John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is an immensely successful director of mainstream comedies who, much to the distress of his studio executives, decides to make a film of burning social significance called O Brother Where Art Thou? (also the title of the forthcoming Coen Brothers release). The first step is for the pretentious Sullivan to research ordinary suffering at first hand so, dressed as a tramp, he heads out on to the road.
Quickly teaming up with a disenchanted actress (the alluring Veronica Lake), Sullivan embarks on a series of life-changing adventures. Dedicated "to all the funny men and clowns that make people laugh," Sullivan's Travels was written and directed by the prodigiously talented Preston Sturges, one of Holly-wood's comic masters. Sixty years on, its vitality remains undiminished, and certainly can't be restricted to one genre or style. Silent chase sequences are followed by self-reflexive wisecracking , and films-within-films sit alongside homages to Depression-era dramas.
Not perhaps as manically amusing as Sturges' later The Palm Beach Story, it's still superbly played and paced, and features a gallery of eccentric supporting characters. The message too is loud and clear: preaching isn't in the job description for Hollywood film-makers.