Sturges, a Hollywood satirical genius, at his peak had enough box-office clout, like Billy Wilder with "Sunset Boulevard", to assail the system that fed him.
Joel McCrea in his best role plays John L Sullivan, Hollywood's top director of lightweight hits. The studio expects a sequel to "Ants in Your Pants of 1939", but he wants to film a portentous breadline America novel, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", as his serious social statement. The horrified execs, smelling disaster, tell him he knows nothing of poverty. He vows to study life at the bottom, setting out moneyless as a tramp, but the attempt fails because the studio sends a luxury motorhome and publicity entourage after him.
Then a girl (Veronica Lake) who knows hunger helps him to achieve his purpose. Fate causes him to be imprisoned for attacking a railroad worker, while a hobo who has stolen his shoes is mangled by a train and the body identified as his. Locked up on a squalid prison farm he comes to realise that the world values laughter more than social realism.
It's a great comedy, with a message that works in context, the flophouses of life's downside contrasting with Hollywood's absurd hedonism. Sturges's wonderful stock company of supporting players makes up the rest of the cast. The Coen Brothers were so influenced by "Sullivan's Travels" they named their film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" from it.