The Palm Beach Story (1942) – Preston Sturges


Preston Sturges wrote and directed this screwball romantic comedy that is one of the recommendations from Bringing Up Baby in the Great Movies – 1oo Years of Film book I am working my way through.

This one is a little out there, and deals with sex, love, divorce and money in an entertaining way, that has everything ending up happy for all involved despite the seeming impossibility of such a thing.

Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) is married to Tom Jeffers (Joel McCrea), a struggling inventor and designer, who is shopping around an odd idea of a suspended airport, strung up over cities. Gerry is very much in love with her husband, and wants him to be able to succeed at his dreams, but feels that she’s kind of in the way, and perhaps she can step aside, and find a way to help him get the money, say by divorcing him, and marrying some rich bloke instead.


She flees his side, and heads for Palm Beach, taken in on the train by a hilarious bunch of drunks known as the Ale & Quail club. When their private car is left behind, Gerry is left penniless in nothing but her borrowed pajamas. Along comes a helpful and rich man by the name of J.D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee) or Snoodles for short. It’s obvious that he falls for her pretty quickly, but Tom isn’t so ready to let go of the love of his life, so he boards a plane and meets the pair of them as they disembark, along with Snoodles’ flamboyant sister, Centimillia (Mary Astor), who takes an immediate shine to Tom, who Gerry introduces as her brother, despite the fact that Centimillia has an odd little French man in tow as a suitor, Toto (Sig Arno).

From there, Gerry dances a fine line, trying to let Snoodles woo her, but keep her husband calm and reassured, while reigning in her own jealousy when she sees how Centimillia warms up to Tom, despite the fact that he only has eyes for his wife.

This one is odd, goofy, the very definition of screwball, and the ending, which I won’t give away, perfectly compliments the film’s opening, which leaves a story thread hanging until the final act.


There is some nice dialogue, and for me an odd look at love, romance and money.

Claudette Colbert, who I was just introduced to in It Happened One Night, is again, very funny in this outing, and turns in a fun performance, there is something familiar about McCrae that I can’t place and Vallee is perfectly bookish and rich to be a laugh.

As the film raced to its conclusion I wasn’t sure how things could end happily for all involved, I mean this is a romantic comedy from the 40s, it had to have a happy ending, and I was perfectly delighted at the sheer craziness of the final scenes.

But you know what?

It works.

This one was a lot of fun! Up next is more Hepburn, Grant and a little Jimmy Stewart, in The Philadelphia Story.

Did you see The Palm Beach Story? What are your thoughts on it?


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