Harry Tyler (
R.R. information clerk
); Dewey Robinson (
); Madame Sul-te-wan (
); Jess Lee Brooks (
); Perc Launders (
); Emory Parnell (
Man at R.R. shack
); Julius Tannen (
); Edgar Dearing (
); Howard Mitchell (
); Harry Seymour (
Entertainer in air-raid shelter
); Bill Bletcher (
Entertainer in hospital
); Chester Conklin (
); Frank Mills (
Drunk in theater
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Mast, Gerald, The Comic Mind , New York, 1973; revised edition, Chicago, 1979.
Ursini, James, The Fabulous Life and Times of Preston Sturges, An American Dreamer , New York, 1973.
Byron, Stuart, editor, Movie Comedy , New York, 1977.
Parish, James Robert, and Michael Pitts, Hollywood on Hollywood , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1978.
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Gordon, James R., Comic Structures in the Films of Preston Sturges , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.
Curtis, James, Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges , New York, 1982.
Cywinski, Ray, Preston Sturges: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1984.
Dickos, Andrew, Intrepid Laughter: Preston Sturges and the Movies , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1985.
Spoto, Donald, Madcap: The Life of Preston Sturges , Boston, 1990.
Sturges, Preston, Preston Sturges , adapted and edited by Sandy Sturges, New York, 1990.
Jacobs, Diane, Christmas in July: The Life and Art of Preston Sturges , Berkeley, 1992.
Rozgonyi, Jay, Preston Sturges's Vision of America: Critical Analyses of Fourteen Films , Jefferson, 1995.
Harvey, James, Romantic Comedy: In Hollywood, From Lubitsch to Sturges , Cambridge, 1998.
"Preston Sturges," in Current Biography Yearbook , New York, 1941.
Variety (New York), 10 December 1941.
Times (London), 1 January 1942.
Ferguson, Otis, in New Republic (New York), 26 January 1942.
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Crowther, Bosley, "Where Satire and Slapstick Meet," in New York Times Magazine , 27 August 1944.
Ericsson, Peter, "Preston Sturges," in Sequence (London), Summer 1948.
Kracauer, Siegfried, "Preston Sturges; or, Laughter Betrayed," in Films in Review (New York), February 1950.
King, Nel, and G. W. Stonier, "Preston Sturges," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer-Autumn 1959.
Farber, Manny, and W. S. Poster, "Preston Sturges: Success in the Movies," in Film Culture (New York), no. 26, 1962.
Houston, Penelope, "Preston Sturges," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1965.
Budd, Michael, "Notes on Preston Sturges and America," in Film Society Review (New York), January 1968.
Bowser, Eileen, in Film Notes , New York, 1969.
Corliss, Richard, "Preston Sturges," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), Spring 1972.
Cluny, C. M., in Cinéma (Paris), February 1973.
Dupuich, J. J., in Image et Son (Paris), March 1973.
Beylie, Claude, in Ecran (Paris), April 1973.
Chacona, Hollis, in Cinema Texas Program Notes (Austin), Fall 1976.
Rubinstein, R., "Hollywood Travels: Sturges and Sullivan," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1977–78.
Bodeen, DeWitt, "Joel McCrea and Francis Dee," in Films in Review (New York), December 1978.
Ursini, James, in Magill's Survey of Cinema 4 , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.
Wineapple, B., "Finding an Audience: Sullivan's Travels, " in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), Winter 1984.
Shokoff, J., "A Kockenlocker by Any Other Word: The Democratic Comedy of Preston Sturges," in Post Script (Commerce), vol. 8, no. 1, 1988.
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Levine, L.W., "The Folklore of Industrial Society: Popular Culture and its Audience," in American Historical Review , vol. 97, no. 5, 1992.
Morris, R., "Role Models," in Movieline (Escondido), vol. 4, October 1992.
* * *
Sullivan's Travels is writer-director Preston Sturges's version of "the clown who wants to pay Hamlet" in which he proves that the world needs a clown more than it needs a Hamlet. Sturges was a director of such skill and cunning that he could both destroy and elevate an institution simultaneously. Sullivan's Travels , one of his best films and certainly one of his most personal (as it is about a Hollywood director), both attacks and celebrates Hollywood with such balance and panache that fans and detractors are equally satisfied with the results. This ambivalence characterizes the work of Sturges, whose career has undergone a recent critical re-evaluation. One of the most successful and respected writer-directors of the 1940s, his career fell apart after a decade of critical and commercial success. He died an out-of-fashion, nearly forgotten man in 1959. Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, his work was largely unknown. Now that his career is being favourably re-assessed, his comedies of American life, manners and mores are being restored to their rightful position as first-rate examples of Hollywood filmmaking and humor.
Sullivan's Travels undertakes a bold assignment. Its narrative shifts from comedy to tragedy and back to comedy, something seldom successfully accomplished in film. Those who criticize the film do so on the basis of its serious scenes when the hero, Joel McCrea, is arrested and sent to a prison chain gang, where the only thing the convicts have to look forward to is the cartoon they share with a black church group on special occasions. The film's structure, however, is skillfully executed, and the hero's descent into a social hell uncushioned by money and power is presented largely through an effective montage, followed by the prison sequence. The ultimate return to comedy is indeed abrupt, but it demonstrates the theme of the film. The structure is attuned to the basic universe of the Sturges world, which is a schizophrenic one, part sophistication and part slapstick, a world of contradiction and conflict. Sturges's technical presentation carries out this confusion and chaos, by frequently disintegrating into rapid montage. Although he was a master of writing witty repartee, Sturges also loved visual gags and the sort of pratfalls associated with silent film comedy. He wove these two seemingly contradictory traditions—dialogue comedy and physical comedy—together into films like Sullivan's Travels which fans call "free-wheeling" and critics call "frenzied." The slambang quality of the Sturges films, coupled with the basic violence of his comedy, contributed to the eventual disfavor of his work.
Today Sturges may be seen as a great American satirist, and Sullivan's Travels is often called "Swiftian." It ably demonstrates the Sturges brand of comedy. The script is dense with hilarious dialogue, and the characterizations demonstrate his incredible attention to detail that makes a real human being out of the smallest, most outrageous part. The most successful portions of the film are those in which he satirizes Hollywood with an insider's advantage. As always, Sturges was adept at pointing out the absurdity and essential phonies of a world which, rotten to the core and corrupted by the desires for money and success, maintains an outward sheen of respectability and good manners.