Sullivan's Travels (1941)

90-91 mins | Comedy-drama | December 1941

Director:

Preston Sturges

Writer:

Preston Sturges

Cinematographer:

John F. Seitz

Editor:

Stuart Gilmore

Production Designers:

Hans Dreier, Earl Hedrick

Production Company:

Paramount Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

The film opens with the following dedication: "To the memory of those who made us laugh: the motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons, in all times and in all nations, whose efforts have lightened our burden a little, this picture is affectionately dedicated." Scripts in the Preston Sturges Collection at the UCLA Special Collections Library reveal that the above dedication, with the inclusion of the underlined phrase, "whose efforts lightened our burden a little in this cock-eyed caravan...", was initially the epilogue to the film, to be spoken by "Sully" as if it were the prologue of the comedy he plans to make. Sturges originally intended for the film to open with the following prologue: "This is the story of a man who wanted to wash an elephant. The elephant darn near ruined him." Sturges initially had been hoping to use a clip from a Charles Chaplin film for the scene in the church; however, modern sources note that Chaplin declined to give permission for the use of his films. In one scene in Sullivan's Travels, actor Joel McCrea parodies Chaplin's signature "Little Tramp" character. The Walt Disney Productions cartoon that is shown is the 1934 short "Playful Pluto."
       The film cost $689,665.16 to produce and went $86,665.16 over budget. In a personnel sheet in the Sturges Collection, writer Ernst Laemmle is listed as "assistant writer." Information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that Laemmle was paid to complete the script, although Laemmle is mentioned as a co-writer with Sturges in many pre-release news items. The full extent of his contribution to the screenplay has not been determined. ...

