Monday, August 29, 2011

Links: Sullivan's Travels

Todd McCarthy valorizes Sullivan's Travels and writer-director Peston Sturges in his essay for the Criterion Collection:

"The sweetest, most generous-hearted satire of the Hollywood film industry the town has ever produced, Sullivan’s Travels was the fourth of the eight films Preston Sturges made during his astonishingly prolific streak between 1940 and 1944. Deserving of eternal veneration as the first screenwriter to decisively break through as a director, Sturges paved the way for the likes of John Huston, Billy Wilder, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Sturges’ reputation surpassed even those screen giants in the sense that he was, in every respect, the author of his films, working without a collaborator and always from his own original stories. Having already made his mark as a Broadway playwright, he was the first filmmaker to function like a playwright/theatrical impressario at a major studio, not only creating his own material but assembling his own troupe of players. More than anyone in that era of Hollywood, he fully deserved the authorial billing on the title card: “Sullivan’s Travels by Preston Sturges.”"

While Dan Harper at Senses of Cinema sees Sullivan's Travels as an all-out assault by Sturges on Frank Capra and his piously liberal films of the late 1930s:

"Preston Sturges pokes fun at virtually everything in Sullivan’s Travels – including (luckily) himself. While sparing neither the single-minded hucksters otherwise known as producers nor the successful director of comedies suddenly gripped with a social conscience, Sturges also attacks just the sort of movie Frank Capra was making at the time – Meet John Doe (1941). Capra himself had also been a successful director of comedies (It Happened One Night [1934], You Can’t Take It With You [1938]), before his seriousness got the better of him. When Capra tried to combine his social conscience with his comedic genius, the results were usually uneven. While Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936) was initially successful as a serio-comic look at Depression-era economics, Capra found himself increasingly at odds with the status quo. And his populism pushed both Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939) and Meet John Doe into perilous territory. Neither film had a suitable ending, as if Capra, having confronted Good and Evil so convincingly, couldn’t decide who should win."

I think he's seriously overrating You Can't Take it With You (which is surely as simplistic in its conception of Good and Evil as anything else he made) and underrating Mr. Smith (which is far more complex than is generally allowed) here, but his general point is solid.

Me, I just can't get over the fact that Veronica Lake wasn't even five feet tall.  At 4'11", I've met dogs that are bigger than her.  She had a pretty sad life too:

"When one-time lover Marlon Brando heard she was working as a barmaid, he promptly had his people deliver her a check for $1,000.  Too proud to cash it, Lake instead chose to have it framed as a memory of days gone by, and a not-so-subtle notice to others that she was once Hollywood’s reigning sex symbol."

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