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.
â?? 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)
The story you just read is freely available and accessible to everyone because readers like you support The World financially.
Thank you all for helping us reach our goal of 1,000 donors. We couldn’t have done it without your support. Your donation directly supported the critical reporting you rely on, the consistent reporting you believe in, and the deep reporting you want to ensure survives.