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The film opens with the following dedication: "To the memory of those who made us laugh: the motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons, in all times and in all nations, whose efforts have lightened our burden a little, this picture is affectionately dedicated." Scripts in the Preston Sturges Collection at the UCLA Special Collections Library reveal that the above dedication, with the inclusion of the underlined phrase, "whose efforts lightened our burden a little in this cock-eyed caravan...", was initially the epilogue to the film, to be spoken by "Sully" as if it were the prologue of the comedy he plans to make. Sturges originally intended for the film to open with the following prologue: "This is the story of a man who wanted to wash an elephant. The elephant darn near ruined him." Sturges initially had been hoping to use a clip from a Charles Chaplin film for the scene in the church; however, modern sources note that Chaplin declined to give permission for the use of his films. In one scene in Sullivan's Travels, actor Joel McCrea parodies Chaplin's signature "Little Tramp" character. The Walt Disney Productions cartoon that is shown is the 1934 short "Playful Pluto."
       The film cost $689,665.16 to produce and went $86,665.16 over budget. In a personnel sheet in the Sturges Collection, writer Ernst Laemmle is listed as "assistant writer." Information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that Laemmle was paid to complete the script, although Laemmle is mentioned as a co-writer with Sturges in many pre-release news items. The full extent of his contribution to the screenplay has not been determined. According to FD, Barbara Stanwyck was originally considered to co-star with Joel McCrea. Letters from the PCA indicate that, among other things, the Hays Office suggested that the word "bum" would be considered unacceptable by the British censors and that the filmmakers must be careful not to show "any suggestion of sexual intimacy" between "Sully" and "The Girl" in the scenes in which they are sleeping together at the mission.
       According to information in NARS in Washington, D.C., the U.S. government's World War II Office of Censorship in New York formally disapproved exporting this film during wartime because of the "long sequence showing life in a prison chain gang which is most objectionable because of the brutality and inhumanity with which the prisoners are treated." This disapproval conformed with the department's policy of not exporting any film that could be turned into enemy propaganda. The department suggested deletions which would have made the picture acceptable under their guidelines; however, the producers declined this opportunity.
       The following information is from the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library: Paramount purchased Sturges's original story for $10,000; Frances Farmer was tested for the role of "The Girl." Further information reveals that Paramount contracted with the Schlesinger Corp. to produce an animated main title sequence, but for reasons not stated in the file, Paramount re-shot the main title. It has not been determined if Schlesinger Corp. ever actually created an animated main title sequence. The "Poverty Montage" took seven hours to film, four hours longer than anticipated. An early cast list has Richard West as "Young man with earphones," but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Some scenes were shot on location in Canoga Park, San Marino, Castaic, Los Angeles and at Lockheed Airport, CA.
       Actress Veronica Lake was six months pregnant when shooting began on this film, and, according to her autobiography, refrained from telling director Sturges until after filming began. Sturges consulted with Lake's physician regarding the strenuous nature of the part. According to modern sources, former Rose Bowl queen Cheryl Walker performed as Lake's double and associate producer Paul Jones appeared as the late husband of "Miz Zeffie" in a photograph in which the man's expression changes. Modern sources also report that Sturges wrote the film with Joel McCrea in mind for the lead. In the scene in which The Girl sees Sully's photograph in the newspaper and realizes he is alive, Sturges appears as the director on the film set and Ray Milland plays the man with whom The Girl almost collides on the studio street.
       A letter from Walter White, Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to Sturges, is included in the Sturges Collection and reads as follows: "I want to congratulate and thank you for the church sequence in Sullivan's Travels. This is one of the most moving scenes I have seen in a moving picture for a long time. But I am particularly grateful to you, as are a number of my friends, both white and colored, for the dignified and decent treatment of Negroes in this scene. I was in Hollywood recently and am to return there soon for conferences with production heads, writers, directors, and actors and actresses in an effort to induce broader and more decent picturization of the Negro instead of limiting him to menial or comic roles. The sequence in Sullivan's Travels is a step in that direction and I want you to know how grateful we are."
       In his autobiography, Preston Sturges noted that he wrote Sullivan's Travels as a reaction to the "preaching" he found in other comedy films "which seemed to have abandoned the fun in favor of the message." NYT called the film "the most brilliant picture yet this year" and noted that while most of Hollywood seemed to be calling for purely escapist fare because of World War II, Sturges managed to combine escapist fun with an underlying significance. However, Sullivan's Travels did not escape harsher criticism. HR noted that the film lacked the "down to earth quality and sincerity which made [Sturges's] other three pictures a joy to behold" and that "Sturges...fails to heed the message that writer Sturges proves in his script. Laughter is the thing people want--not social studies." The NYkr simply stated that "anyone can make a mistake, Preston Sturges, even. The mistake in question is a pretentious number called Sullivan's Travels."
       This film was ranked #61 on AFI's 10th Anniversary edition 100 Years...100 Movies list of the best American feature films. In 1990, it was selected for the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board. Veronica Lake reprised her role in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on 9 Nov 1942, co-starring Ralph Bellamy. In the 1993 film Amos and Andrew, "Andrew's" Pulitzer Prize winning play was called Yo, Brother, Where Art Thou.

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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
13 Dec 1941
---
California Eagle
18 Jun 1942
---
Daily Variety
5 Dec 1941
---
Film Daily
14 Jan 1941
p. 2
Film Daily
5 Dec 1941
p. 5
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jan 1941
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
16 May 1941
p. 6
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 1941
p. 7
Hollywood Reporter
5 Dec 1941
p. 4
Life
26 Jan 1942
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
13 Dec 1941
p. 405
New Republic
26 Jan 1942
---
New York Times
29 Jan 1942
p. 25
New York Times
1 Feb 1942
---
New Yorker
31 Jan 1942
---
Variety
10 Dec 1941
p. 8
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Jimmy Dundee
Jesse Lee Brooks
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
John Morse
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Asst wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
John Seitz
Dir of photog
Process photog
2d cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dresser
1st prop
COSTUMES
Cost
Ladies' ward
Men's ward
MUSIC
Mus score
Charles Bradshaw
Mus score
SOUND
Sd rec
Sd rec
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hair supv
Hairdresser
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Joe Youngerman
Unit mgr
Loc mgr
Casting
Scr clerk
Scenario misc
Stage eng
Company grip
Mike grip
Elec
Casting office
Casting office
Casting office
Secy to Mr. Sturges
Wes Hopper
Stunt double for Joel McCrea
Stunt double
Stunt double
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1941
Premiere Information:
Jackson, TN, opening: 29 Dec 1941; New York opening: 28 Jan 1942
Production Date:
12 May--22 Jul 1941
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
4 December 1941
LP11049
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
90-91
Length(in feet):
8,126
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
7382
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

