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When commenting on a film as brilliantly constructed and deeply
as The Palm Beach Story, it's hard to know just where to
Do you tip your hat to the uniformly wonderful performers?
Do you pay tribute to the bizarre and hilarious conversations held by the Weenie King (Robert Dudley), an incidental character who manages to be a lot more than a mere plot contrivance?
Do you mention the fact that the film was clearly an influence upon the (slightly superior) screwball classic Some Like It Hot?
Nope. You just say, Preston Sturges was a genius and this is his best film.
Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) has decided that she needs to divorce her husband Tom (Sturges regular Joel McCrea). Why? We're not quite sure. Perhaps she's looking for thrills, perhaps she simply wants a partner who can pay the rent and perhaps she's truly come to believe that she no longer loves him. No matter. Her mind is made up and there's nothing Tom can do about it. Try as he might, Gerry slips through his fingers and ends up on a train to Palm Beach, the divorce capital of the world.
Echoes of Some Like first appear on the train ride when Gerry finds herself unable to sleep do to the racket being caused by The Ale and Quail Club. It's bad enough when they start shooting out windows, and what comes next... let's just say that it's a lot funnier than it would be if it happened in real life.
Still, Gerry makes it to Palm Beach, in the company of nutty millionaire John D. Hackensacker (Rudy Vallee). Things only get really out of hand once Tom arrives and becomes pegged as a bachelor, Captain McGlew. And spoil more of the plot for you I will not.
Sturges was capable of operating in many modes: responsible and patriotic (Sullivan's Travels) and outrageously madcap (The Miracle of Morgan's Creek) are two that come to mind. But Palm Beach shares its elegance, wit and reserve with The Lady Eve, in which con artist Barbara Stanwyck sets her sights on absent-minded professor Henry Fonda. (Even the mistaken identity plot is similar upon examination).
Between the two, Eve may end on a slightly more graceful note, but Beach seems to be made with a bit more... well, experience. Sturges seems at his most relaxed throughout the film and it does a world of good. (The story is bogged down only by brief moments of racism early on). And leaving, it's hard not to feel sunny and refreshed.
For those in need of a vacation, I recommend a stay at Palm Beach. And the rest of you should come along as well.
Claudette Colbert is a knockout who knows it. She wants the good life,
which her inventor husband can't give her. So she leaves him, intending
on marrying someone who can support her and finance his invention.
Things don't quite work out.
The opening of "Palm Beach Story" is a bizarre scene that only makes some sense (and I'm emphasizing some) at the very end of the film. It's certainly an original way to start a movie. There are some hilarious scenes in this film - desperate to get to Palm Beach for a quickie divorce, but with no money, Colbert accepts the invitation of the gentlemanly Ale and Quail Club to ride in their private train car as their guest and mascot. Unfortunately, the emphasis in this club is the ale and not the quail - shooting sugar cubes will do - also blowing out train windows, trashing whole train cars - you get the idea. Running from them, Colbert soon meets up with Rudy Vallee, who gives an absolutely delightful performance as a filthy rich man. He serenades her at one point, and it's great, hearkening back to his days as a crooner! Mary Astor is his many times married sister, and when Colbert's husband shows, in the form of Joel McCrea, Astor sees her next mark.
McCrea has a funny slapstick fall down a flight of stairs, but otherwise, doesn't have much to do except be angry and jealous of his wife. Colbert in her glorious clothes, Vallee, and a vivacious Astor upstage him a bit. A very funny film, produced during World War II to give America a much-needed laugh.
"The Palm Beach Story" is a lopsided comedy (part of it's funny and
part of it's not), but the movie is back-ended with all of the funniest
bits, so it allows you to forget the slower parts and it sends you out
on a high.
After a sensationally bizarre opening credits sequence, the movie settles down into a slightly less zingy version of "The Awful Truth." Claudette Colbert thinks her marriage to Joel McCrea isn't working, even though he doesn't think likewise. She thinks she's not a capable enough wife; he thinks he's a failure as a man and husband. She takes off for Palm Beach to get a divorce despite all of his attempts to stop her. On the train to Florida, she meets a wealthy tycoon who wants to marry her and give her everything she could possibly want, but she realizes that what she really wants is her husband.
This is all told with a lot of wit and flair. The early scenes with Colbert and McCrea drag, and an extended bit of nonsense on the train involving the Ale and Quail Hunting Club is superfluous and not very funny. But once everyone shows up in Palm Beach, the film becomes a delight, and a bonus is added in the person of Mary Astor, who plows on to the screen about half way through the film and decimates everyone in her path with her quick-tongued and hilarious performance as a rich society lady with a lot of time on her hands and her sights set on Colbert's husband.
