Palm Beach Story:

The Palm Beach Story is a 1942 romantic screwball comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges, and starring Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Mary Astor and Rudy Vallée.

This was Sturges’ second collaboration with Joel McCrea, following Sullivan’s Travels, and they would work together again on The Great Moment, shot in 1942 but released in 1944.

Tom and Gerry Jeffers (Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert), a married couple in New York City down on their luck financially, which creates all kinds of tensions.

There is more serious problem with their bond, hinted in the prologue, and only disclosed at the end.

In the prologue, Gerry is bound and gagged in a closet, but a second later appears in a wedding dress. This scene is cross-cut with groom Tom changing from one formal suit to another while rushing to church for the wedding.

The last scenes reveal that both of the original fiancés have identical twins. Both twins, trying to steal their sibling’s intended, inadvertently married each other instead.

The couple remain married from 1937 until 1942, when Gerry decides that Tom would be better off if they split up. She packs her bags, takes money offered by the Wienie King (Robert Dudley), a strange but rich man who is thinking of renting the Jeffers’ apartment, and boards a train for Palm Beach, Florida.

She plans to get a divorce and meet a wealthy second husband who can help Tom. On the train, she meets the eccentric millionaire John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallée).

An encounter with the wild and drunken millionaire members of the Ale and Quail hunting club, Gerry loses all her luggage; after making do with clothing scrounged from other passengers, she is forced to accept Hackensacker’s charity.

They go on a shopping spree for lingerie and jewelry, and Hackensacker records the cost of everything in a little notebook, which he never bothers to add up – and make the remainder of the trip to Palm Beach on Hackensacker’s yacht named The Erl King (a Sturges joke on the Hackensacker family business, oil).
Tom follows Gerry to Palm Beach by air, also with the impromptu financial assistance of the Wienie King. When Tom meets Hackensacker, Gerry introduces him as her brother, Captain McGlue. Soon, Hackensacker falls for Gerry, while his often-married, man-hungry sister, Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor), chases Tom, although her last lover, Toto (Sig Arno), is still following her around. To help further his suit with Gerry, Hackensacker agrees to invest in Tom’s scheme to build an airport suspended over a city by wires.
Tom finally persuades Gerry to give their marriage another chance, and they confess their masquerade to their disappointed suitors. Even though he is disappointed, Hackensacker intends to go through with his investment in the suspended airport, since he thinks it is a good business deal and he never lets anything get in the way of business. Then, when Tom and Gerry reveal that they met because they are both identical twins – a fact which explains the opening sequence of the film – Hackensacker and his sister are elated. The final scene shows Hackensacker and Gerry’s sister, and the Princess and Tom’s brother, getting married.

The film ends where it began, with title cards, “And they lived happily ever after…or did they?”

Victor Young contributed the musical score, including a fast-paced variation of the William Tell Overture for the opening scenes.

Typical of a Sturges movie, the pacing and dialogue are very fast.

Cast

Claudette Colbert as Geraldine “Gerry” Jeffers
Joel McCrea as Tom Jeffers (alias “Captain McGlue”)
Mary Astor as The Princess Centimillia (Maud)
Rudy Vallée as John D. Hackensacker III
Sig Arno as Toto
Robert Dudley as Wienie King
Esther Howard as Wife of Wienie King
Franklin Pangborn as Apartment Manager
Arthur Hoyt as Pullman Conductor
Al Bridge as Conductor
Fred “Snowflake” Toones as George, Club Car Bartender
Charles R. Moore as Train Porter
Frank Moran as Brakeman
Harry Rosenthal as Orchestra Leader
J. Farrell MacDonald as Officer O’Donnell
The Ale and Quail Club:
Robert Warwick as Mr. Hinch
Arthur Stuart Hull as Mr. Osmond
Torben Meyer as Dr. Kluck
Victor Potel as Mr. McKeewie
Jimmy Conlin as Mr. Asweld

Although Claudette Colbert and Sturges had both worked on The Big Pond (1930) and the 1934 version of Imitation of Life, The Palm Beach Story was the only time they worked on a movie Sturges wrote and directed.

The Palm Beach Story was Rudy Vallee’s first comedic role, and it garnered him a contract from Paramount, as well as an award for Best Actor of 1942 from the National Board of Review. He appeared in Sturges’ The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, Unfaithfully Yours and The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend.

Members of Sturges’ unofficial “stock company” of character actors appear, including Al Bridge, Chester Conklin, Jimmy Conlin, William Demarest, Robert Dudley, Byron Foulger, Robert Greig, Harry Hayden, Arthur Hoyt, Torben Meyer, Frank Moran, Charles R. Moore, Jack Norton, Franklin Pangborn, Victor Potel, Dewey Robinson, Harry Rosenthal, Julius Tannen and Robert Warwick.

This was the seventh of ten films written by Sturges in which William Demarest appeared.

The Palm Beach Story is partly inspired by Sturges personal life: his ex-wife, Eleanor Hutton, was an heiress who moved among the European aristocracy, and was once wooed by Prince Jerome Rospigliosi-Gioeni. Sturges himself had shuttled back and forth between Europe and America as a young man.

One incident in the film is based on real occurrence: Sturges and his mother while traveling by train to Paris, the car with their compartment was uncoupled while they ate dinner two cars away.

The original title, Is Marriage Necessary? and its alternative, Is That Bad? became the film’s working title. Is Marriage Necessary? was rejected by the censors, along with complaints about “sexual suggestive situations and dialogue.”

Changes were made, but the Hays Office continued to reject the script because of its “light treatment of marriage and divorce” and because of similarities between John D. Hackensacker III and the real John D. Rockefeller.

Other change include reducing the number of Princess Centimillia’s previous marriages from eight to three (plus two annulments).

 

 

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