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ALEX FARBA


 

Alex Farba Deleon is a filmfestivals.com ambassador

MY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEWS


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Sullivan travels, review by Alex Deleon

John L. Sullivan, a successful but naive director of lightweight motion pictures,  decides he wants to make a film about the trials and tribulations of the downtrodden poor. Much to the dismay of his producers, he sets off in ragged tramp's clothing with a single dime in his pocket to experience poverty first-hand and winds up in a chain gang!  - but finds a way out...

Veronica's golden Waves were alone worth the price of admission..

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Light Screwball Comedy with a heavy dark streak and a scintillating Veronica Lake

 

 

Screwball comedies with absurd premises and popular stars were a staple of thirties Hollywood to help make people temporarily forget the misery of the great depression.  Sullivan's Travels made at Paramount in 1941  when World War II was already raging in Europe was one of the last of the genre, and one of the most lasting. A film I have heard about for ages but was only able to catch now at a single night film club screening. The film starts out on a fluffy slapstick footing until the delayed appearance of Veronica Lake almost a quarter of the way through, but then takes off into classic space. 

Going in Joel McCrae, 36, was the big star but after this he was outshone by Lake who stole the show with her timely wisecracks, cascades of platinum blonde hair and sheer youthful beauty --she was nineteen at the time!  Lake went on to become one of the most popular wartime stars with her trademark peekaboo hairstyle. In this film the camera lingers lovingly on her incredible long wavy tresses in multiple scenes. One reason to hang in there.

Lake plays a down on her luck rejected film actress wannabe --  hard to believe with her looks! -- who offers McCrae a meal in a rusty spoon diner -- -  but Sullivan realizes her potential and drops  his hobo act taking her back to his Hollywood estate. There she pushes him into the pool to punish him for trying to pull the wool over her eyes. All others follow suite and  take amusing tumbles fully clothed into the drink.

From here she joins him in his hobo travels with a borderline risqué roll in the hay of a freight train they gave hopped in true hobo style.

Having learned what he needs to know about trouble from the bums met along the way Sullivan decides to reward all by handing out five dollar bills. One vicious tramp clobbers him and takes all the money and steals his shoes (which contain his real  I.D, sewn into the soles) whereupon Sullivan wakes up in a freight yard and clobbers a railway guard in self defense. For assaulting an officer and refusing to reveal his name in court he is sentenced to hard labor in a chain gang. Here the comedy veers into deadly serious territory.  By a quirk of his ID. found concealed in the exchanged shoes  Director Sullivan is reported dead, not the hobo who stole his shoes and then got killed by a train, whereupon his retinue including Lake all go into deep mourning.

Meanwhile, as a respite from their hard labors the chained prisoners are granted a night of watching movies in a Negro church. The film is a cartoon featuring Pluto the dog and brings roars of laughter from the forlorn  chain gangers.

Now comes the most touching scene in the entire picture.  Sympathizing with the desperate plight of the weary chain gang the Preacher of the congregation (tremendous black actor, Jess Lee Brooks -- inexplicably  Uncredited ! ) leads the gathering of worshipers in a stirring rendition of the Negro spiritual, "Go down Moses -- Let my people Go!"   

Subsequently, with the help of an older chain gang convict, Sullivan hits upon the idea that will lead to his salvation and release.  Can't give such a potential spoiler away. here, Suffice it to say that all's well that ends well, but the last scene is a serious comment on the importance of laughter.

Sullivan, it might be observed,  is named after John L. Sullivan, one if the most famous heavyweight boxing champions of the early century with implications that the director  played by McCrea, is the kind of  champion the downtrodden need whike  the implied critique of chain gang justice is no mere throwaway joke. 

All in All Sullivan's Travels, if not  quite a masterpiece, is a unique film of it's kind -- a hilarious comedy with a serious message of the need for humor to see us thriugh the darkest of times.  .

Not to mention the solid arrival of that amazing blonde bombshell, Veronica Lake.
 

In her very  next film, "This Gun For Hire", She received top billing above newcomer Alan Ladd, then went on to make six more films with Ladd, one of which, "The Blue Dahlia"  will be shown next week in the Upcoming Noir festival at the Egyptian.

Most unfortunately Ms. Lake's career did not last long after this and was basically cut short by a combination of alcohol and a disastrous private life.  She ended up working as an unsung  bar room waitress and died broke at fifty in 1973 of acute hepatitis.

SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, 1941 Review By Alex Deleon

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Viewed at Egyptian Theater, Hollywood.  

April 11, 2018

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