Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2021) on… Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

We’re back for another Preston Sturges film with the classic 1941 movie Sullivan’s Travels starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Fly My Kite (1931)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 2 (1930-1931) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 21 minutes, 4 seconds)

Grandma (Margaret Mann) faces eviction by her former son-in-law, but the Gang do their part to help stop his plans. This was another fun and sentimental short in the series, with the kids again facing off against a “villain” trying to do harm to Grandma. Jim Mason does well as the son-in-law, who makes us hate him and cheer on the Gang when they try to stop his plans. Overall, very entertaining, which is par for the course with these Our Gang shorts!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is known for his comedies, but he wants very much to direct the tragedy O Brother, Where Art Thou. His bosses at the studio, Mr. LeBrand (Robert Warwick) and Mr. Hadrian (Porter Hall), think he’s had too soft a lifestyle and hasn’t suffered enough to be able to make the movie, and would much prefer that he make another comedy. Agreeing with them on the point that he doesn’t really know suffering, he decides to dress as a tramp and take to the road to experience trouble. His bosses aren’t thrilled with the idea, but they make a demand of their own by sending along a bus (or, as the film refers to it, a “land yacht”) with a doctor, secretary, reporter, photographer and chauffeur to attend to his needs. Wanting to ditch them, Sullivan hops in a jalopy with a kid and makes a mad dash for it, with the bus trying its best to keep up. After a long chase, Sullivan finds himself unable to ditch the bus, but convinces everyone on board to let him go it alone for a while, with plans to meet up later in Las Vegas. He stops at a farmhouse to do some work there for a widow, but when he finds that she has other plans for him (besides working), he tries to sneak out at night. He gets away (making a lot of noise in the process), but the truck he hitches a ride with ends up bringing him right back to Hollywood. He stops at a diner for a cup of coffee, and he finds himself with some ham and eggs, paid for by a failed wannabe actress (or “The Girl” as the credits list the character played by Veronica Lake). In return, he tries to offer her a ride somewhere by pretending to be a friend of director John L. Sullivan. However, they are arrested by the police, and only freed when his butler (Robert Greig) and valet (Eric Blore) bail them out. At first, “The Girl” is angry at how Sullivan had tricked her, but when she finds out about his “experiment,” she insists on joining him. He protests the idea, but she won’t give up on it. The next day, with both of them dressed in tramp costumes, they hitch a ride on a train with all the other tramps. When they get off the train, they find themselves near Las Vegas. They find the bus, where they make a brief stop (mostly for Sullivan to start recovering from a cold he caught), and then they’re off again. They see what life is like for other tramps and homeless people, and Sullivan feels he has seen enough. However, he has one last thing he wants to do before returning to Hollywood, and he walks the streets, handing out five dollar bills (nearly five thousand dollars worth) to homeless people. One of them, who had stolen his shoes (which contained his identification), sees him doing this and decides to steal it. The man hits Sullivan on the head at a train yard, and drags him onto a train. He tries to get away with the money, but ends up getting killed by a train. Meanwhile, a confused and amnesiac Sullivan gets himself into trouble by fighting with a railroad worker when he wakes up, and is sentenced to six years of hard labor. Will Sullivan ever remember who he is, or will his friends ever find him, especially with someone else dead that they assume is him because of the I.D. in the shoes?

Actor Joel McCrea and Preston Sturges had originally met on the set of The Power And The Glory (1933) (which Preston Sturges wrote the script for), and they got along well. After Preston Sturges made the leap from writer to writer/director with the films The Great McGinty and Christmas In July, he came up with an idea for Sullivan’s Travels based on his feeling that some of his fellow writers were getting a little too preachy in giving their comedy films messages and needed to lay off the idea. He had only one person in mind to play the character of John L. Sullivan: Joel McCrea. Joel McCrea was surprised to have a script written specifically for him, as he felt that, most of the time, the scripts were written for Gary Cooper and he got them when Gary turned them down. For the otherwise unnamed “Girl” in the picture, Sturges cast Veronica Lake, who kept it secret that she was pregnant (until after filming had started), so that she could do the film. Of course, a few knew about her pregnancy, and they worked around it with different camera angles and costumes to hide it. The film received mixed reviews, and wasn’t as popular at that time, but it has grown in popularity over time as people have come around to the way it was made.

I’ll admit, when it came to the order I was planning to do my Sunday reviews in the month of October, I was really vacillating between different ways of doing it. Ultimately, I opted to go with the current order, leaving this post on Sullivan’s Travels to debut on October 31. While it wasn’t my original intention, I do find it to be the most fitting film of the bunch for Halloween itself. I mean, we’ve got our main character dressing up for a lifestyle that he knows almost nothing about. Of course, in what was a nightmarish scenario for the character, he did find himself increasingly becoming what he was pretending to be. But, in doing so, he did indeed walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, giving him a better view of life and how to help out others in his own way. Obviously, this isn’t a scary movie (unless you’re somebody rich who dreads becoming poor and unable to get out of trouble with your money), but it’s still a good Halloween movie.

