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.

It Happened One Night

I read somewhere that Clark Gable’s talent was in playing himself.  Fans lined up to see him, whatever the role, and they were never disappointed.  Could he act?  Ask me if I care.  The version of himself he played in “It Happened One Night” was genuine, charming, and way too handsome for that control freak, Claudette Colbert.

“Cheerfully insolent” is the way a friend of mine describes Gable’s performance. Here’s a guy who thumbs his nose at authority — and at the drivers who pass him by when he’s demonstrating his best hitchhiking technique — yet lives by a clear set of principles. He’s got his pride, of course, but that’s not all.  He’s got his own patented procedures for getting undressed, dunking a doughnut and (as I mentioned) hitching a ride. Watch him explain his system to Colbert:

The boyishness.  That’s what I love about Gable in this picture.  Don’t get me wrong; Rhett Butler has his appeal, but I couldn’t hold a man like him any better than poor Scarlett could.  Frankly, my dear, the real-life Gable was a two-timing cad.

Not the guy he plays in “It Happened One Night,” though.  Him I could imagine traveling with across the country or around the world.  We’d probably end up going standby, and no doubt there’d be any number of mishaps along the way, but that would be part of the adventure.  One thing for sure:  we’d never be bored.

(25 January 2011)