Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Palm Beach Story | 1942 | Not Screwy Enough

Geraldine and Thomas Jeffers are broke. Geraldine believes in her husband as an architect and recognizes he could invest more time in his art if he didn't have to support her, so she leaves him. On her way to Palm Beach to secure a divorce, a ridiculously wealthy man falls for her and she arranges for him to invest in one of Thomas' projects. Thomas never agreed to the divorce and is on his way to Palm Beach to win her back/prevent her from leaving for good, unaware that his appearance could torpedo the first big break of his career.

"Palm Beach Story" has all of the elements of screwball but doesn't feel screwball.  It's got sharp dialog, city dwellers, cocktails, complicated love relationships involving miscommunications, misunderstandings and schemes that will work as long as no one says the wrong thing; and each element is successful, but the parts are greater than the whole.

The best screwball feels as though it could fly off the rails at any moment, and this one is fairly cautious, deliberate and the leads don't seem greatly invested in what they could gain or lose.

Geraldine (Claudette Colbert) is initially selfless, but the way she handles her new suitor, John D. Hackensacker (Rudy Vallee), makes her a bit unlikeable.  And the fact that Thomas is still after her makes his character a bit questionable too.

Finally, the wedding at the end isn't quite the salve it's meant to be, it fails to match (much less top) the wackadoodle wedding at the beginning.  The film starts with a mysterious montage that is intriguing, but it's explanation is a let down and it's weak as a set-up for the end.

Still, THE PALM BEACH STORY is worth watching for some great scenes (the cop and the suitcase, the train station, the Quail and Ale Club, Mr. Hackensacker's sister and her lover), and because it's Sturges there's plenty of fantastic dialog.

Released: 1942
Director: Preston Sturges
Leads: Cladette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor
Writer: Preston Sturges