Aha Moment: Sullivan's Travels


Friday, March 02, 2012

Daniel Eagan knew from a young age that he wanted to pursue a career in film. The movie he credits with setting him on that path, Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941), also gave him nightmares.

The movie is about a disgruntled director named John Sullivan. Fed up with making frothy comedies, Sullivan decides to research the plight of the common man by living among the homeless. At one point, Sullivan gets mugged by a homeless tramp — but when the tramp tries to escape, he’s trapped on the tracks of a rail yard and mowed down by a train.

The scene is meant to represent how society has failed the common man. But at six years old, Eagan was convinced it was real. “I think what troubled me the most about it was that there was no escape,” he remembers. “That no matter what choice you made in a situation in life, with people, it would be the wrong one.”

Eagan ultimately worked in the film business, but — like Sullivan — grew dissatisfied with the industry. He channeled his love of the movies into film criticism. He marvels at the success of Sturges, a director who managed to create great films despite his own dissatisfactions with Hollywood. “He got knocked down a lot of times, and kept finding a way to progress.”

Eagan is the author of Americas Film Legacy, 2009-2010: A Viewers Guide and writes the Smithsonian Magazine’s Reel Culture blog.

Is there a movie that changed your life — or a book, a song, a television show? Tell us in a comment below, or by e-mail.


Video: A scene from Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

    Music Playlist
  1. Score
    Album: Sullivan's Travels
    Label: Criterion
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. The Noose of Jah City
    Artist: King Krule
    Album: King Krule
    Label: True Panther Sounds
    Purchase: Amazon


Jenny Lawton and Katie Long

Comments [1]

JP from NYC

Mr. Egan is one of the most important film critics alive today. He brings a personal aesthetic and ethos to his critiques like no one else, and he doesn't insult your intelligence. His view of the business from the inside and his persistent love of film and the culture it creates together with his clear writing, and in particular, his unique views makes him invaluable in this day of flip one off critiques as are all too common in the media.
If he recommends a film, go see it.

Mar. 03 2012 12:03 PM

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