What I liked about this film was that Colbert and McCrea don't seem to have a lot of chemistry in their early scenes together; he seems so stiff and bland, and you don't really blame her for wanting to get away. But after you've seen both of them with other people, they seem so much more right for each other when they get back together, and there's all this chemistry you didn't initially realize was there. I don't know if that's due to their performances, the writing, the directing, or whether it was just a happy accident, but it works beautifully.
THE PALM BEACH STORY is not to be confused with reality. It's a zany
romantic comedy given full speed treatment by director Preston Sturges
who brought screwball comedy to an art form.
His script, full of hilarious one-liners that fly by almost too fast to catch, is acted to perfection by CLAUDETTE COLBERT, RUDY VALLEE and MARY ASTOR--with a less enthusiastic turn by JOEL McCREA who gives the only so-so performance, perhaps because none of the wittiest lines come his way. I've always liked this actor but here is performance is almost muted and strangely remote.
Nevertheless, if screwball comedy is your dish, this is one you can relish. From the moment Colbert gets aboard a train carrying her to Palm Beach, the fun starts and gets into high gear, racing toward a conclusion that is not altogether satisfying nor even remotely hinted at until the final few minutes of film. It's a twist that somehow doesn't ring true--the only really false note in an otherwise perfect screwball comedy.
Rudy Vallee is outstanding as a nutty millionaire, a role written expressly for him (and he even gets to sing a little)--and Mary Astor, as his husband hunting sister, is hilariously over the top as a woman who can't stop talking while pursuing her man.
A good way to spend a pleasant 90 minutes.
Simply stated...one of the funniest, craziest and most brilliant
comedies of all-time....for shear laughs....it's Preston Sturges'
You can easily read the plot-line from the other reviewers, but I want to make a point about some of the performances.
Rudy Vallee, previously rather stiff on film, is simply hysterical in this movie. For my money, he should have at least been nominated for the Best Supporting Actor category for the Academy Awards. One of the most brilliant supporting comedy roles I've ever seen.
Mary Astor and Sig Arno are brilliant as well.
It's also amazing that those idiots at Paramount allowed Sturges to slip through their fingers....not long after this film was finished.
It's now available on DVD....a strip-down edition with no features whatsoever...and also part of the Preston Sturges boxset.
By the way, if the frantic opening over the credit are confusing, just note that both of them are identical twins!
The Palm Beach Story is one of the best examples of the wonderful
nonsense that Hollywood used to turn out in its best comedies. It's
only in the movies that circumstances like these happen and it's quite
beyond my powers to describe them.
Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert come to a dry patch in their marriage and decide to split. Colbert takes a train to Palm Springs and McCrea pursues her by plane. And they both wind up with a brother and sister pair of gazillionaires in the persons of Rudy Vallee and Mary Astor.
I will say that Preston Sturges did kind of reach into left field for his romantic ending, but that's half the fun of The Palm Beach Story.
Only half because the other half is the fun of the journey. Not much happens to Joel, but Claudette is on one wild ride when she's adopted by a gang of drunken millionaire sportsmen known as the Ale and Quail Club.
The proponents of gun control should get the right to The Palm Beach Story and run it at all opportunities. Seeing these louts, plastered out of their minds and shooting off their weapons is pretty funny and the best argument I know for gun control. Preston Sturges used some of his favorite players from his usual stock company for members of Ale and Quail.
Also look for a very funny performance by Robert Dudley as the 'wienie king' whose encounter with Colbert sets everything in motion.
Rudy Vallee gets to sing in this which is also nice. He sings a chorus of Isn't It Romantic and then sings his own hit, Goodnight Sweetheart which has the opposite effect from what he intended.
The Palm Beach Story is the object lesson in how to make screen comedy and make it to last.
Even more dementedly frantic than The Lady Eve, this film is Preston Sturges's most delirious screwball/slapstick romance, with one of the most amazing bits of comic combustion in the Ale and Quail Club train sequence. It's not as neatly structured as The Lady Eve, but it's filled with hilarious gags, lines, and performances. Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea are remarkably composed and relaxed, but Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor, and all the other performers outdo themselves in energetic tomfoolery. When Vallee complains, plaintively, that the problem with the world is that the men most in need of a beating are usually enormous, or when Astor slyly suggests that she grows on people, like moss, you know you're hearing Preston Sturges's wit at its peak.
