Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Palm Beach Story (1942)

THE PALM BEACH STORY is one of my all-time favorite comedies, which I enjoyed again today. No matter how many times I've seen this Preston Sturges classic, it still makes me laugh.

From the minute it starts, THE PALM BEACH STORY has a breathless pace and a deranged storyline, which both continue for the entire length of the movie. (In fact, I've spent way too much time perusing the IMDb message board for this film, reading theories on who married who at the movie's opening...I'll say no more for the benefit of those who haven't yet seen it.) Gerry (Claudette Colbert) loves her husband Tom (Joel McCrea) but they're flat broke. The only solution, as Gerry sees it, is for her to go to Palm Beach and find a rich millionaire who will marry her after making Tom wealthy as part of her divorce settlement. Confused? That's only the beginning.

Colbert is razor sharp funny in this, and looks particularly stunning in gowns by Irene. Her outfit and reactions in the breakfast scene on the train ("Do we dare?") crack me up. The role is the perfect marriage of Colbert's comedic ability and Sturges' great lines. McCrea is also wonderful as Gerry's handsome, baffled husband who is determined to talk her out of ending their marriage.

The highest, praise, however, goes to Rudy Vallee, who really should have received an Oscar nomination for his brilliantly funny performance as multimillionaire John D. Hackensacker III. His way with a line is simply priceless. At the end of the film the viewer really doesn't want this sweet guy to lose out on love. (And, well...we won't go there. Just watch it.) A side note, when I was about 12 I got to see Vallee and Robert Morse in a theatrical revival of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING at the Los Angeles Music Center.

Mary Astor, who plays Hackensacker's giddy, man-hungry sister, Princess Centimillia, is also extremely funny. It's amazing to think that in the space of three short years Astor played Brigid O'Shaughnessy in THE MALTESE FALCON, Mrs. Smith in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, and the Princess -- three radically different roles. In fact, in this same three-year period Astor also won an Oscar for THE GREAT LIE. That's quite a track record.

The cast includes William Demarest, Robert Grieg, Jack Norton, and Roscoe Ates as some of the members of the Ale and Quail Club; Robert Dudley as the Weenie King and Esther Howard as his wife; Sid Arno as Toto, who trails the Princess everywhere she goes; Franklin Pangborn as an apartment manager; and Frank Faylen as a taxi driver.

The first couple times I saw THE PALM BEACH STORY, in the late '70s, I saw it in Los Angeles revival theaters. If you have seen the film and think it's funny on TV, imagine watching the antics of the Weenie King or the Ale and Quail Club with a large, appreciative audience. The contagious laughter of a crowd is great fun with a film like this one.

This movie was shot in black and white and runs 88 minutes.

THE PALM BEACH STORY is available on DVD and video.

The movie can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

Update: THE PALM BEACH STORY comes to DVD and Blu-ray in January 2015 thanks to the Criterion Collection.

April 2017 Update: I had the opportunity to see this film introduced by Wyatt McCrea at the TCM Classic Film Festival.


Blogger broadcastellan said...

Stylish, savvy, and sophisticated, Colbert is the consummate “adventuress.” This is my favorite Sturges film, screwball with an edge softened by romance. Vallee’s serenading sums up what Sturges accomplishes here. Thank you for reminding me to watch it again.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Harry, it's great to hear from someone else who loves this film.

Best wishes,

9:10 AM  

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