The Palm Beach Story (1942)


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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