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Savant Investigates:
Sullivan's Corpse

Yes, America consistently looks to DVD Savant for incisive discussion of the major issues, only to find more articles like this one.

It all began about a week ago. I was staring at my computer, trying to remember how to spell 'mortiferous,' when an Email came in. One of those Emails:

DVD Savant: I was never taken in by the "hanging munchkin" Oz rumor, but I've seen the dangling man's legs in Sullivan's Travels. He, or they appear during that montage sequence of McCrea and Lake as tramps, as they walk beside a body of water. Any explanation? A Sturges joke? -- Bill Blackwell

Unfortunately, I didn't have a copy of Sullivan's Travels to check this out. If you only knew how many times I've searched through The Wizard of Oz, only to see NOTHING... but something about this Blackwell guy sounded on the level. I shot back a quick answer:

Oh no! Not another one! I'll look for it next time I see the movie. Thanks, I think! -- Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant

I fully expected the issue to go away. Instead, Blackwell followed up with some hard data:

Glenn: I think you can see those dangling legs in this non-quality image. It's undeniably clear in the laser disk and in 16mm. What? Why?

This occurs about 55 minutes into the film during the long silent sequence of McCrea and Lake among the down & out. It comes right after the "Moe" sandwich board carried by Sullivan and the "Moe Unfair . . . " sign carried by The Girl. My students used to come up with incredible explanations, but I think Sturges or a crew member was having fun . . . The second unit director maybe? -- Bill

Here's the image Bill sent me.

Those legs aren't easy to ignore, are they? They don't look like anything but a pair of legs with shoes. They certainly aren't a shadow-illusion caused by a stork far in the background, either, as with the Oz Hanging Munchkin. Being resourceful, always relying on my own instincts and intellect, I immediately asked other people for help. Not long thereafter, what I was looking for arrived from the mysterious yet steadfast woggly, who volunteered to pull his copy of Sullivan's Travels off the shelf and take a look.

Dear Glenn: Well, there they are -- big as life. Not just shoes, but PANT-LEGS with shoes. I looked at this repeatedly... one of the shoes seems to move slightly -- those pant-legs might have legs in 'em, but then it might just be a reflection of the shiny leaves of the tree. As noted, this is during the "silent" sequence -- I looked carefully to try to see whether either McCrea or Lake might have been speaking, and perhaps have made a removed remark about a guy in the tree, but it looks as though the scene is truly MOS. The legs are placed carefully in terms of the lighting scheme of the scene; they are certainly there intentionally. This is either a fun hidden gag or an extremely subtle comment on the housing shortage of the period. At any rate, it isn't a "hanging tree" -- nobody would have used this particular branch of a tree for Strange Fruit, so I don't think there's any anti-lynching message intended here. I do playfully want to connect it up with a certain shot in The Wizard of Oz, but you have now heard enough about that one to last a lifetime.

To further belabor the leg issue, there is another curious split-second appearance of a bare leg hanging from something (an unseen stoop?) on the left side of the screen just as the dissolve begins from the scene on the city street to the scene in which Joel and Veronica walk near the water. This leg seems to swing out of camera range before the end of the shot -- it's very quick.

The miracle of black and white film and the star quality of McCrea and Veronica Lake, of course, make the legs relatively hard to find. If, say, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston walked under a similar tree in a modern film in color, audiences around the world would be screaming,

The only other observation I would make is that it would be worth consulting two other sources on this matter: First, I can't find my copy, but it's a sound idea to take a quick look at the Sullivan's script in Five Screenplays by Preston Sturges, to see if there's any mention of this odd detail. If I find mine, I'll take a look. Second, a query to the Sturges family might shed some light on this -- Tom Sturges has fielded many, many questions about his father's work; perhaps this has come up before. Sorry I couldn't have been of more help...
Best, -- woggly (B. Baker)

So there you have it. Another secret message from a cryptic filmmaker? Evidence of a Preston Sturges lynching theme that got left in the swamp? An attempt to film the original version of O Brother Where Art Thou? (We still haven't found Hey Hey in the Hayloft or Ants in Your Plants of 1939, either.) Maybe an MGM employee disposed of the dead Munchkin from the set of Oz by sneaking it across town and onto Sturges' set on Melrose Avenue: "It's all fixed, Mr. Mayer, the stiff's safe 'n' sound over on the Paramount Lot. Let's see Balaban explain that one to the cops."

The major weirdness about the shot is, that while watching Sullivan's Travels at least 20 times, I've never noticed the legs before. Now they look far too big NOT to be noticed.

Savant's willing to hear any explanation you've got for these legs ... this has been another unique public service from DVD Savant.

Got a Thing for freakish visual phenomena in movies?
Read Savant's fearless exposés:

The Hanging Munchkin   and  Three Men and a Ghost?
And don't forget Savant's review of the Arrow Blu-ray of Sullivan's Travels.

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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2001 Glenn Erickson

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