The Palm Beach Story (1942)

The DVD cover of The Palm Beach Story (1942) features a steamy picture of Joel McCrea having his way with Claudette Colbert in a cozy train compartment. The title's font curls languidly around itself, suggesting an engrossing romance or at least a twisted Payton Place soap opera.  Palm Beach is anything but that. It's a giddy comedy that seems to be shot out of a cannon from the start.

Written and directed by Preston Sturges, the story follows a wife (Colbert) who decides to raise money for her penniless husband's (McCrea) invention by divorcing him and marrying a wealthy man.

Don't worry; it is a comedy.

The film makes it clear throughout that the couple will remain married, they just don't know it. The story, then, becomes a who's who of supporting players. Which eccentric character or caricature will the leads meet next? Franklin Pangborn as the officious apartment manager with a twitch? William Demarest as a drunken hunter who shoots saltines  like skeet  while on a  crowded train? Mary Astor as an hilarious, hot-to-trot divorcee with a boyfriend named Toto? Yep. The gang's all here.

Life Magazine
Train films are awesome, and the second act of Palm Beach largely occurs in a locomotive. Don't you just love those obsolete sleeping arrangements which force the leading lady to step on a stranger's lower berth and onto his hands and face while getting into bed? Today that would be lawsuit fodder, but here it's a meetcute. [Obsolete meetcutes could be a great post... ]

In this film, Sturges leaves an unshakable whiff of another of his screenplays. As in Palm Beach, The Good Fairy (1935) also features a woman who is willing to "sacrifice herself" so that the leading man can acquire extra cash. In Fairy, however, the plot point is played for pathos; here it's all-out slapstick.

If there is a problem with this strange little story it is this: like a train, the narrative picks up and drops off people very quickly. You wonder where the story is going to take this or that character, but then it just strands the person in the middle of the story, never to be heard from again, and you're off to the next vignette.

Speaking of being stranded, there's a comic bit where Colbert's purse and clothes are left in an abandoned  train car. To her horror, she awakens to find the car gone. This was inspired by actual events in Sturges' life.

A relentlessly humorous tale. Lots of fun.

The Palm Beach Story - Old Gold Comedy Theater broadcast from Oct 29, 1944, starring Claudette Colbert


  1. This movie is so out there and so much fun. Preston Sturges had a way with names and funny dialogue. Mary Astor and Rudy Vallee are a hoot and nearly steal the film. Sturges had a great stock of character actors who appeared in many of his films, and Demarest was great in each one.

  2. a fun movie.

    the last time i was on amtrak, i looked in with envy on the sleeper compartments. i think that i spent a night or two in one, back in the late 40s, but sadly, my memory fails me, as i was quite young at the time. :(

  3. Classicfilmboy,
    Astor and Vallee really do steal the film, especially since the leads spend most of the movie apart from each other.

    Since we fly and drive a lot, we thought it would be fun to finally take a train somewhere. We took the Amtrak for a short jaunt which didn't require a bed so we sat up for a few hours. I was surprised to discover that the seats on Amtrak were as spacious [though not as new in the train we took] as a first class plane seat. It really is like flying low to the ground. Marvelous!

    My mom always used to say that one day we'd hitch a ride on a freight train like hobos in Sullivan's Travels. I'd still like to do that, but a sleeper car would be nicer.

  4. I haven't seen this classic Sturges comedy in a few years...thanks to your review, I'll be on the lookout for it. Also, thanks for the awesome links.

  5. I love this movie...seeing it in a revival theater years ago, with a crowd laughing together, was a real joy.

    The last time I saw the film I really thought it was a crime Vallee wasn't nominated for Best Supporting Actor. He's simply brilliant in this

    Thanks for the fun stroll down memory lane. :)

    Best wishes,

  6. Java,
    I'm glad you revisited this film! I had forgotten about it so it was fun to read your well written take on it.
    I hope you had a memorable Valentines Day.


  7. I'm a big fan of "The Palm Beach Story" DOES move quickly, but mostly hilariously...I like the way Sturges ties the story up at the end - the beginning is incomprehensible until the very end. Love the entire cast, but thought Mary Astor was especially good. Great write-up, you capture it well.

  8. CF&TVC,
    It certainly stands up to multiple viewings. I had to watch again for all the jokes and plot points that I missed the first time 'round.

    Although I didn't really mention him in the post, Vallee and Mary Astor really do steal the show.

    I watched it for the first time this year. I'm on a Preston Sturges kick right now. Happy (belated)Valentines day to you too.

    I complained about it, but actually the rapid fire pacing helps to make repeat viewings even more of a pleasure since I didn't catch all the nuances on the first viewing. More to see the second time.

    Thanks everyone for commenting.

  9. Java, This movie is full of hilarious one-liners. From the moment Colbert gets aboard a train the fun starts heades toward a conclusion that is not even hinted to until the last scene of film. My favorite character is Rudy Vallee as a eccentric millionaire (and he sings). Mary Astor, as his sister, is hilariously over the top.

  10. Dawn,
    That last scene threw me for a loop, as did the first ones under the titles. What a farce!

  11. Hello!Java!
    Your Blog is wonderful!Thank´s for the informations!hugs from Brazil!
    Edna MarS

  12. Edna MarS,
    Thanks for dropping by and subscribing to Java's Journey. I look forward to your comments. :)

    -- JAVA


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