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The One-Line Summary: John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a popular Hollywood director famous for light, insubstantial comedies and for his next movie, wants to do something meaningful about the plight of the downtrodden, wishing to adapt O, Brother Where Art Thou? despite the studio’s misgivings, so he dresses in ragged clothes and sets out to discover America and the common man where he meets a girl and they travel the country in this touching, supremely well-crafted tale.
The Two-Line Blurb: Many films from decades past, as sensibilities and film making technique change, often don’t find audiences in modern times, which is too bad as there are some timeless efforts that transcend the decade they were produced, which is the case here where director Preston Sturgess brings to life a gripping, funny, and highly entertaining film that delivers with some strong performances and a very satisfying ending. In a time when profanity and ugly insults were not standard fare in film, Sullivan’s Travels (taking its name from Jonathan Swift’s classic Gulliver’s Travels, about another journey of discovery) is a beautifully scripted and acted film, with particular interest to the demure Veronica Lake, who is magnetic throughout, making us all fall a little in love.
The Three-Line Set-up: Sullivan is adamant that he will make this new film for the hard-lucked people, convinced they need a story on film that tells of their troubles, even though the studio heads are not so sure and plead with him to stick to what he does best. He refuses to do otherwise and once out on the streets, penniless and scruffy, he meets “the girl,” unnamed throughout the film, who has just decided to quit acting and leave town but thinks he is destitute so buys hims a breakfast in a unselfish act that moves the film director so much he takes his car to give her a lift, which his servants report as missing, and the two are eventually arrested. Once his identity is revealed, he brings her home to vast estate where she realizes she’s been duped.
The Four-Line Moment: Since it’s the 1940s, her anger is expressed only by pushing Sullivan into his pool and calling him a “big faker” instead of punching him in the face and letting rip a slew of foul insults, which feels archaic to be sure, but also gives it a charm that so many of these kinds of film embrace with the fast-talking dialogue and gentle undertones of sexual attraction. Lake is powerfully attractive and absolutely commands attention in every scene, and especially here where she sits cross-legged on an armrest like a goddess, brushing her long blonde locks convincing Sullivan that she would be good for him on his journey. The scene is a classic example of how well this film works as the two leads are effortlessly good together and as the moment closes also teases as to the humor the film will employ, reminding us that in fact, the movie is a statement about the times it portrays and as the world lay embroiled in global war, people needed to laugh. It’s a fun, deeply committed film that deserves to be cherished.
The Five-Word Review: Veronica Lake makes this perfect.