Hollywood film director John L. Sullivan dreams of making a film called Brother, Where Art Thou, dealing with the misery of the poverty-stricken, and convinces the studio executives to allow him to do research by traveling cross-country disguised as a hobo. As "Sully" treads the road dressed in a hobo outfit from the studio costume department, a fully-equipped "land yacht," complete with physician, photographer, reporter, secretary and chauffeur, follows him to take care of his every need. Hampered by their presence, Sully insists on traveling alone and arranges to meet the land yacht in Las Vegas. After working as a hired hand for a widow who has more in mind for him than chopping wood, he sneaks out of her house at night and hitchhikes, but the truck he gets a ride with lands him back in Hollywood. Frustrated by his failure, Sully wanders into a diner to buy a cup of coffee with his last dime, and a beautiful blonde actress, down on her luck, takes pity on him and buys him breakfast. Sully and "The Girl" are later arrested for stealing his own car, but they return to his palatial home after his valet and butler bail them out. The Girl dresses as a boy and joins him for his experiment, and the next morning they hop an outbound freight car. Sully and The Girl live like true hoboes, wandering through shantytowns, lining up for food at soup kitchens and listening to midnight sermons in order to secure beds at missions. In Kansas City, Sully declares his mission complete, but The Girl saddens at the ...

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Hollywood film director John L. Sullivan dreams of making a film called Brother, Where Art Thou, dealing with the misery of the poverty-stricken, and convinces the studio executives to allow him to do research by traveling cross-country disguised as a hobo. As "Sully" treads the road dressed in a hobo outfit from the studio costume department, a fully-equipped "land yacht," complete with physician, photographer, reporter, secretary and chauffeur, follows him to take care of his every need. Hampered by their presence, Sully insists on traveling alone and arranges to meet the land yacht in Las Vegas. After working as a hired hand for a widow who has more in mind for him than chopping wood, he sneaks out of her house at night and hitchhikes, but the truck he gets a ride with lands him back in Hollywood. Frustrated by his failure, Sully wanders into a diner to buy a cup of coffee with his last dime, and a beautiful blonde actress, down on her luck, takes pity on him and buys him breakfast. Sully and "The Girl" are later arrested for stealing his own car, but they return to his palatial home after his valet and butler bail them out. The Girl dresses as a boy and joins him for his experiment, and the next morning they hop an outbound freight car. Sully and The Girl live like true hoboes, wandering through shantytowns, lining up for food at soup kitchens and listening to midnight sermons in order to secure beds at missions. In Kansas City, Sully declares his mission complete, but The Girl saddens at the thought of losing him to Hollywood. He admits to her that although he cares for her, his greedy wife will not release him from their marriage of convenience, arranged by his business manager to lower his taxes. That night, Sully wanders the streets handing out $5,000 worth of five-dollar bills to the needy. A hobo wearing Sully's stolen shoes which contained his only identification, follows Sully and robs him, and after knocking him unconscious, drags his body onto a freight car. The hobo dies shortly thereafter when he is hit by a train, and Sully awakens the next day at an unknown train station. Disoriented, Sully is arrested after an unintentional altercation with a railroad employee, and because he cannot recall his identity due to the severe blow to his head, he is called "Richard Roe" and sentenced to a hard labor camp. Sully finally recalls his identity but is beaten by the warden for speaking out of turn. At work on the chain gang, Sully is befriended by an elderly trustee, who helps him survive. He is placed in the sweatbox because of his outburst after seeing a front-page article reporting his presumed death. One evening, the convicts are allowed to see a Mickey Mouse cartoon at a black church. The parishioners are gracious, and Sully the sophisticate surprises himself when he joins in the uproarious laughter of the audience at the antics on the screen. In order to get his picture in the newspaper, Sully confesses to his own murder. The Girl, hard at work on a film, sees his photo in the newspaper and brings it to the attention of the studio heads. Overjoyed that he is alive, Sully's friends and coworkers meet him after he is released from the labor camp. Sully is pleased to hear that his wife, believing he was dead, married his business manager immediately, and that he is free to marry The Girl. Aware of the powerful misery of the poor and disadvantaged, Sully abandons his idea of directing a tragedy and is determined to produce a film that will make people laugh.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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