O Sturges, You Art Here

"There's a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that's all some people have?" -Preston Sturges

What do I have to say to persuade you to risk 90 minutes of your existence to watch a movie from 1941? A black and white movie to boot! I’m talking about Sullivan’s Travels, ostensibly a screwball comedy, written, directed and produced by Preston Sturges in the middle of a creative streak that lasted around five years.

Another poster for Preston Sturges' masterpiece, "Sullivan's Travels."

But this isn’t about Preston Sturges. If it was, I’d mention how Sturges broke ground for future directors when he literally traded a screenplay for the rights to direct the movie, Futture writer/directors including Billy Wilder and John Huston would adopt the same model.

Since this isn’t about Preston Sturges, it is off-topic to acknowledge four of the movies he wrote and directed were selected for the American Film Institute’s 100 funniest comedies.

Nor is it worth mentioning, Sturges pioneered the use of a troupe of actors who reappeared in many of his movies, much to the dismay of Paramount, the studio under which Sturges was contracted. I am particularly enamored by Sturges’ justification for the stock company. When the studio argued movie-goers would tire of seeing the same faces, movie after movie, Sturges argued, “these little players who had contributed so much to my first hits had a moral right to work in my subsequent pictures.”

“Moral right?” In Hollywood? Whaaaa?

Oops, I’m already halfway through with my post and I haven’t talked about the movie. Truth be told, I don’t want to talk about the movie. I want you to see it, knowing nothing about it. Nabokov, the writer slash professor, once posited, “Do you have to know the spider to appreciate the web?”

Poster for Preston Sturges' masterpiece, "Sullivan's Travels."

As ironic as the question may seem, coming from a professor of literature, considering the depths to which professors explore spiders, it raises a very good point. I believe that by introducing you to this particular spider I hope to make a compelling argument to gamble ninety minutes of your lives.

I will tell you that Sturges does not shy away from looking at our society, warts and all, even in a screwball comedy. Because Sullivan’s Travels was made during wartime, the U.S. “Office of Censorship” refused to permit it from being exported overseas. Their reasoning was the film could be used by the enemy for propaganda purposes.

But it is a comedy! Sort of. In fact, the studio had no idea how to promote the film. Not surprisingly they relied on the tried and true power of sex, as the marquee posters featured Veronica Lake looking sultry, demonstrate.

I will share that the Coen Brothers, among others, are tremendous fans of Preston Sturges. In fact, one of their most important movies is a direct descendent of Sullivan’s Travels.

I’m actually going to link to the completely confusing, original trailer for the movie. I’d strongly recommend you don’t watch it until after you see the movie. If by chance, I haven’t persuaded you yet, go ahead and watch the preview. Perhaps it will be more persuasive than I.

Stay in touch. Connect.

Jon

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