Generally considered Preston Sturges’ best film (which is really a tough call) and the first of three of his films to be placed on the National Film Registry, Sullivan’s Travels (1941) is certainly his most ambitious work—and probably his most personal. Joel McCrea stars as a big shot Hollywood director, John L. Sullivan, who is known for his comedies, but who wants to make a serious film “that means something.” To this end, he’s come up something called O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which his bosses describe as “10 reels of hard luck.” They’d much prefer him to make Ants in Your Pants of 1941, but he’s adamant about “holding a mirror up to life”—until it’s pointed out that he has no idea what trouble is, having gone from a rich childhood to a successful career. Instead of dissuading him from the project, though, this causes him to decide to go experience poverty for himself, so he can make O Brother, Where Art Thou? with some actual understanding. This results in the travels of the title, as well as romance with a girl (“There’s always a girl in the picture—don’t you go to the movies?”), who oddly is never given a name in the film, but is played by Veronica Lake in easily her best performance. As things turn out—both comedically and seriously—Sullivan gets far more than he bargains for.
The Asheville Film Society will screen Sullivan’s Travels on Tuesday, May 15, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther. Hanke is the artistic director of the A.F.S.