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Sullivan’s Travels

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Sullivan's Travels

Image credit: Sullivan’s Travels, 1941.

I’m often struck by the way history continuously repeats itself. I wonder—do people not already know how this ends? You don’t even need to read a textbook; classic films  provide proof we’ve been through this before. Rampant unemployment, innocent lives lost, oppression of the poor and non-white communities—it’s all there, in this week’s masterpiece of a film, Sullivan’s Travels (Disc/Download). Maybe director Preston Sturges didn’t know how to fix the world’s problems, but he understood that laughter is sometimes the only medicine we’ve got.

Fictional Hollywood director John L. Sullivan is tired of being the Adam Sandler of the 1940s. He’s sick of making brain-dead comedies that fail to address the world’s problems. So he decides to adapt a Serious Novel called O Brother, Where Art Thou (before you ask, yes the beloved Coen Brothers film is a reference to this novel-within-a-movie). But before starting production, Sullivan decides to travel across the country incognito in order to witness and understand the lives of real, ordinary people. He ditches tuxedos in favor of hobo chic, meets Veronica Lake’s character, and together they go off to look for America. However, before their journey concludes, Sullivan gets hit on the head and accidentally assaults a cop. He doesn’t remember that he’s actually a wealthy man of privilege, so he never gets a proper defense in court. After being sentenced to a chain gang, he finally remembers who he is and has to prove his innocence. It’s during a chain gang movie night where he finally realizes the only thing bringing these guys joy is a silly Disney cartoon. It’s their one opportunity to smile and feel human. That’s true of most of America, he realizes. When it comes to entertainment, people don’t want to be told what their problems are; they want to laugh and forget, if only for a little while.

It says a lot about Veronica Lake that even when dressed up like a hobo, she still manages to be one of the sexiest actresses I’ve ever seen. She and Joel McCrea have amazing chemistry, whether they’re sitting beside his swimming pool, or riding the rails of a boxcar. Let’s toast them with this Tramp cocktail!

Tramp

1 oz Sloe Gin

1 oz Peach Liqueur

1 oz Lime Juice

3 oz Cava

Lime twist/dried lime for garnish

Combine sloe gin, peach liqueur, and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice. Top with Cava and lime garnish.

Tramp

In a weird twist of fate, I actually watched Sullivan’s Travels right after sitting through an old Adam Sandler rom-com. As expected, the Happy Madison flick was a little dumb, but I enjoyed the tropical setting and his schlubby earnestness. It felt good to laugh, at a time when everything in the news made me want to cry. However, it also made me understand how rare it is when a movie causes you smile and think and learn something about the world, which is why Sullivan’s Travels is so special, even today. So give yourself permission to laugh and enjoy a cocktail right now—we all need it. Cheers!

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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obrother

Image Credit: O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 2000

For a great movie soundtrack, sharp wit, and the screwball comedy genius of George Clooney, look no further than this week’s film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (DVD/Download). One of the top films in the Coen Bros. canon, the plot is loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey. Except here we have a hair tonic-obsessed Clooney standing in for Ulysses.  He’s a Dapper Dan man, dammit!

Upon its release, the bluegrass-inspired soundtrack sold like gangbusters, even surpassing the film’s box office. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, this film perfectly captures the look and sound of the Mississippi Delta. Of course, it wasn’t all banjo riffs and sepia tinted landscapes. Chain gangs and KKK rallies also find their way into the journey of Ulysses Everett McGill and his two prison buddies. It’s an epic tale that must be seen (and heard) to be believed.

One of my favorite scenes involves a group of beautiful sirens calling to the three travelers along the banks of a stream. They feed the men moonshine and lure them into a trap. I’m not advocating getting black-out drunk (there are still a lot of good scenes to watch!) but moonshine can be a fun spirit to experiment with. While watching O Brother, Where Art Thou?, I recommend drinking a Siren Song.

Siren Song

1 ½ oz white moonshine

¾ oz fresh lemon juice

¾ oz pineapple juice

½ oz honey syrup (1 part honey, 1 part water, boiled)

1 dash angostura bitters

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and shake until chilled. Strain and serve in a mason jar filled with shaved ice.  Garnish with lemon peel, if desired.

siren song

The big hit song from this film is “Man of Constant Sorrow”, but there are also so many other great examples of Appalachian music. With this flawless soundtrack, and the silver screen charm of Clooney, it’s no wonder that O Brother became an instant classic. To me, it will always be bona fide. Cheers!