As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Quick Thoughts: Sullivan’s Travels (& the Lady Eve)

Posted by Hedwig on July 3, 2008

Every once in a while, Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone Infield Fly Rule makes a quiz. It’s one with no good or bad answers, but while I love reading the answers, those quizzes always make me feel a bit guilty. Or maybe ashamed is a better word for it. There are just so many gaps in my cinematic education. I could list ’em, but that would just make me feel worse. I usually manage to turn it around, see it as having many great things left to discover, but I’d better get on with the discovering if I want to live up to the name ” cinephile”.

I wasn’t very eager to discover Preston Surges. I saw the first half-hour or so of Hail, the conquering Hero once, under admitttedly bad circumstances, and it didn’t do much for me. So while his movies were on my mental “to-watch” list, I wasn’t in a big hurry.

How wrong I was.

I discovered that, first, when I was in Oslo, and bought (and watched) The Lady Eve. I wasn’t surprised by how great Barbara Stanwyck was – I’d read enough exalted descriptions of her performance, and that she managed to live up to all the hyperbolic adjectives thrown at her is impressive enough. But what I loved was how delightfully cynical it was. And sharp: the dialogue in which Jean provides a voice-over as Charles Pike walks into the dining room on the cruise ship is perfectly written, and perfectly delivered, and that’s just one example.

Still, I wasn’t quite convinced. Not enough, in any case, to make me watch Sullivan’s Travels in a hurry. But I finally got around to it tonight, and you can consider me converted. I had a blast with this movie. The irony, of course, is that Surges manages to have his cake and eat it too: Sullivan wants to make a socially conscious movie, but discovers that comedies are what people need in times of trouble. Surges, of course, manages to do both in a single film.

What surprised me most is that the humor was so physical as well as verbal. Sturges was one of the first true writer/directors, and is – deservedly – renowned for his witty dialogues, but there are several sequences (one over 5 minutes long) that could come straight out of a silent film. And not just a silent comedy, either: it’s especially when the movie gets truly grim for the first time, and we see the poor, face by devastated face, that Sturges understands we don’t need words.

These “quick thoughts” are running kind of long, but before I forget: is Veronica Lake the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen or what? I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything else, and I didn’t know much of her except for the famous peek-a-boo hair, but it’s disguised as a boy, that hair all out of the way, that she’s absolutely irresistible.

Let me end wit a question to my readers, who are in these matters much more knowledgeable than myself: which Surges film do you recommend I see next? Or, alternately, which Veronica Lake film? I’ve wanted to see This Gun for Hire for a while now (I read the book, This Gun for Sale), but are there others to check out?

And then maybe, a few years from now, I’ll have enough background to dare participate in one of Dennis’ quizzes.

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11 Responses to “Quick Thoughts: Sullivan’s Travels (& the Lady Eve)”

  1. girish said

    Hi, Sarcastig. I think, to a lesser or greater degree, I’m a fan of all the 8 films Sturges made between 1940-1944. Let me recommend one that is little spoken of, his 2nd film, “Christmas in July”, in which Dick Powell takes part in a contest to write a catchy slogan for a coffee commercial. It’s one of the fiercest takedowns of the “American Dream” I’ve ever seen. Also wonderful is a film Sturges wrote but didn’t direct (Mitchell Leisen did) the same year, 1940: “Remember the Night”, with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, which gets my vote for my favorite Christmas film. My mom and I love to watch it every December (even though we’re neither Western nor Christian!).

  2. Kaj said

    Yes, Veronica Lake is delightful and lovely. Also in The Blue Dahlia, a great movie, written by the one and only Raymond Chandler (the only original script he’s written directly for the screen). Some of the best noir dialogue I’ve ever heard.

  3. All of those films mentioned by Girish and Kaj are worth seeing. As is This Gun for Hire.

    Yet, if you’re looking for Veronica Lake in full-on cute comedy mode, check out Rene Clair’s I Married a Witch, in which she starred with Fredric March and Susan Hayward. I just love that film, and I think you’d probably love it as well, Hedwig.

  4. The Sturges film canon from the early to mid-forties is an amazing set of movies. Since you’ve seen the big two, The Lady Eve and Sullivan’s Travels, let me suggest that your next in line should be The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, IMO, a very funny film. Follow that up with The Palm Beach Story and I think you’ll hit the films that are considered good Sturges.

    If you can find it, he wrote Remember the Night with Miss Stanwyck and Fred McMurray before they starred together in Double Indemnity. I heard it’s a fine film also, but alas I haven’t seen it.

  5. sarcastig said

    Wow, so many reactions. And may I just say: welcome Girish! I’m very flattered by your visit, I’ve been a long time reader of your blog.

    Remember the Night sounds interesting. I don’t think I’d ever heard of it before, but Stanwyck and MrMurray have such fascinating chemistry in Double Indemnity that I’m curious to see how they interact in a different setting.

    The Palm Beach Story is with Claudette Colbert, right? I think she’s amazing in It Happened One Night, childish and playful without ever looking dumb. And speaking of It Happened One Night: I bought Mutiny on the Bounty in Paris and watched it on the train, and it’s official: Clark Gable is second only to Bogie when it comes to my favorite male movie stars of that era. I had to get used to his lack of a moustache, but he’s great.

    Ah, so many films to watch! Now if only the Netherlands had something like Netflix… (there are comparable services, but alas without a comparable catalogue).

  6. girish said

    Sarcastig, it’s a pleasure to discover your blog, and I very much look forward to following your musings!

  7. Kaj said

    Well, if you want to borrow either The Blue Dahlia or This Gun For Hire…

  8. “is Veronica Lake the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen or what?” Yes. She’s right up there with kittens.

  9. Kaj said

    Yup. Although apparently not in real life.

  10. Alison Flynn said

    The Lady Eve is one of my favorites and it’s the movie that introduced me to the great Barbara Stanwyck. I went on to see the rest of her movies after that, starting with Double Indemnity.

    Everyone has already made suggestions regarding other Sturges movies. Another light comedy which he directed is Unfaithfully Yours. Not his strongest film and dated but it has some hilarious moments. You might want to check it out if you’re in the mood for a comedy.

  11. Sam Juliano said

    In my humble opinion, SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS is the Sturges masterpiece, but several of teh others mentioned here are within hailing distance. This piece was a lot of fun, thanks.

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