Palm Beach Story

You have to pay attention to this one. The opening, for example: why is Claudette Colbert tied up in the closet and simultaneously dashing off to be married? Why is the groom (Joel McCrea) frantically changing clothes in the taxi? All this is going on as the credits roll, and you’re inclined to forget the confusion once the film begins. That would be a mistake.

Don’t let the eccentric little man played by Robert Dudley slide under the radar, either. Here he plays the Wienie King, a millionaire with a heart of gold, and he gets off some great lines:

Cold are the hands of time that creep along relentlessly, destroying slowly but without pity that which yesterday was young. Alone our memories resist this disintegration and grow more lovely with the passing years. Heh! That’s hard to say with false teeth!

Before he ended up a character actor in Hollywood, Dudley was a dentist from Cincinnati. Quirky little guy in a big hat. Adorable!

It’s not just him, though. Everyone’s a gem in this picture, even walk-ons. Colbert’s character wants to get a divorce. She hails a cab and asks the cabbie’s advice on where she can get both the divorce AND a rich husband. Palm Beach is just the place, he tells her. “This time of the year, you got the track, you got the ocean, you got palm trees. Three months – and you leave from Penn Station.”

Once at Penn Station, Colbert hooks up with a wild group of aging hunters, the Ale and Quail Club. I can’t begin to describe them, but here’s the trailer.

Next up is the loopy multi-millionaire, John D. Hackensacker, III. Believe it or not, he’s played by Rudy Vallee (and no, he doesn’t sing). I think he was the model for the yacht-owning guy that Tony Curtis parodied in “Some Like it Hot.” Sturges uses him to make fun of the Rockefeller set:

John D. Hackensacker III: Do you happen to remember how much tip I gave the taxi driver?

Gerry Jeffers: Well, I didn’t see the coin, but from his face, I think it was ten cents.

John D. Hackensacker III: Tipping is un-American.

Some aspects of “Palm Beach Story” are dated, and if you’re not paying attention you’ll miss a lot of the fun. Not my favorite Sturges film (that would be “The Great McGinty”), but well worth watching.

4 thoughts on “Palm Beach Story

  1. Somewhere in the middle of reading your account, I thought, This sounds like a Preston Sturges kind of story. Then I realized it IS a Sturges story. Guess it’s another one for my to-watch list, because it’s one of his I haven’t seen. And so is The Great McGinty.

    Almost off the subject: Did you see the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? I read somewhere that the title came from Sturges. Since I haven’t seen it, I don’t know if there’s any further connection.


    1. You’re in for a treat, with “Great McGinty” especially. It’s got more bite than “Palm Beach Story,” so I’d recommend starting with it.

      I saw “Brother, Where Art Thou” years ago and remember enjoying it immensely. So that’s another one for your list!


    1. Greetings, Katja! If you’re new to Sturges, I recommend beginning with “The Lady Eve.” I’ve reviewed it on the blog (check the archives for Comedy).


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