What is the most valuable contribution of art, its ability to entertain, thereby helping people momentarily escape from the toils and troubles of their daily lives, or its ability to reveal fundamental truths about the human condition, thereby potentially changing the way we view others and conduct our lives? The answer seems obvious. No reasonably mature, educated person would choose Predator over Citizen Kane for inclusion in the National Film Registry. Its cultural, historical, and aesthetic value clearly put it on a different plane. But what about sheer entertainment value? Guilty pleasure is still pleasure, and simple pleasures help dull complex pain. This, essentially, is the lesson John L. Sullivan learns on his journey.
Sullivan’s Travels is the story of a film director who longs to leave behind the comedies he has made in the past in order to make something more serious, namely, a film adaptation of a (not real) book about the great depression titled O Brother Where Art Thou? In order to gain credibility, Sullivan goes on the road, dressed as a hobo and carrying only a dime in his pocket. One of the first people he fools is a down-on-her-luck actress played by Veronica Lake, who befriends him and becomes his traveling companion for the rest of the film. Having decided he has experienced enough, Sullivan returns to his privileged life, intent on assuming the hobo role one last time to distribute $5 bills to the homeless as a thanks for the school of hard knocks education he has received. Little does he know, he is about to jump from the frying pan into the fire and experience the life of the downtrodden again, only this time without a safety net.
Grade: B. Worth watching for its deft mixing of comedy and drama and for Veronica Lake, who is gorgeous as “the girl,” but it lacks the charm of the better screwball comedies, such as It Happened One Night (another road movie) or Sturges’ own The Lady Eve.