O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Sullivan’s Travels: written and directed by Preston Sturges; starring Joel McCrea (John Lloyd Sullivan) and Veronica Lake (The Girl) (1942): Sullivan’s Travels seems weirdly unaged in its concerns. Hollywood comedy and musical director John Sullivan decides to make a serious social drama entitled O Brother, Where Art Thou?. His studio bosses aren’t happy about it. Sullivan decides that in order to understand poverty in America, he needs to go on the road and pretend to be poor. And away we go.

The movie still seems fresh in its satiric targets because those targets are, if anything, more prominent in 2012 than they were in 1942. We’ve now had another seven decades of actors doing odd things to themselves so that they can get into a role. We’ve now had another seven decades of generally well-meaning celebrities trying to understand how the other 99% lives through various, sometimes unintentionally demeaning ways. Sturges’s satire of a Hollywood in which charity and the almighty buck always walk hand in hand, sometimes with self-delusion as an unintended third, still rings true.

Sullivan’s travels (and travails) come at us with great good humour and kindness, two hallmarks of a Preston Sturges satire. Joel McCrea is terrific as the handsome, well-meaning, and totally out-of-his element Sullivan. Veronica Lake is lovely and funny as the failed actress he meets along the way. There are also marvelous character bits from a host of actors in small roles. For a 90-minute movie, Sullivan’s Travels packs a lot in. Highly recommended.

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