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Preston Sturges
Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Robert Warwick, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Porter Hall, Byron Foulger
Writing Credits:
Preston Sturges

A Happy-Go Lucky Hitch-Hiker on the Highway to Happiness! He wanted to see the world ... but wound up in Lover's Lane!

Frustrated film director Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is fed up with serving out easily digestible but ultimately meaningless chunks of comedy for the studios. He decides to set off across America to rediscover the daily lives of the Joe Lunchpails as research for his socially responsible next film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Giving up all his unnecessaries, he begins his cross-country road trip in hobo's clothes with barely a dime in his pocket to regain his focus.

Box Office:

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 4/14/2015

• Audio Commentary with Documentarian Kenneth Bowser, and Filmmakers Noah Baumbach, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean
• “Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer” Documentary
• Sandy Sturges Interview
• “Ants in Your Plants of 1941” Video Essay
• Preston Sturges Talks to Hedda Hopper
• Preston Sturges Recites “If I Were King”
• Preston Sturges Sings “My Love”
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Sullivan's Travels: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1942)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 6, 2015)

Preston Sturges pokes at the movie industry in 1942’s Sullivan’s Travels. Ambitious young director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) battles with the studio heads about his next project, O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

The bigwigs think that Sullivan doesn’t know enough about human suffering to lead a flick about the struggles of the underclass and feel he should stick with the light comedies he does best. Though Sullivan agrees he’s too ignorant in the ways of the needy, he still wants to make his movie. To better connect with the poor, Sullivan decides to dress as a bum and live that lifestyle until he feels acquainted enough with the ways and thoughts of the homeless.

However, in an odd twist, Sullivan’s trip quickly takes him back to Hollywood. When he visits a diner, he meets a frustrated aspiring starlet (Veronica Lake). Initially Sullivan maintains his homeless ruse, but he soon discovers the truth to her. The girl likes the idea of his experiment, so she gets Sullivan to allow her to accompany him. The rest of the flick follows their adventures – and a few twists.

Travels gets off to a creative start. We see a big fight scene and “The End” appears on screen less than three minutes into the flick. This would probably still confuse a lot of modern audiences, so I can’t imagine how befuddled it must have made folks back in the Forties.

Not everything about Travels seems as unusual, but it stands as an excellent piece of comedy when it indulges that side of things. The film mixes broad physical bits with clever dialogue to satisfy both sides of that equation. It has enough verbal wit and ingenuity to amuse folks who prefer that style, but it also offers lots of gags for those with an affection for slapstick. Neither truly dominates, so they both mesh together well.

For my money, the best parts of Travels come from the scenes that directly lampoon the film industry. These seem incisive and sharp; even though the names have changed over the decades, the behaviors remain the same, so these scenes delight. I imagine studio execs often unwittingly parody the “more sex” urgings heard here.

In terms of story, Travels loses a little steam when Lake’s character enters the film, if just because she seems like such an obvious film convention. Do we believe for a second that she and Sullivan won’t become a romantic item? No, we don’t, and despite its daring moments, Travels lacks the guts to avoid that predictable path. I’d have preferred the movie to progress without obeying the “more sex” insistences.

However, Travels stills works awfully well and entertains even when it embraces stock film conventions. Nice chemistry between McCrea and Lake helps. No, the antagonistic couple who fall in love isn’t a fresh idea – and wasn’t 73 years ago either – but the interaction between the two stars lets their scenes prosper. They carry some sequences that otherwise might not be all too hot.

Travels turns more dramatic as it progresses, and Sturges handles the transition pretty well. Yeah, the “homeless montage” feels like it’s lifted from a Chaplin flick, but the rest of those elements fare better. Many films that cover such stylistic shifts would appear contrived and awkward, but this one pulls them off without trouble.

All of this makes Sullivan’s Travels something of an odd beast – but a satisfying one. It delivers good laughs, satisfying drama and clever parody. I could live without the movie’s abrupt ending, but the rest of it offers a solid piece of work.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

Sullivan’s Travels appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I didn’t think this was a great image, but it usually held up well.

Overall sharpness seemed positive. Some minor softness interfered at times, but not with any frequency, so most of the movie appeared acceptably accurate and concise. I noticed no instances of jagged edges and shimmering, but some light edge haloes also cropped up on occasion.

Print flaws weren’t a factor, as the movie seemed clean; I might’ve noticed a small speck or two and some tiny gate hairs but nothing intrusive. Blacks were fairly tight, while shadows tended to be reasonably smooth. I’ve seen better presentations of movies from the early 1940s, but this was still a mostly appealing image.

