Tired of churning out lightweight comedies, Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) decides to make O Brother, Where Art Thou?—a serious, socially responsible film about human suffering. After his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, Sullivan hits the road disguised as a hobo. En route to enlightenment, he encounters a lovely but no-nonsense young woman (Veronica Lake)—and more trouble than he ever dreamed of. This comic masterpiece by Preston Sturges is among the finest Hollywood satires and a high-water mark in the career of one of the industry’s most revered funnymen.
“The Coen brothers got the title for their film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” as well as its premise, from Preston Sturges’s 1941 inside-Hollywood comedy, “Sullivan’s Travels” (which I discuss in this clip). In the heart of the Depression, Sturges—already renowned for his comedies—made a movie about a director, John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea), who is renowned for his comedies but dreams of making a serious movie about the lives of the poor—a movie that he’d call “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” They also took from Sturges the fundamental tension between the desire to say something and the need to show something. And, as great as the Coen brothers are, Sturges has stayed a step ahead of them in one particular regard: he filmed his Hollywood conflicts and self-doubts in the present tense.” RICHARD BRODY, NEW YORKER
“Sullivan’s Travels is quite unequivocal in its stance: a full recognition of the fact that the American experience is a real nightmare to a large segment of its citizens, and the almost equally plain conclusion that there is nothing one can do about it, making the film a curious mix of daring social criticism and tremendous resignation.” SENSES OF CINEMA
“The film has sometimes been read as a defence of Hollywood escapism, but what Sturges is really doing is putting down the awful liberal solemnities of problem pictures and movies with a message. Whatever, Sullivan’s Travels is a gem, an almost serious comedy not taken entirely seriously, with wonderful dialogue, eccentric characterisations, and superlative performances throughout.” TIME OUT LONDON
“In one of Preston Sturges smartest and sharping comedies, essay with bitter laughter of a Marxist-Chaplin-ish situation, McCrea reaches one of his peaks with this ambivalent millionaire who discovers in the vagrancy the essence of a breath that money did not allow him to know, namely, the human dignity. Irresistible lesson, made by an actor of the most reliable fineness.” JOSÉ NEVES, MUBI
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