A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)

Let us now praise Joel McCrea, who never became an icon like Cooper or Gable or Grant or Stewart, but could always be relied on for a fine performance when the others weren't available. He starred in two of Sturges's best, the other one being The Palm Beach Story (1942), and gave solid and sometimes memorable performances for William Wyler (Dead End, 1937), Cecil B. DeMille (Union Pacific, 1939), Alfred Hitchcock (Foreign Correspondent, 1940), and George Stevens (The More the Merrier, 1943) before becoming a durable fixture in Westerns. His performance in the title role of Sullivan's Travels is just what the movie needed: an actor who could do slapstick comedy but turn serious when necessary, a task that among major stars of the era perhaps only Cary Grant and Henry Fonda -- the Fonda of Sturges's own The Lady Eve (1941) -- were also really good at. The genius of Sullivan's Travels is that its serious parts jibe so well with its goofy ones. As Sturges has characters warn Sullivan at the beginning of his scheme to pose as a hobo to get material for his turn as a "serious" director, poor people don't like to be condescended to. The pivotal scene of the film is the one in which the convicts go to a black church to watch a movie. It could have been an embarrassing display of the era's racial stereotypes, but Sturges handles it with tact and sensitivity, so that it becomes emotionally effective and brings home the dual points about charity and the need for humor without excessive sentimentality and preachiness. Sturges's usual gang of brilliant character players -- including William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Porter Hall, Eric Blore, and Jimmy Conlin -- are on hand. Sturges and McCrea found working with Veronica Lake a pain, but fortunately it doesn't show.