Even ignoring the timing of this post, I’ll still say this was a wonderful movie. In some ways, it really hits home with the power of laughter. I know I certainly haven’t had things as bad as being in a prison gang (like the main character), nor as bad off as some of the others here were shown to be, but I do know that life is hard, and I do find myself enjoying breaks from that with comedies (and musicals). And this film does have some good comedic moments, what with the car chase near the beginning, which is the most screwball moment in the whole film! While things do calm down a bit after that, I still enjoy all the fun at Sullivan’s pool, and how his servants help him figure out how and where to get on the train. Admittedly, my biggest problem with this movie is its big shift in tone, going from screwball comedy (with a little romantic comedy in between) all the way to being a drama without many laughs for most of the last part of the movie. With the movie’s overall “message” on the importance of laughter, that does make it feel discombobulating to go so long without humor. Of course, I had already heard about that tonal shift before seeing this movie, so I was prepared. In that same vein, I also feel the need to forewarn you, that this movie is neither a pure comedy nor a pure drama. If you’re prepared for that, then there is a good movie to be found here. I do prefer Preston Sturges’ pure comedies like The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story much more, (and I Married A Witch with Veronica Lake), but I still find this one worth recommending!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Internes Can’t Take Money (1937) – Joel McCrea – The Great Man’s Lady (1942)

Veronica Lake – I Married A Witch (1942)

Road To Zanzibar (1941) – Eric Blore – The Sky’s The Limit (1943)

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Here we are with a new release of the 1946 noir, The Blue Dahlia, starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and William Bendix.

Alan Ladd plays Johnny Morrison, a returning WWII vet, who comes to find his wife with her boyfriend, Eddie Harwood.  Furious, he leaves her, briefly considering shooting her, but decides against it and leaves the gun behind.  The next day, she is discovered murdered, and he goes on the run, since the police suspect him.  While he tries to look into what happened, he is helped by Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake), who, unknown to him, is the wife of Eddie Harwood.

Apparently, this movie was put together in fairly short order.  Star Alan Ladd was one of the more popular stars at Paramount, and he had been called back to active service in the military at that time.  Raymond Chandler, best known as the author of various mysteries, including The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely (both of which had recent movie versions at this time), wrote the screenplay.  Apparently, for a while it wasn’t coming quick enough, so he was able to wrangle the opportunity to work from home and drink heavily to do it, since he said he did his best writing that way (and apparently, it worked, as he finished the script in time for them to finish filming before Alan Ladd had to go).

I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what the movie would be like, going in.  I have had little experience with either of the two main stars, and mainly know William Bendix from other comedic roles.  The movie surprised me, and I ended up enjoying it.  I didn’t quite expect the ending, which isn’t really a bad thing!  Of course, from what I have read, they were forced to change the original, planned ending (which caused some delay in filming), but, considering the fact that, from what I have read, that would have been the ending I saw coming, I’ll take it, as it still makes enough sense to me!  So I very heartily recommend this movie to fans of film noir!

The movie is available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and on DVD from Universal, and is about one hour, forty minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10 (note: my rating here is strictly for the movie itself.  The transfer for the Blu-ray itself would lower the points a little, since it is not as good as it could be, mostly with different specks and whatnot here and there, but that is the fault of Universal, who licensed the movie out to Shout.  That being said, it was not so bad as to distract from the movie itself, which, as you can tell from my rating, I thoroughly enjoyed.)

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

I Married A Witch (1942) – Veronica Lake

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… I Married A Witch (1942)

Since I Married A Witch has been requested, I shall indeed delve into this movie. It is a movie I had not previously heard of. Sometimes I am prone to looking up movies on Amazon for various actors and actresses I have heard of, and seeing what is available (particularly on Blu-ray). This movie I came across when I was looking up actress Veronica Lake. Upon looking it up, I found it was described as being a screwball comedy (a genre I have come to REALLY enjoy the last few years, at least from that era of movies, anyways). I also found it was listed as being one of several movies that originally inspired the creator of the classic sitcom Bewitched, so I definitely thought it would be worth trying. The movie stars Fredric March, Veronica Lake, Cecil Kellaway, Susan Hayward, and Robert Benchley.

Of course, we have to start off with the requisite description of the plot. We first start back in the time of the Puritans, after a girl, Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) have been burned at the stake, being accused by Jonathan Wooley (Fredric March), and then their ashes were buried beneath a tree to trap their spirits. Before they were burned, Jennifer cursed Jonathan and his future descendants with being “unlucky in love” (translation: marrying the wrong person). We see a few snippets of Jonathan’s descendants through time (all played by March), up until the present day (well, for when this movie was made). We find the current Wooley, Wallace, running for governor, and engaged to be married the day before the election, to the spoiled Estelle, (Susan Hayward) the daughter of his chief political backer. There is a lightning storm, which hits the tree, letting Jennifer and Daniel loose as puffs of smoke, who decide to wreak havoc on Wallace. They are limited to being those puffs of smoke, except by creating a body through a fire, so Jennifer starts a fire on a hotel, which Wallace is passing by. He hears her, and goes in to save her. From then on, she starts being a problem to him, and falls for him, which her father does not like (Any further details should be supplied by watching the movie).

So, now we get to my assessment of the movie. After one viewing, all I can say is that I heartily recommend the movie! Is it my favorite screwball comedy? No, that honor would probably go to the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical Carefree (if anybody can read that entire statement and still ask me why, you don’t know me very well, do you). But this movie is still very enjoyable (and still clear proof of why I enjoy screwball comedies of this era), with a lot of the humor stemming from her popping up everywhere and causing him havoc. In particular, I most enjoyed the attempted wedding between Wallace and Estelle, which just gets funnier the longer it goes on! The special effects are about what I would expect to find in either of the sixties sitcoms Bewitched or I Dream Of Jeannie, which still works well here. Obviously, we can easily see Jennifer and Wallace getting together by the end of the movie, but the journey of the movie is the fun, and this movie is not short of that, so I would heartily recommend it to anybody (especially for some Halloween fun)!

The movie is available on either Blu-ray or DVD from the Criterion Collection (and therefore a little more expensive, but worth it to me), and I think Amazon may have it to either rent or download for those who don’t want/ need the disc.

Film Length: 1 hour, 16 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Nothing Sacred (1937) – Fredric March

Sullivan’s Travels (1941) – Veronica Lake – The Blue Dahlia (1946)

The Major And The Minor (1942) – Robert Benchley – The Sky’s The Limit (1943)