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.

The Lady Eve

Half-brilliant (the first half). Half-baked (the second half). You put up with the second half because the first half is so wonderful, and the ending is your reward.

Why do Barbara Stanwyck’s character and Henry Fonda’s character fall in love? Well, there’s the sexual chemistry. Even in black and white, and in spite of the Hays code, the frisson between these two fine actors is impossible to miss.

Jean has Hopsy exactly where she wants him. Then she realizes she really does want him. For all his innocence, there’s something, well, manly about the dear boy. But it takes him an awfully long time to realize that he wants her, too. Not his fantasy of her, but the clever, flawed, and vulnerable woman she is. He loves her complexity.

I think the second half of the movie is disappointing because Stanwyck’s character is not herself. She’s playing a shallow aristocrat and you forget how conflicted she is. Slapstick takes over at this point; Fonda’s character falls for Stanwyck, but literally this time. Over and over. It’s tiresome.

Only in the final minutes does Stanwyck regain her edge.

Her victory is fleeting because, darn it, she still loves the guy and can’t bring herself to take advantage of him. Wouldn’t you know it, though? Good old Hopsy comes around, realizes what he’s got, and lets Stanwyck win him back.

The Great McGinty

“If it wasn’t for graft, you’d get a very low type of people in politics, men without ambition, jellyfish!”

As you might gather from this line, spoken early in the film, “The Great McGinty” does not offer a rosy view of politics.  A year earlier, Jimmy Stewart proved that it was possible for an honest man to succeed in the US Senate. Nothing so heartwarming happens here.

Start with McGinty.  He’s a bum with a quick temper who is none-too-scrupulous about his associations.  He’ll do anything for anybody, so long as he gets paid, and even if he’s no whiz kid, he does know right from wrong.  Wrong is the easiest way to earn a buck.

But then he marries a good woman — strictly for convenience, to enhance his chances of being elected mayor — and it’s all downhill from there.

Sure, he stands up for what’s right.  He wants to be worthy of his lovely wife, and maybe he’d like to be remembered as an honest man.

Poor guy ends up in jail and the corrupt judge isn’t going to let him out anytime soon.  So much for a redemptive ending.  If you want one of those, stick with “Mr. Smith.”