#2, Palm Beach Story (1942)
This comedy is simply and utterly fun–but with a really smart edge to it. Written and directed by Preston Sturges, it tells the story of Gerry (Geraldine) and Tom Jeffers, a couple who have love but no cash. Gerry decides to leave Tom to save him her expense (!) and runs off to Palm Beach (on the advice of a cab driver) to get a divorce and, hopefully find a new, rich husband who will fund Tom’s invention of an airport built over a city (you have to see the scale model!). After a hilarious overnight train ride in the company of the Ale and Quail Club, she meets John D. Hackensacker III, a geeky, sweet bazillionaire who takes a shine to her. John D.’s crazy sister, Maude, takes an equal shine to Tom. Hijinks ensue until the lovers are reunited and find a solution for both John D. and Maude: twins!
Sturges’s sparkling dialogue and direction make the film move quickly through its three parts (NY, train ride, and Palm Beach), and bring out the best in his stars–Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, and Mary Astor–and a host of great character actors. The sets and costumes are high-style 40s, which means gorgeous.
This is Sturges at the top of his game in “screwball comedy.” If you are having a bad day, watching this movie will improve it in every way!
Colbert is beautiful and carries most of the film’s action. If you think of Joel McCrea as the stiff guy hero he played in countless westerns (1930s through 1960s!) you’ll miss the funny, funny way he plays the noble, stiff-necked husband desperate to get his wife back and kinda lost about how to financially support her and stay true to his principles. The “coincidence” of the Hackensacker meet is pure fairy-tale, but Sturges makes it anything but clunky. And if you only think of Mary Astor as Bogart’s foil in The Maltese Falcon, again you’ll miss the deftness of her talent with comedy. She and Vallee make the film as the lovers’ counterparts.
The chemistry between Colbert and McCrea is great, and his noble husband meets her frustrated wife with a kind of odd “Magi’s Gift” response. And don’t miss The Weinie King.