Fast and funny from beginning to end Preston Sturges The Palm Beach Story is a must see Hollywood comedy from the 1940's.
Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea star as a wife and husband who have reached an impasse in their marriage. Still respectful of each other they are a bit bored. Colbert - who's character's name is Gerry - decides to take a trip to Palm Beach and arrange for a divorce. She takes a train. Joel - who's character is named Tom - follows her to Florida in a plane.
Tom gets down there to discover that Gerry is being woo'd by an extremely wealthy man named John D Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee). Hackensacker is a boring but decent fellow and Gerry entertains his desires for a few nights.
Gerry stalls both Hackensacker advances and Tom's anger a bit by pretending that she and Tom are brother and sister. The ruse works for a while until Gerry can figure out what to do about her dilemma.
The film's most hilarious scenes come on board a train when Colbert runs into a group of unruly men who are members of the Ale and Quail Club. She becomes their 'mascot' or Snow White - if you will. They buy her ticket and then feel the need to protect her. During this set of scenes the film becomes all out slapstick as the men drink themselves silly, pull out their shotguns, shoot up the train and then head out on a posse through the train to find Colbert who has escaped to a quiter sleeping car in the train.
The underriding theme in the film is about the lure of money and the need to find happiness in that alone. An early dialogue sequence points to Gerry's desire to try something new.
Gerry: I may not even get married again. I might become an adventuress.
Tom: I can just see you starting for China on a twenty-six foot sail boat.
Gerry: You're thinking of an adventurer, dear. An adventuress never goes on anything under three hundred feet with a crew of eighty.
Tom: Well, you just let me catch you on a 300-foot yacht or even a 200-foot yacht.
Gerry: At least I wouldn't have to worry about the rent.
Can money buy Gerry? That's a minor question that the film asks.
At only 88 minutes there is nary a moment wasted, the dialogue zings by, the characters are wacky and fun, and the scenes really snap. Part of the appeal of the film is the script. Full of a plethora of humorous dialogue, which Sturges was master at writing. It makes for a film that can be enjoyed on multiple viewings.
In some cases the dialogue is quite suggestive.
Hackensacker: "If there's one thing I admire it's a woman who can whip up something out of nothing."
Gerry: "You should taste my pop-overs."
Hackensacker: "I'd love to."
At other times right up front:
Tom: ...I mean, sex didn't even enter into it!
Gerry: Oh, but of course it did.... Sex always has something to do with it, dear...From the time you're about so big, and wondering why your girlfriends' fathers are getting so arch all of a sudden. Nothing wrong, just an overture to the opera that's coming...but from then on, you get it from cops, taxi drivers, bell boys, delicatessan dealers...
Tom: Got what?
Gerry: The Look! You know: 'How's about this evening, babe?'
What seems to be one of the film's weaker points is Gerry's motivations for leaving Tom. After all he is attractive, he loves her and has done nothing to hurt her.
As it turns out The Palm Beach Story reveals itself to have another plot entirely that is only glossed over in the beginning.
The credit sequence that opens the film is rarely commented upon. Partly because the film is so good that it almost seems superfulous. Plus, it being a credit sequence many don't pay attention and instead choose to read the credits. But a closer look reveals much behind the actions and motivations of Claudette Colbert's character - Gerry - in the movie.
What this first scene reveals - with quick edits, freeze frames and a wacky score - is deception. What we don't learn until the end of the film is that Gerry has a twin sister. What the scene shows is that her twin is the one who was supposed to marry Tom. But Gerry has tied up her sister, put her in a closet and rushed off to the wedding in her place.
This point is never really brought up in the film but an astute viewer can deduce this from a combination of the film's first scene with that of the somewhat hasty denouement where Gerry and Tom both reveal nonchalantly that they have identical twins. Whom we both see in a final wedding scene in the end.
Whether one puts this all together or not is of little consequence because the film is so good anyway.
An excellent transfer in 1.33:1.
English dolby digital 2.0 mono. As good as it was in the 40's. Good enough to hear all the dialogue.
None except subtitles in English, Spanish and French.
If you have never seen The Palm Beach Story then do yourself a favor and watch it. In fact, just go buy it for under $10.00 on many web sites or stores. It's funny. You'll love it.