The "Palm Beach Story" has a poor title but it's a hilarious movie by the
sometimes cynical master of comedy, Preston Sturges. "Palm" comes a year
after Sturges far lesser comedy, "The Lady Eve", staring Stanwyck and a dull
Henry Fonda. The superior comedy, "Palm," rivals the greatest screwballs
like "Bringing up Baby" and "The Awful Truth" for sustained insanity and
strength of characterization.
In this screwball masterpiece, the characters' flakiness is shared by the rest of their absurd world. It climaxes in a fantastic scene set on a train where an "Ale and Quale" club goes on a drunken shooting spree, forming a posse that tramps from car to car singing "A hunting we will go".
As Anthony Lane argues, "Palm" presents a realist view of the prominence of sex and greed as motivating and blinding forces. In a key scene, Colbert gives a little speech about "the look", or the copulatory gaze, that she's been getting from every man since she was 14. This movie is slightly cynical and funnier for it's richness. Comedy is set off against discussions of lost opportunity and youth. "Topic A" is what runs the world of "The Palm Beech Story", but sometimes topic B, money, is temporarily more important. After leaving her struggling husband, Gerry gets prizes from any horny man she comes in contact with: rent money from the regretful wiener king, taxi rides, a train ticket from hunters, and dresses and rubies from a millionaire. Also, the Princess has a kept pet-man who tags along as she pursues new husbands.
Sturges shares with Wilder and Allen a slighlty cynical view of human "nature". As Lane points out, they don't have a conservative Catholic view of the inherent selfishness and sinfulness of human kind, but a liberal, more Deweyan, view of human potential, slightly jaded from their experience. They are not without hope, but aware of limitation. Sturges is beyond naivete, like many of his screwball compatriots, and frankly examines weaknesses that others avoid or deny, and he criticizes conventions that supposedly created a utopia in the 1950's.
This is one of the highlights of the screwball genre that illuminatingly explores, like no other group of films, life, love, gender, sexuality, and desire in 20th century America in an endearing and always fun manner.
Hilarious movie about an unhappily married couple played by Joel McCrea
(unbearably handsome) and Claudette Colbert (unbearably beautiful). She
goes to Palm Beach to get a quick divorce. While enroute she meets a shy,
sweet millionaire played by Rudy Valle who immediately falls in love with
her. But McCrea shows up in Palm Beach wanting her back...
Lightning paced, very sweet, romantic and absolutely hysterical comedy. The script is packed full of great lines and (with the exception of McCrea) the cast give them their all. Colbert is delightful as the wife. McCrea, unfortunately, gives a stone-faced performance as her husband--still, he is very good-looking and doesn't really hurt the movie. Also, as one previous poster noted, you get a quick look at his "best parts" near the beginning! Vallee is pretty good too. Mary Astor is absolutely hysterical as Vallee's VERY talkative sister. And then there's the Wienie King and the Ale and Quail Club! A definite must-see!
Best line: "The men most in need of a beating up are always enormous."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This has been one of my favorites for thirty years, since the Village
Voice critics turned me on to Sturges. It's a loony world where loony
things happen, and it's important to realize that the central loony
joke is that Claudette Colbert's Gerry gets things from men without
having to put any effort into it at all. No, she's not prostituting
herself -- she never trades anything for her prizes, she just keeps on
looking pretty. Joel McCrea with Colbert is sexy and just right. He's
not supposed to be silly -- he is the sane anchor in the chaos (and the
romantic leading man). Rudy Vallee -- absolutely perfect deadpan
delivery of some really great lines. Hurrah for the Ale and Quail Club,
for Toto and for the Wienie King.
But the mystery -- I have always believed that there is an unfinished story in here, a movie that didn't get produced, about the twins. It's almost like Palm Beach is a sequel to that movie. If you don't know that Gerry and Tom are twins, the opening frantic sequences makes no sense at all; as it is it is difficult to make sense of, but this is the gist of it -- Gerry and Tom's twins want Gerry and Tom, Tom and Gerry want each other, so in order to get married Gerry and Tom have to lock their twins in closets and run to their wedding. This means the unwanted twins must have been up to some business before the wedding, but we never see any of it. Something's missing here, and I think that is the flaw in Palm Beach Story. I have never been able to find out where this story element came from. Does anyone know?
But still, watch and enjoy this great movie over and over. There was no other like Preston Sturges -- no one as honest or real. Or funny.
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