Monday, 28 February 2011
Old Movie Madness - Sullivan's Travels (1941)
After my slating of Veronika Lake in "I Married a Witch" I was very curious to see her in another movie, and how glad I am that I bothered.
Sullivan's Travels is the story of a rich man moviemaker who has an urge to show the world the plight of the poor but realises he cannot do so without first hand experience. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) the movie Director in question, decides to live life as a "bum" and heads out into the world of the Depression with nothing but 10 cents in his pocket and his real identity hidden in the sole of his shoe.
At the start of his adventure he meets a wisecracking young actress, (Lake - credited as The Girl) who kindly buys him some food. To repay her kindness Sullivan "steals" his own car to drive her home but the theft is reported by his staff and the pair are arrested. Once The Girl realises who Sullivan is she pushes him into his swimming pool, angry at being duped. She has already developed an attachment to him though, and joins him on his second attempt to live life as a hobo.
After eating from soup kitchens, sleeping on the street and having his boots stolen Sullivan has finally had enough and he and The Girl return to Hollywood where she declares her love for him. Unfortunately Sullivan is married, unhappily and for tax purposes only, to a woman who and so the pair cannot marry.
To thank the hobos for their kindness to him during this time Sullivan decides to distribute cash to the poor and sets out dressed in his hobo clothes. Sadly he is robbed and dumped on a rail car, waking in another city and being arrested for brawling when he panics and then forced into a labour camp. Whilst there he watches a cartoon with the men and realises the power of humour in bleak times.
In the meantime his assailant, the man who had earlier stolen his shoes, is his by a train. The body is unrecognisable but due to the ID in the shoe everyone assumes Sullivan has been killed.
No one believes Sullivan is who he claims to be until he has a brainwave and confesses to his own murder. His picture is then featured in Newspapers across the country and The Girl recognises him and has him released.
During his incarceration, his wife, believing him to be dead, has set herself up with another man and so he and The Girl can marry and he resolves only to make comedies in the future to make people happy.
The film is great on many levels. McCrea underplays the role very well, he remains calm while all around him are caricature. This allows the viewer to see the change in him as he slowly falls for The Girl and realises the value of humour. Remarkable given that he took ma violent dislike to his co-star and refused to work with her again. His role is a tender one and very well played.
Lake is also magnificent, she shows great comedy timing and a lack of vanity, dressing in men's clothes as a hobo. Her tiny stature compared to McCrea's also ups the humour - most sites claim she was only 4'11" tall. She is hilarious done up as a boy, bringing a little Vaudeville style to the streetcar scenes.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, it is a film with a message about how films do not need a message.
Enjoy the trailer: