Continuing to catch up on Preston Sturges films I have not seen, last night I watched THE PALM BEACH STORY. There's a lot of great stuff in the film,but it's nowhere near one of his best films. The cast is great, Joel McCrea as Tom Jeffers , the wonderful Claudette Colbert as his wife Gerry, Rudy Vallee as John D. Hackensacker the third, and Mary Astor as Princess Centimillia, all form a wonderful foursome in the third act of the film. Alas, it takes too long to get there. (Plus you've got to love the character names, one of whom is simply "The Weenie King.")
The plot is not one of his best. Colbert's character decides to divorce her husband to allow him a chance to succeed as a businessman (this part is hard to swallow) so she takes a train to Palm Beach, where, she's been told, it's easy to get a quickie divorce. The first act flies by quite well. In fact, the opening three minutes of main title sequence as so brilliant I would say that to this day it is still one of the best main titles of all time. If you can watch the first three minutes and not want to watch the rest of the film immediately, something is wrong with you. Ironically, the events in the sequence are not mentioned again until the last few seconds of the film.
The second act of the film is where it really bogs down. On the train, Colbert runs into a group of drunken hunters. Sturges' relationship with slapstick is always hit or miss; it's his wordplay and his characters that are his strength. Watching a group of men fire rifles at crackers being tossed by the black bartender on the train is almost painful. In fact, the stereotype of the bartender is indeed painful to watch. Even worse, in the end credits, the character is simply "Colored Bartender," and, like a dog, the actor is given only a one word name for his credit: Snowflake. (Ugh.) His real name was Fred Toones.
The third act redeems itself nicely with a bit of a screwball plot twist and, as always, Sturges' brilliant dialogue. There are so many great lines, it's almost impossible to pick favorites. But here are a few:
Tom Jeffers: So this fellow gave you the look?
Gerry Jeffers: At his age it was more of a blink.
Tom Jeffers: Seven hundred dollars! And sex didn't even enter into it, I suppose?
Gerry Jeffers: Sex always has something to do with it, dear.
Gerry Jeffers: Anyway, men don't get smarter as they get older. They just lose their hair.
J. D. Hackensacker III: Chivalry is not only dead, it's decomposed.
Wienie King: Cold are the hands of time that creep along relentlessly, destroying slowly but without pity that which yesterday was young. Alone our memories resist this disintegration and grow more lovely with the passing years. Heh! That's hard to say with false teeth!
John D. Hackensacker III: That's one of the tragedies of this life - that the men who are most in need of a beating up are always enormous.
Princess Centimillia: You will care for me, though. I grow on people. Like moss.
John D. Hackensacker III: Do you happen to remember how much tip I gave the taxi driver?
Gerry Jeffers: Well, I didn't see the coin, but from his face, I think it was ten cents.
John D. Hackensacker III: Tipping is un-American.
If you're Sturges fan, you need to see this film.