Monday, January 13, 2020

"The Best Movie Ever (Not My Favorite But Maybe It Should Be)"

The best movies, for me, are the ones that mix disparate elements – mayhem and merriment, fact-based and fantasy – without, unlike this sentence, being awkward and clunky during the process.

Say hello to Sullivan’s Travels.

In 1941, writer-director Preston Sturges wanted to make a film spoofing tedious preachiness in onscreen comedies.  (I don’t know for sure but (SEE {probably} Frank Capra.)  In response, Sturges made Sullivan’s Travels– a preachy comedy, spoofing preachy comedies.

The preachy message, however, instead of “This is essentially a wonderful country”, was about comedy itself, specifically the blessing of making films that induce nourishing laughter, since, quoting the last line of the movie about comedy entertainment:

There'a a lot to be said about making people laugh.  Did you know that's all some people have?   “It isn’t much.  But it’s all we have in this cockeyed caravan.”

I endorse the sentiment. 

And I adore “cockeyed caravan.”

Very Brief Summary:

Fed up Hollywood director John Sullivan, maker of hit box-office fluff like Hey Hey in the Hayloft an . Ants in Your Plants of 1939. yearns to make meatier movies dealing with the desperate plight of the Depression-Era downtrodden.  

After some funny false starts, and a guy getting hit by a train – Note: “Disparate mixture of elements” – Sullivan winds up sentenced to six years working on a –“Huh!” – chain gang.  

Later, as the invited guests of a nearby impoverished black church, the shackled felons watch a “Disney” cartoon, the incarcerated and poor, and Sullivan himself, laughing uproariously, feeling liberating relief.

Illustrating the film’s message, quoted several paragraphs above.

With Sullivan’s TravelsPreston Sturges made the movie he wanted, and it shows.   How many films lampoon a Hollywood where executives assure the director he can make any picture he desires, with the ironclad addendum – “…. but with a little sex in it” – then throws in a scene where a thuggish derelict chasing five-dollar bills gets whisked away by a hurtling choo-choo?

Immunized by the satirical subject matter, I can imagine a chuckling Sturges , getting a ludicrous story “Note”, saying,

“That’s dumb enough to go into this script.”

And then using it!

You can do that when your last picture makes money.  And in ’41, Preston Sturges was riding the crest.  (Of show biz success.)

Coincidentally – or it inspired this post, I cannot now recall which – I am about to read a biography of Sturges, co-written by his son.  I am aware he led a roller-coaster life, both creatively and personally.  But in 1941, Preston Sturges was at the height of his powers.

Sullivan’s Travels bristles with energy, confidence, inspiration and life.

What in the movies – or in fact anywhere – can be better than that?

No comments: