February 1, 2010 Leave a comment
Where I write a bit about a movie –old or new– that has to do with the economy…
Appearing near the end of a Depression and during a war that forced Americans to ration and live in their means, Sullivan’s Travels (1941) is a movie about whether Hollywood can genuinely portray suffering and hardship and whether it should. Ambitious director John Sullivan wants to make a movie about real people and their problems, instead of the light-hearted fare he has become recognized for. His credibility as a chronicler of the downtrodden challenged by his studio executive bosses — Sullivan is a well-healed prep school and Ivy League grad — he decides to travel outside of Hollywood and experience destitution for himself.
The film is a funny and honest take on the theme of whether those removed from hardship can genuinely portray it through art. Supposedly, writer and director Preston Sturges, made the movie to go after those of his contemporaries who produced serious work about the depression that were heavy in a certain aesthetic (think the movie version of the Grapes of Wrath) and in a certain moralistic view of the goodness of frugality (think It’s a Wonderful Life). At the same time, Sullivan’s Travels is greatly influenced by those movies (which I happen to like), and seems a bit in debt to them. The scenes of poverty, which include freight cars traveled by hobos and the travails of a chain gang, look similar to the aforementioned aesthetic.
Sullivan’s ultimate eagerness to return back to his life of wealth and ease after he gets into real trouble teaches him that sometimes people need to be transported from difficulty rather than reminded of it. Whatever your take is on that statement, it is a thoughtful movie, its theme perhaps best summed up by this line from Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
“I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad, and to travel for it too!”
Sullivan’s Travels (Photo credit: Night Hawk News)