A very funny social satire on the value of comedy and the hazards of good intentions, Sullivan’s Travels
(1941) follows the exploits of John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea), a Hollywood director who, over the strong objections of his studio’s honchos, puts his successful career on hold to travel the country disguised as a hobo to prepare for his next picture. Although he had planned for his journey to provide the basis for a well-researched social problem film, Mr. Sullivan gets more than he bargained for when he finds himself in dire straits and unable to convince anyone of his true identity. The ensuing adventure provides moments of poignant realization, along with several classical examples of misrecognition, the most memorable being Sullivan’s encounter with a character known only as “The Girl,” played by Veronica Lake in one of her earliest roles.
As one of sound-era Hollywood’s first screenwriter-directors, Sturges revitalized the screwball comedy with Sullivan’s Travels, as well as the Oscar-winning The Great McGinty
(1940), The Lady Eve
(1941), and The Palm Beach Story
(1942). This seminar will consider his role as a film author, noting some of the preoccupations that crop up across his work, and examine what this film has to say about the value and meaning of entertainment.