Palm Beach Story, The (1942)

“You have no idea what a long-legged gal can do without doing anything.”

Synopsis:
A woman (Claudette Colbert) plans to divorce her financially unsuccessful husband (Joel McCrea) so she can seduce a millionaire and convince him to finance one of McCrea’s business inventions. On her way to Florida to obtain the divorce, she meets one of the wealthiest men in the world (Rudy Vallee), who falls in love with her — but will McCrea allow Colbert to follow through with her plans?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this “delightful screwball comedy by Preston Sturges” is “fast-paced and consistently funny”, and accurately points out that “McCrea and Colbert are an engaging screen couple” (though their relationship, naturally, is strained from the get-go). Indeed, as brilliant as I find this film — it remains a comedic treasure, and one of Sturges’ best — I’ll admit to feeling a vague sense of discomfort throughout (which is likely exactly what Sturges intended!). While Colbert’s plan may be “noble” at heart, it’s genuinely difficult to watch her romancing a likeable schmuck like Vallee and know that, in a romantic comedy like this — with an “engaging screen couple” like Colbert and McCrea waiting in the wings — there’s really only one outcome possible. (Though to his credit, Sturges soundly blasts that notion with an inspired — if dubitable — ending, about which I’ll say no more.)

Despite its decidedly discomfiting premise, however, the film remains consistently amusing and engaging, with “stars McCrea, Colbert, Vallee, and Mary Astor (as Vallee’s sister, who takes a liking to McCrea when he poses as Colbert’s brother) weaving their way through a crazy world of landlords, cops, cabbies, eccentrics, men named Toto, and the gun-toting, boozing, harmonizing Ale & Quail members” — yes, the storyline really is as wacky as that rundown indicates! I’m especially tickled by the performances given by Vallee and Astor, who prove beyond a doubt that the idle-rich are indeed — as Sturges himself believed — “funny” folk; and Robert Dudley is note-perfect as the deaf old coot who starts the narrative ball rolling. Meanwhile, Colbert is at her loveliest (it’s nice to see her with her hair down here — literally!), and handsome McCrea is well-cast as her perpetually affronted husband.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Rudy Vallee as John D. Hackensacker
  • Mary Astor as Princess Centimillia
  • Robert Dudley as The Wienie King
  • Claudette Colbert as Gerry Jeffers
  • Plenty of clever and/or zany dialogue: “Chivalry is not only dead, it’s decomposed.”

Must See?
Yes, as a certified comedic classic. Nominated by Peary as one of the Best Movies of the Year in his Alternate Oscars.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Palm Beach Story, The (1942)”

  1. A must – as a solid classic screwball comedy…and a good one to re-visit.

    While this isn’t my favorite Preston Sturges movie (that would be ‘Sullivan’s Travels’, followed closely by ‘Hail the Conquering Hero’), it still has a whole lot of good stuff in it…and it gets better as it goes along. ‘TPBS’ shows how much nicer life can be when you don’t have any money – but you happen to be surrounded by amiable strangers who, though rich or at least very well off, are willing to do anything for you…if you’re young, beautiful and as madcap as they are.

    My main problem with ‘TPBS’ is the same problem I have with ‘The Lady Eve’: the male lead is too much of a sourpuss and needs to lighten up a lot more. But at least Joel McCrea is a hot dish and something of a fighter for love.

    This movie has some of the best two-character scenes of snappy repartee that one could ask for. Things build smoothly and inevitably to a hilarious finish (which, if you’re paying attention, is hinted at in the chaotic sequence that plays under the opening credits).

    All I can add is God bless the Wienie King!

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