Wednesday, 21 January 2015

THE PALM BEACH STORY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Screwball Sturges Hijinx via Criterion


Imagine if you will, watching a battered film print of The Palm Beach Story in the 1980s, projected with a Kodak Pageant 16mm projector on the apartment wall belonging to old pal Professor Wm. Steve Snyder of the University of Manitoba film programme, stopping every 30 minutes or so in order to changeover from one reel of film to the next. Fair enough. But soon the print will return to wherever it came from. As this is a film that bears repeat viewing, whatever will be done?

Imagine if you will, Prof. Snyder recording the film off his wall with a Panasonic PK300, but needing to cut all three reels together, he must copy the tape to an old 3/4" deck and dub the separate reels into one seamless recording to another 3/4" deck and THEN copy it back to a VHS tape which, like psychopaths, we watch again and again because it's such a great movie and because a select few of us, including future filmmaker Guy Maddin and his roommate and future producer (ME), are huge fans of fruity tenor Rudy Vallee, who is not only in the picture, but, with a full orchestra, croons the immortal love ditty "Goodnight Sweetheart" under Claudette Colbert's window.

It's thirty years later.

Imagine, if you will that we no longer need a battered 3rd or 4th generation 16mm print, shot off a wall on VHS, duped to 3/4", then duped back to another 3/4", then duped down to VHS. This is because the Criterion Collection has released a gorgeous Blu-Ray with a full 4K digital restoration.

"Goodnight Sweetheart", indeed!

The Palm Beach Story (1942)
Dir. Preston Sturges
Starring: Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea,
Mary Astor, Rudy Vallee, Robert Dudley, Sig Arno, Franklin Pangborn

Review By Greg Klymkiw
"I did all my directing when I wrote the screenplay. It was probably harder for a regular director. He probably had to read the script the night before shooting started." - Writer/Director Preston Sturges
Preston Sturges, arguably one of the greatest writer-directors in the history of cinema, wasn't always in the movie business. In fact, he didn't start writing until he was 30. Prior to a glorious career as the first writing-directing auteur of Hollywood's "talkie" period, Sturges lived in the lap of privilege and luxury.

Born into a hugely wealthy American family, he was bitten by the show business bug in childhood as a valued assistant to his Mom's best friend, the famed Isadora Duncan, for whom he helped mount numerous productions for the stage. His early adult life was spent serving his country in the signal corps during World War I and upon his return to civilian life, he joined his mother's posh design firm Maison Desti. It was the company's line of scarves which Isadora accidentally choked upon (I find this incredibly hilarious for some perverse reason) and where his first great success as - yes, an inventor - was a shade of lipstick that didn't leave whopping scarlet kiss marks on the flesh.

Sturges might well have had a charmed life, but he brought to his writing a wealth of life experience and once he started writing and directing his own pictures, he created a legacy that is all his own and uniquely American. He was neither above nor below mixing manic hijinx, pratfalls, ludicrous narratives and brilliant rapid-paced dialogue and delivery, but all the while, he generated material that was as rooted in humanity as it was designed to offer huge, knee-slapping laughs.

There was no one like him, nor will there ever be anyone as dazzlingly original.

The Palm Beach Story is one of his greatest achievements. Joel McCrea plays Tom Jeffers, a hardworking visionary inventor who just can't seem to get a break. He's madly in love with his beautiful wife Gerry (Claudette Colbert at her funniest and sexiest) and she with him.

Unfortunately, their financial situation is dire - so dire that Gerry, thinking that marriage is dragging hubby down, runs into a prospective new tenant for their Manhattan digs, played by the delightfully cantankerous Robert Dudley and Sturges-monickered as the Wienie King (I'm not kidding).

She gratefully accepts his charity after spilling her sob story, abandons her beloved, hops on a train to Florida (hoping to eventually meet herself a rich husband in Palm Beach), loses all her luggage upon plunging into the insane antics of the Ale and Quail hunting club (an irrepressibly jovial, albeit benevolent group of gloriously drunk old reprobates) and finally, as luck would have it, meets the filthy rich John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee) during the long chug-a-lugging north-south steam engine ride from NYC to FLA.


Tom, also the recipient of Wienie King charity (double I kid you not), follows Gerry. