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Making a Popular Front film in Hollywood?

by Kate Fortmueller

In Sullivan’s Travels, Joel McCrea plays John Sullivan, a director of comedies who decides to make a stark realist film (similar to Popular Front films) called “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?”. In order to gain more life experience to make this film he sets out to live life without money or connections. The film depicts four attempts for Sullivan to understand poverty/”the real world.” His first attempt is an utter failure and he cannot escape Hollywood. In the second attempt he tries to hard to politicize people he meets and fails to understand how to make his way and conserve his money (and he ultimately ends up sick and in bed). In his third attempt, which is depicted in this clip, he spends time experiencing homelessness (even though his team is photographing him). This film also resembles some of the sequences in French poetic realist films (see the clip for La Vie Est Nou/Life is Ours [Renoir, 1936]). While it would seem that he experienced everything he needs in this trip, he only really experiences the world after he becomes the victim of mistaken identity later in the film. Consider how this film represents and perhaps romanticizes its subject.

Sullivan's Travels (1941) - Researching O Brother, Where Art Thou?

In this sequence John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) and The Girl (Veronica Lake) finally get to spend time experiencing what it is like to live homeless and on the move...sort of.

from Sullivan's Travels (1941)
Creator: Preston Sturges
Posted by Kate Fortmueller