Sullivan’s Travels appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I didn’t think this was a great image, but it usually held up well.
Overall sharpness seemed positive. Some minor softness interfered at times, but not with any frequency, so most of the movie appeared acceptably accurate and concise. I noticed no instances of jagged edges and shimmering, but some light edge haloes also cropped up on occasion.
Print flaws weren’t a factor, as the movie seemed clean; I might’ve noticed a small speck or two and some tiny gate hairs but nothing intrusive. Blacks were fairly tight, while shadows tended to be reasonably smooth. I’ve seen better presentations of movies from the early 1940s, but this was still a mostly appealing image.
I thought the LPCM monaural soundtrack of Sullivan’s Travels was fairly average for its era. Speech was consistently intelligible but could become a bit edgy at times, especially in the movie’s early moments. Music lacked much range and also seemed somewhat screechy and shrill in terms of high-end.
These concerns persisted with effects. In quieter scenes, these sounded fine, but once the volume increased, those elements tended to appear a bit rough. Background noise never became a problem. Given the movie’s vintage, the audio was acceptable, but it came with some issues.
How does the Blu-ray compare to the Criterion DVD from 2001? Even with its problems, audio was clearer, and the picture seemed tighter, cleaner and more film-like. Especially in terms of visuals, this became an upgrade.
The Blu-ray repeats most of the DVD’s extras, and we find an audio commentary with documentarian Kenneth Bowser and filmmakers Noah Baumbach, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean. Each one sits separately for this edited track. We get a few historical notes about the film and its era but mostly receive thoughts about the flick in terms of its style and methods.
This means we find a pretty spotty commentary. Usually a track like this would give us factual information from a film historian, and Bowser does a little of that, but we don’t hear a ton from him. Instead, we get a lot from the three filmmakers.
Of that bunch, McKean proves the most effective. He offers interesting remarks about his experiences with the movie and also sheds light on various aspects of it. McKean comes across as thoughtful and incisive.
Though Guest does a little of that, for the most part he goes for the laughs. He provides some offbeat “facts” and quirky observations about the flick but not much more. That still beats the dull Baumbach. The filmmaker usually just tells us how much he loves various parts of the movie. I can’t recall anything useful that he said during the piece. All of this adds up to a sporadically interesting commentary, but not a very good one.
Next comes a 1989 documentary entitled Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer. Created by Bowser for PBS’s American Masters, this one-hour, 15-minute, 13-second program mixes archival elements with interviews. We get notes from family friend Priscilla B. Woolfan, widow Sandy Sturges, actress/friend Frances Ramsden, film historian/friend Thomas Quinn Curtis, secretary Edwin Gillette, filmmaker Paul Schrader, Paramount producer AC Lyles, film critic Andrew Sarris, and actors Cesar Romero, Eddie Bracken, Joel McCrea, Betty Hutton, and Rudy Vallee.
The show tells of Sturges’ childhood and influences from that period. From there we follow his early adulthood and his move into show business as well as his transition into the movies, aspects of his personal life, his career in Hollywood, and notes from the rest of his days as he ran into troubles.
“Dreamer” maintains a balanced perspective, as it favors neither personal dirt nor simple recitations of movie-making details. It gets into both well, and the various folks who knew Sturges add nice insights into the filmmaker as a man. These factors combine to create a rich, informative discussion that gives us a satisfying take on Sturges.
For information from the director’s widow, we find a 13-minute, 12-second Sandy Sturges Interview. Shot in 2001, Sturges chats about her former husband’s start as a writer, his work in Hollywood and related topics, some thoughts about Travels, his decline, and his relationship with Howard Hughes.
Some of the information here already shows up elsewhere, but Sturges’ personal viewpoint helps make it valuable. She adds a different perspective that makes her participation useful. The interview packs a lot of nice info into its running time.
New to the Blu-ray, Ants in Your Plants of 1941 goes for 17 minutes, 19 seconds. During the video essay, filmmaker Bill Forsyth and critic/filmmaker David Cairns give us some notes on
Under “Archival Audo” we get three elements. Preston Sturges Talks to Hedda Hopper goes for four minutes, 10 seconds. First aired January 28, 1951, Sturges chats about the then-current state of movies and the possible impact of TV. He’s pretty prescient as he notes that he believes the competition will be good for motion pictures. This becomes an intriguing piece of history.
What does the Blu-ray drop from the DVD? It loses a trailer, some photo galleries and storyboards. It’s too bad Criterion couldn’t include these here.