Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"The Palm Beach Story" with Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert and Rudy Vallee (1942)

One of the scenes shown in yesterday's Valentine's Day post depicted a woman’s toes curling. It was one of the ones I guessed correctly. Coincidentally, it is also one of the newer selections just purchased for the Classics Collection at the Mooresville Public Library. So, naturally I had to take it home. And I'm so glad that I did. It has been awhile since I have seen this quirky, off-beat comedy by Preston Sturges, and in this case, absence makes the heart grow fonder, both for the principal characters, as well as the viewer.

Tom Jeffers, played by Joel McCrea and his wife Gerry, played by Claudette Colbert are broke. He is a struggling architect and the bills have mounted up. They are being evicted from their Manhattan luxury apartment when J.D. Hackensacker III, played by screen legend Rudy Vallee enters their lives as the meddling old millionaire "Sausage king." With a self-deprecating wit and charm, he pays off the couples debts. This causes some friction between the two, and Gerry decides that she can serve her husband best by getting a quick divorce. He is in complete disagreement.

After a night on the town, Gerry leaves Tom, bound for Palm Beach by train. (There are some great scenes of the old Pennsylvania Station in this part of the movie.) Without any money for a ticket, she vies for the attention of a group of old millionaires who are all members of the "Quail and Ale" club. This group is composed of some of Hollywood’s finest character actors, including William Demarest and Chester Conklin, along with Fred "Snowflake" Toones as the beleaguered black bartender, "Snowflake", in what would today be considered a "politically incorrect" role. They are on their annual outing to go hunting, drinking and singing. They quickly vote to adopt her as a member and pay for her ticket. Tom arrives at the station just in time to see his wife leaving.

In despair, he heads home, only to discover that J.D. Hackensacker, III is now his neighbor. The old gent is irritated that Tom is not chasing his wife in order to get her back. So, he finances Tom's train ticket to go and chase her down. On the way he discovers that Hackensacker's sister, the Princess Centimillia, played by Mary Astor, is after him. With the plot all set, it only remains to be seen what happens next in this typically fast paced and funny production, written and directed by the master of the ridiculous, Preston Sturges.

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