Preston Sturges, Sullivan's Travels (1941)
- In this "screwball comedy," writer-director Preston Sturges lampoons the earnestness of John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath and still tells a moving story of the impact of the Great Depression on hte so-called "Lost Men" of the era. This is the story of a Hollywood director tired of making silly farces (like his big hit, Ants in Your Pants) who sets out instead to make a Grapes of Wrath-style film called Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?. By the end of the film, Sturges has made an eloquent plea for the importance of popular culture in the lives of Americans.
- Questions to Think About:
- 1) Compare Ford's The Grapes of Wrath to Sturges's Sullivan's Travels. What are the stylistic, visual, and plot similarities? What are the chief differences?
- 2) What is meant by the term "screwball comedy"? How does Sturges use the conventions of this genre to soften and make more accessible his overarching message in this film?
- 3) What does Sturges believe to be the function of popular culture in modern American society? Think of the "cultural work" performed by the Mickey Mouse film at the end of the film especially. What parts of society are drawn together by their shared enjoyment of Mickey Mouse? Why is the film shown in a church? How does Mickey Mouse come to perform the cultural work that a church (or a messiah) would have in a different time and place?
Further resources and readings:
- The Official Preston Sturges Website, celebrating the centenary of his birth.
- Greatest Films's Memorable Moments from Sullivans' Travels.
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for AMS 241 (Popular Culture--Frontiers and Borderlands), The Program in American Studies, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York. Send email to email@example.com
Last modified: Wednesday 12 April 2000.