The most ambitious of Preston Sturges' string of 1940s classics, Sullivan's Travels is a brilliant mixture of genres, combining giddy comedy with often brutal realism, made all the more powerful by the contrast. The first part of the film, which details the botched attempts of idealistic film director John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) to leave Hollywood, smoothly blends outrageous slapstick with Sturges' customary satirical dialogue, and includes classic exchanges between Sullivan and his Hollywood producers (Robert Warwick and Porter Hall) and his hilariously droll and opinionated butler (Robert Greig). The tone of the movie changes considerably with three bravura sequences. The first, a graceful, wordless section in which Sullivan and his nameless companion (Veronica Lake, showing a nice flair for comedy) spend a night among the homeless, proves that, although Sturges is noted mainly for his writing, he was also a sensitive and talented director. The second, a violent chain-gang episode almost shocking in its stark realism, and the third, a short musical passage set in a rural church, hammer home the movie's apparent moral: that, as Sullivan puts it, "there's a lot to be said for making people laugh." Sturges may seem to be ridiculing a cinema of ideas, but his final joke is that Sullivan's Travels supports a different argument: that comedy and serious drama can co-exist quite happily after all.
by Mark Pittillo review