Wednesday, November 3, 2010

TODAY'S 2nd NUGGET: #29 WGA Script of All Time - Sullivan's Travels (1941)

[Quick Summary: John Sullivan, a privileged, successful comedy director, wants to make depressing films for the poor.  Despite the studio's protests, he becomes a hobo to try to experience being poor. 

Sullivan always gets rescued from true poverty... until an old bum ambushes him far from home.  Sullivan goes to jail, & is truly depressed, & poor for the first time.  Then he sees a comedy film & nothing is the same.]

I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know a thing about this Preston Sturges film until today. 

Zilch. Zero. Nada.

I cracked it open & was glad that it was a comedy right off the bat ...then slowly I noticed there was a message.

But it wasn't preachy and it wasn't a "message film."

I scratched my head. How the heck did Sturges sneak that in?

This is a satire, which is defined as using wit to ridicule a political, societal, or moral vice or folly in order to cause change.

Apparently Sturges was fed up with comedies of his day giving up fun for "messages."  So he crafted a script that mocks seriousness. 

ex.  Sullivan, who has never wanted for anything, WANTS TO BE POOR, but there are obstacles to being poor (the girl keeps rescuing him). Now how ridiculous is that? 

For 90% of the script, Sullivan really, really tries hard to be poor.  He's very serious about being seriously poor...then he's in jail & the horrors of being poor are real.

He's alone.  He's scared & doing hard labor.  He's got nothing.

Then the punch-in-the-gut moment:  The warden takes the prisoners to see a comedy.  Sullivan is morose & doesn't want to laugh.  But the film makes the audience laugh...

And he can't help but laugh too.

SHAZAM!  He gets that he was wrong.   

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Sturges' genius is that he makes the journey so enjoyable that you didn't realize you were learning.

Sullivan's Travels (1941)
by Preston Sturges

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