Films about losing it all -- Watching ''Sullivan's Travels,'' ''The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,'' and other movies about going broke might make tax day a little easier

Lost in America

Take heart, taxpayers. With April 15 upon us, video offers one way to ameliorate the pain of watching your earnings plunge down the IRS abyss. Here are some outstanding videos that make something entertaining — and often aesthetic — out of losing your money.

SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (1941, MCA/Universal)
While most of us would do just about anything to maintain our financial security, Joel McCrea chooses to go broke in this film. He plays a successful Hollywood director of light comedies (best known for Ants in Your Pants of 1939) who wants to make a serious movie about suffering and despair. The problem is he’s never suffered, so he dresses like a hobo and goes out to find suffering, eventually becoming lost and penniless for real. One of screenwriter-director Preston Sturges’ best films, this seriocomedy shows that laughter itself is one of the greatest treasures. A+

Here’s a neat variation on the going-broke theme: The main characters in this picture (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and Walter Huston, whose son John directed and wrote the script) start out broke, find a fortune, then go broke again. In the end, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a persuasive parable about the mercurial power of riches. A+

Let’s not forget that criminals have their economic hardships, too. In The Roaring Twenties, Prohibition is good to racketeer James Cagney till his bootlegging empire falls under the crash of ’29 and the remorseless villainy of Humphrey Bogart. In the vintage Warner Bros. tradition, Cagney’s rise and fall gets a snappy, engrossing treatment. A

SWING TIME (1936, Turner)
Look: Even Fred Astaire can lose his money, though never his class. In the beginning of this lilting musical, he gambles away his fortune and is forced to ride a freight train (in top hat and tails, of course) to New York City, so he can try making a comeback. The message: Getting cleaned out isn’t so bad — you can always go meet Ginger Rogers and dance to some great Jerome Kern. A-

LOST IN AMERICA (1985, Warner)
Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty get fed up with New York success and set out in a Winnebago to become cross-country nomads — ” just like Easy Rider,” as Brooks keeps saying. But their neohippie dream becomes a yuppie nightmare when Hagerty loses their entire ”nest egg” in a fit of gambling in Vegas. The film is incisive and hilarious, thanks to cowriter-director Brooks’ finely tuned instinct for the comic quirks of human nature. A-

A NEW LEAF (1971, Paramount) When he discovers he’s spent all his inheritance, shameless playboy Walter Matthau sets out to marry for money. He ends up with the world’s richest goofball, heiress Elaine May (who also wrote the screenplay and directed). The two stars make a weirdly sweet team in this clever comedy about two people who manage to amount to something despite themselves. A-

Lost in America
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