Sullivan’s Travels – The Criterion Collection #118 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
April 9, 2015 by Dennis Amith
“Sullivan’s Travels” is an American classic and Preston Sturges at his best. But the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of “Sullivan’s Travels” also celebrates the life of this filmmaker but also showing us that even for great successes, when their luck has ran out, things don’t work out as great as you once have hoped. The definitive release of this Hollywood classic, “Sullivan’s Travels” on Blu-ray is highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Sullivan’s Travels – The Criterion Collection #118
YEAR OF FILM: 1941
DURATION: 101 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Black & White, Monaural LPCM 1.0
COMPANY: Universal/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: April 14, 2015
Written and Directed by Preston Sturges
Executive Producer: Buddy G. DeSylva
Produced by Preston Sturges
Associate Producer: Paul Jones
Music by Charles Bradshaw, Leo Shuken
Cinematography by John F. Seitz
Edited by Stuart Gilmore
Casting by Robert Mayo
Art Direction by Hans Dreier, A. Earl Hedrick
Costume Design by Edith Head
Joel McCrea as John L. Lloyd Sullivan
Veronica Lake as The Girl
Robert Warwick as Mr. Lebrand
William Demarest as Mr. Jones
Franklin Pangborn as Mr. Casalsis
Porter Hall as Mr. Hadrian
Byron Foulger as Mr. Johnny Valdelle
Margaret Hayes as Secretary
Robert Greig as Burroughs
Eric Blore as Sullivan’s valet
Torben Meyer as the Doctor
Victor Potel as Cameraman
Richard Webb as Radio Man
Charles R. Moore as Colored Chef
Tired of churning out lightweight comedies, Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) decides to make O Brother, Where Art Thou?—a serious, socially responsible film about human suffering. After his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, Sullivan hits the road disguised as a hobo. En route to enlightenment, he encounters a lovely but no-nonsense young woman (Veronica Lake)—and more trouble than he ever dreamed of. This comic masterpiece by Preston Sturges is among the finest Hollywood satires and a high-water mark in the career of one of the industry’s most revered funnymen.
In 1941, producer/writer/director Preston Sturges (“The Lady Eve”, “Unfaithfully Yours”, “The Great McGinty”) created his masterpiece “Sullivan’s Travels” starring actor Joel McCrea (“Foreign Correspondent”, “Buffalo Bill”, “The Virginian”) and actress Veronica Lake (“I Married a Witch”, “This Gun for Hire”, “Hold That Blonde”).
The film was selected for preservation by the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1990 as being “Culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and in 2007, was ranked #61 in the American Film Institute’s “Greatest Movie of All Time”.
As “Sullivan’s Travels” was the 118th release by the Criterion Collection, the film has received a new high-definition digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack in this 2015 Blu-ray release.
“Sullivan’s Travels” revolves around director John L. Sullivan (played by Joel McCrea). After having his share of profitable films, which were comedies that were not showcasing him as a serious director, Sullivan decided that he wanted to change things up and direct a film titled “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”. Of course, the studio head Mr. Lebrand (played by Robert Warwick) wants him to focus on comedy but Sullivan will not do it.
Sullivan comes up with an idea. Why not learn first-hand on how to be a homeless person (know in the 1940’s as the word “tramp”) by actually becoming one in order to gain the research he needs for his serious film that would depict the sorrow of humanity.
Of course, the studio is not so thrilled about their profitable director getting into that kind of trouble, so they have an entourage following Sullivan who is dressed as a tramp hitchhiking. The problem is that the entourage are just a bit too close and nearby. So, Sullivan tells them that he needs his space and distance from them to make this research possible and will meet them in Las Vegas.
Sullivan eventually breaks free and starts working as a helping hand for a woman who tries to keep him locked up in the house but Sullivan manages to escape and hitchhikes his way out of the area and is given a ride by a truck driver. When he wakes up, he finds out that he is taken back to Hollywood. Upset and hungry, he goes into a diner but with not much money, a failed actress (played by Veronica Lake) buys him breakfast.
Sullivan learns that the girl has only been taking extra work and has not done so well in Hollywood. So, he wants to help her. He pretends that he knows a successful director named Sullivan and borrows his car and tells her that he can stay at the director’s home for several weeks and he’ll fly her back home. But when the two are busted by police, Sullivan is forced to reveal that he is not homeless or a washed up director, he is actually a successful director dressing up as a tramp in order to do research for his upcoming film.
Upset by Sullivan lying to her, she tells him that if he is going to disguise himself as a homeless person to research this role, she is going to join him. And thus begins, Sullivan’s travels along with the girl to learn how it is to be homeless in America during these harsh times.
