The Film (5/5)
It was about 15 years ago that I stumbled upon the work of Preston Sturges during an early Sunday morning AMC airing of his masterpiece The Lady Eve. I must have started the film after the opening credits crawl, but remember being caught up in the film's blend of eccentric characters, sharp dialogue, and comedy, and of course the fantastic performances especially that of lead Barbara Stanwyck (This would be a great Criterion, Blu-ray, hint). It would be years before I saw another Sturges film, this time by intention. I was in film school, and had been reading Lloyd Kaufman's book "Everything I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger," in one of the book's many sidebars Kaufman recommends the work of Sturges in general, but specifically one particular film Hail the Conquering Hero, which I promptly secured a copy of, and fell in love with.
That film send me on a minor Sturges binge, and at the time I rediscovered the Lady Eve, and The Palm Beach Story, and become convinced that this man created some of the greatest character driven comedies of all-time. Having now just watched the Blu-ray of Sullivan's Travels, I am more convinced of that fact that ever.
Sullivan's Travels stars Joel McCrea as the titular John Sullivan. Sullivan has a problem, and it is this, he is a filmmaker that wants to be taken seriously as an artist. However, all he has ever directed are comedies. His current goal is to adapt "O, Brother Where Are Thou" in an attempt to make something socially relevant that could make a societal impact. However, his producer's tell him that he grew up wealthy, and his film career has only increased his wealth. He is not aware of how the other side lives, and thus could not do justice to the material he is trying to adapt. Thus, Sullivan decides to dress the part of a homeless man, and journey for weeks into their world to get a feel of what it is like living life when money is not your safety net.
However, he cannot seem to make it out of Hollywood, and when he does he is surrounded by news reporters. Eventually he ends up back in the city, at a diner, where he meets a failed actress played by Veronica Lake, who buys him breakfast. Her sympathy towards him, makes it so he wants to help her, but since she has her eyes set on going back to the east coast, she decides to join him on his adventure. During the course of their homeless escapades the two fall in love.
Like Sturges' best work Sullivan's Travels is pure cinematic ecstasy. The film from beginning to end flows without a boring moment. The film is still hysterically funny 70+ years after it's creation, and the film regardless of it's age still has a fresh look to it. Sturges' working in conjunction with cinematographer John Seitz created something with such a distinct style that it’s visuals would be paid homage to for decades to come. The visual style in this, and his other films of the period truly set the director apart, and made Sturges' one of the true auteurs who worked within the original studio system.
The film itself is grounded by a pair of starting performances by Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake who have such amazing chemistry. It was startling to find out that McCrea disliked the working experience on this film with Lake. Regardless, the pair on screen offer such a great balance that they are truly one of the great pairs of cinema history.
Criterion present Sullivan's Travels in an MPEG-4 1080p transfer in the film's original 1:37:1 aspect ratio. The film looks about as good as one can expect this film to, contrast is quite solid, detail is excellent, and there is an organic grain structure at play. There is some damage from the source that is seen once in a while, it's not too distracting, and obviously Criterion would have done something to fix if it were possible. However, overall everything looks quite excellent.
The audio is presented in an LPCM 1.0 track in English. The dialogue and score come through nicely. I did not detect any issues such as pops, cracks or hissing on the track.
Criterion have put together quite the release for Sullivan's travels. We have the commentary from their prior DVD release brought over. There is also a 76 minute documentary on Sturges, an interview with Sandy Sturges that runs 14 minutes, and a video essay by Bill Forsyth and David Cairns. There is some older audio recording of Sturges, the film's trailer, and a booklet with essay on the film.
In a career of many masterpieces Sullivan's Travels may just be Preston Sturges' finest hour. The Blu-ray from Criterion looks and sounds quite excellent, and the extras offer a lot to fans of the film. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.