The Palm Beach Story (1942)

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By Scott Ross

Preston Sturges, at the crest of his astonishing run of great Paramount comedies. In this one, Claudette Colbert escapes from New York and day-dreamer husband Joel McCrae (to find financing for his engineering schemes), survives a night on board a sleeper train with the Ale and Quail Club, meets up with Florida millionaire Rudy Vallee and his lubricious sister Mary Astor, is pursued by McCrae…

There’s a delirious (and deliberately enigmatic) whirlwind opening that remains unexplained until the movie’s finale; a scorching bout of kissing between Colbert and McCrae; the wonderful Robert Dudley as “The Wienie King”; the unofficial Sturges stock company (Jimmy Conlin, William Demarest, Roscoe Ates and Chester Conklin) as the band of bibulous sportsmen; and (yes!) Rudy Vallee confounding expectations with an expert comic performance as the prissy yet likable money-bags. The usual, blissfully sparkling Sturges dialogue lifts the whole thing into the comedic stratosphere. It’s marred only by the depiction of Fred “Snowflake” Toones as a quintessentially eyeball-rolling, terrified “coon” in the train sequence. Billy Wilder was the era’s other pre-eminent writer-director of comedy, and you’d never see something like that in one of his movies.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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