The Palm Beach Story Review
This title is only available as part of the 'Written and Directed by Preston Sturges' boxed set.
Preston Sturges concluded Sullivan’s Travels with a celebration of cinema’s pleasures. As such it is hardly surprising to discover that its follow up, The Palm Beach Story, should be his most purely enjoyable picture. We get the usual rapid fire mixture of slapstick and sharp dialogue, here told with the manic energy of Hellzapoppin’, say, or one of the Marx brothers’ early Universal pictures. Indeed, its opening credit sequence is a breathless, wordless flurry involving two Claudette Colberts and wedding. No explanation is given, and none is needed – rather we’re left to simply marvel at a writer-director in full command of his talents and doing what he does best.
Not that his usual darker side has been whitewashed, however. Fast forward five years into the story and Colbert is on the hoof from husband Joel McCrea having had enough of their debt ridden existence. She’s heading to Palm Beach for a divorce and hereby Sturges shows his true colours. Marriage, or rather its tensions, is in his sights as are money grabbers (Colbert’s also after a rich husband once she gets there) and the idle rich. Moreover, he’s sees them through, too: admittedly The Palm Beach Story does follow the screwball pattern of having the couple get back together in time for the final reel (see also The Awful Truth, Hitchcock’s Mr and Mrs Smith, etc.), yet does so with such a ridiculous deus ex machina that it’s hard to believe Sturges is taking it at all seriously.
Indeed, The Palm Beach Story is an entirely breezy affair, though this isn’t meant as a criticism. When lampooning the gang of millionaires who aid Colbert on her travels, for example, Sturges doesn’t do so with as savage a zeal as he’d used in the past. They may be gun toting, tone deaf idiots, but when played by William Demarest and other favourites of the director, they’re far more appealing than they probably should be. Certainly, the film is riddled with such superb character actors doing what they do best. Sig Arno as Toto, a suitor of Mary Astor’s whose nationality is forever in question, and Robert Dudley as Colbert and McCrea’s fairy godfather, the Weiner King, are just two deserving of a mention.
Yet as with all great Sturges pictures it isn’t so much the supporting cast but the leads who ultimately make The Palm Beach Story so appealing. Of course, McCrea had proved himself for the director in the previous year’s Sullivan’s Travels, but then we can also add Colbert to the list of stars who do nothing but shine when working for him. Indeed, it is without a doubt her finest comedic performance this side of It Happened One Night. Plus we have a wonderfully goofy turn from Rudy Vallee, shamelessly spouting crude puns and earning himself a place in Sturges The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend six years later.
The Palm Beach Story essentially matches other titles in Universal’s Sturges collection in terms of its presentation quality and extras content. The film is accompanied by a sole trailer, but then it does look and sound rather fine on disc. Certainly, there’s an attendant grain – as was the case with The Lady Eve and Sullivan’s Travels - but the overall clarity of the image, and contrast of the black and white photography, make for an appealing presentation. Likewise, the original mono soundtrack (spread over the front two channels) is as clean as could be hoped for from a film as dialogue heavy as this one.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 08:07:40