Preston Sturges, 1941, bw (8.8*)
[Our post of the top ranked films of Preston Sturges]
A Hollywood director of escapist films decides he needs to experience real life instead of his Hollywooden one. He pretends to be a hobo and hit the road without money or any identity, and of course, with an assumed name, and see how life really is in America at the true grass roots level.
Of couse, he experiences far more than he imagined beforehand, and suffice to say it’s a life-changing experiment. The men he meets give him a new perspective on America and on himself as well. Joel McRea shines in probably his best performance as Sullivan. Veronica Lake (see photo above) provides welcome eye candy, she's quite attractive when she "puts on her face".
I think what Sturges adds is a kind of unabashed honesty that doesn’t seem forced - ok, maybe it is a little corny. That in itself is refreshing, so this film endures as a classic today. It’s also a film about a filmmaker making a film, there aren’t many better that come to my reputed mind. Perhaps only Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), with an altogether different feel, as it’s a serious film with sarcasm, a murder mixed with romance and heavily tinged with cynicism regarding Hollywood and the film industry, where the prime concern is to find a mega-profitable ‘project’, something the public will gobble up.
Writer-director Sturges makes this type of film like no one else except Capra, where comedy, or at least looking at life in a humorous way (it doesn’t have to be gut-busting, insane comedy) is used to get us into a story that then teaches a valuable lesson learned through experience, something you can’t find out any other way, which is your relationship to society and the world.
Raising Arizona (1987) to one in Sullivan’s Travels. The title O' Brother Where Art Thou is the name of the movie that Sullivan wishes to direct in Sullivan’s Travels. There’s a terrific scene of people watching a movie that was repeated with variations in Italian Guiseppe Tournatore’s Oscar®-winning Cinema Paradiso (1988), so the Sturges influence is worldwide, as it should be.
This is a highly underrated comedy at #296 all-time, it’s certainly better than many ranked ahead of it. See the full poll in our 2011 update of the Top Ranked 1000 Films on the Net, all polls. I’m sure it’s among the top 100 comedies, however.