I thought the LPCM monaural soundtrack of Sullivan’s Travels was fairly average for its era. Speech was consistently intelligible but could become a bit edgy at times, especially in the movie’s early moments. Music lacked much range and also seemed somewhat screechy and shrill in terms of high-end.

These concerns persisted with effects. In quieter scenes, these sounded fine, but once the volume increased, those elements tended to appear a bit rough. Background noise never became a problem. Given the movie’s vintage, the audio was acceptable, but it came with some issues.

How does the Blu-ray compare to the Criterion DVD from 2001? Even with its problems, audio was clearer, and the picture seemed tighter, cleaner and more film-like. Especially in terms of visuals, this became an upgrade.

The Blu-ray repeats most of the DVD’s extras, and we find an audio commentary with documentarian Kenneth Bowser and filmmakers Noah Baumbach, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean. Each one sits separately for this edited track. We get a few historical notes about the film and its era but mostly receive thoughts about the flick in terms of its style and methods.

This means we find a pretty spotty commentary. Usually a track like this would give us factual information from a film historian, and Bowser does a little of that, but we don’t hear a ton from him. Instead, we get a lot from the three filmmakers.

Of that bunch, McKean proves the most effective. He offers interesting remarks about his experiences with the movie and also sheds light on various aspects of it. McKean comes across as thoughtful and incisive.

Though Guest does a little of that, for the most part he goes for the laughs. He provides some offbeat “facts” and quirky observations about the flick but not much more. That still beats the dull Baumbach. The filmmaker usually just tells us how much he loves various parts of the movie. I can’t recall anything useful that he said during the piece. All of this adds up to a sporadically interesting commentary, but not a very good one.

Next comes a 1989 documentary entitled Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer. Created by Bowser for PBS’s American Masters, this one-hour, 15-minute, 13-second program mixes archival elements with interviews. We get notes from family friend Priscilla B. Woolfan, widow Sandy Sturges, actress/friend Frances Ramsden, film historian/friend Thomas Quinn Curtis, secretary Edwin Gillette, filmmaker Paul Schrader, Paramount producer AC Lyles, film critic Andrew Sarris, and actors Cesar Romero, Eddie Bracken, Joel McCrea, Betty Hutton, and Rudy Vallee.

The show tells of Sturges’ childhood and influences from that period. From there we follow his early adulthood and his move into show business as well as his transition into the movies, aspects of his personal life, his career in Hollywood, and notes from the rest of his days as he ran into troubles.

“Dreamer” maintains a balanced perspective, as it favors neither personal dirt nor simple recitations of movie-making details. It gets into both well, and the various folks who knew Sturges add nice insights into the filmmaker as a man. These factors combine to create a rich, informative discussion that gives us a satisfying take on Sturges.

For information from the director’s widow, we find a 13-minute, 12-second Sandy Sturges Interview. Shot in 2001, Sturges chats about her former husband’s start as a writer, his work in Hollywood and related topics, some thoughts about Travels, his decline, and his relationship with Howard Hughes.

Some of the information here already shows up elsewhere, but Sturges’ personal viewpoint helps make it valuable. She adds a different perspective that makes her participation useful. The interview packs a lot of nice info into its running time.

New to the Blu-ray, Ants in Your Plants of 1941 goes for 17 minutes, 19 seconds. During the video essay, filmmaker Bill Forsyth and critic/filmmaker David Cairns give us some notes on Travels as well as related elements. “Plants” includes a decent number of observations but doesn’t turn into a great piece.

Under “Archival Audo” we get three elements. Preston Sturges Talks to Hedda Hopper goes for four minutes, 10 seconds. First aired January 28, 1951, Sturges chats about the then-current state of movies and the possible impact of TV. He’s pretty prescient as he notes that he believes the competition will be good for motion pictures. This becomes an intriguing piece of history.

Similar material appears in both Preston Sturges Recites “If I Were King” (1:18) and Preston Sturges Sings “My Love” (1:37). The former inspired Sturges’ script for a 1938 flick of the same name, while the latter is just one of many tunes Sturges wrote over the years. Neither has anything to do with Travels and I can’t say they do much for me, but they’re kind of cool to have for archival reasons.

The package ends with a 10-page booklet. It offers credits, art and an essay from film critic Stuart Klawans. The booklet completes the set well.

What does the Blu-ray drop from the DVD? It loses a trailer, some photo galleries and storyboards. It’s too bad Criterion couldn’t include these here.

A clever, involving tale that spans a mix of genres, Sullivan’s Travels stands out as something unusual. With fine performances and an intriguing story, it becomes a winning flick. The Blu-ray offers good picture and supplements as well as acceptable audio. Travels holds up well after more than 70 years.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS

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