“Sullivan’s Travels – The Criterion Collection #118” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio). This is the definitive version of “Sullivan’s Travels” to date. The picture quality surpasses the original DVD release in clarity and detail. White and grays are well-contrasted, black levels are nice and deep and the film looks absolutely magnificent as I did not see any major damage, scratches or dust. The mild flickering from the original DVD is not as evident in the Blu-ray release.
According to the Criterion Collection, “This new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine film scanner from a 35 mm nitrate fine-grain at Universal Studios in Universal City, California, where the film was also restored.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for audio, “Sullivan’s Travels – The Criterion Collection #118” is presented in English LPCM 1.0 monaural. Dialogue is clear with no signs of hiss or popping.
According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monoraul soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic soundtrack made from the original 35 mm soundtrack negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX4.”
“Sullivan’s Travels – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #118″ comes with the following special features:
- Audio commentary by filmmakers Noah Baumbach, Kenneth Bowser and actors Christopher Guest and Michael McKean – An enjoyable commentary by the four who discuss the film. Very good insight on Preston Sturges by Kenneth Bowser. Note: All four were not in the studio watching the film at the same time for the commentary.
- Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer – (1:15:10) A 76-minute documentary made by Kenneth Bowser for PBS’s “American Masters” series. A very well-done documentary on Preston Sturges from his earlier family life to being blackballed by the industry and losing the business he started and losing a lot of his money.
- Sandy Sturges – (13:37) An interview with Preston Sturges’ widow Sandy Sturges in 2001. Who also reveals of why things may have gone sour between Howard Hughes and Preston Sturges.
- Ants in Your Plants of 1941 – (17:20) A video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns features director Bill forsyth and was produced by the Criterion Collection in 2014.
- Sturges Talks to Hedda Hopper – A four minute radio interview from 1951 for Heda Hopper’s Hollywood. Sturges talks about the importance of television and film.
- Preston Sturges Recites “If I Were King” – A recital written by Justin Huntly McCarthy used for McCArthy’s play and was the basis for the screenplay “If I Were King” (1938).
- Sturges Sings “My Love” – A Homemade recording of Sturges singing “My Love” from 1938.
“Sullivan’s Travels – The Criterion Collection #118” comes with a five-page insert with the essay “Self-Portrait in a Fun-House Mirror” by Stuart Klawans.
I have to admit that when I first watched “Sullivan’s Travels”, I was a bit surprised. I was expecting a screwball comedy and at first, the film was very comedy-driven until you get to the final half hour and see how serious the film gets and then it transitions back to a comedy film once again.
But there are scenes that made me happy to see. First, the chemistry between Joeal McCrea and Veronica Lake was just magnificent. To see how Sturges avoided any problems by the censors but yet still making sure he was compliant with the Hays code was quite interesting. Where depiction of a couple sleeping together was typically not possible (thus the two beds were separated during the Golden Era) but then sidestepping the code by having the two sleep together in other scenes without the use of a bedroom. But to watch these two together on screen and have so much fun made this film quite enjoyable. Veronica Lake looks absolutely stunning in this film.
Another scene that I absolute enjoyed was how it depicted the Southern church and its Black parishioners. With Blacks typically shown stereotypically in roles that made fun of their characters, we see both black and white people watching a film together and both races are enjoying the film together. In fact, the NAACP secretary Walter White even wrote a letter to Sturges congratulating him in creating a film and showcasing Blacks decent treatment. I was definitely a moving scene.
Although the film received rave reviews, within the 70+ years after the film’s release in theaters, many critics are discovering how important and significant this film is and also how this film ranks up there among Sturges’s other popular films
As mentioned earlier, this is the definitive version of “Sullivan’s Travels” to date. I have various DVD versions but to see the clarity with this Blu-ray release, I was quite happy to watch this film digitally restored in HD! Definitely an improvement from the original Criterion Collection DVD.
It’s one thing to give the film credit but I also give credit to the Criterion Collection for including the documentary “The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer”. I had no idea how much turmoil Sturges had to face after the 1940’s. For a man who’s films are so highly regarded, it’s a shame that the early Hollywood system really turned their backs on him and literally blackballed him from ever writing, directing or producing another film during the 1950’s. Kenneth Bowser does a remarkable job in featuring the career of Preston Sturges and interviews with those close to him.
Also included on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release is the addition of the “Ants in Your Plants of 1941” video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns and featuring director Bill Forsyth. While the audio portions remain, the only thing from the original DVD not included on the Blu-ray release are storyboards, blueprints and stills. Plus you get an essay featured on the 5-page insert.
Overall, “Sullivan’s Travels” is an American classic and Preston Sturges at his best. But the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of “Sullivan’s Travels” also celebrates the life of this filmmaker but also showing us that even for great successes, when their luck has ran out, things don’t work out as great as you once have hoped.
The definitive release of this Hollywood classic, “Sullivan’s Travels” on Blu-ray is highly recommended!
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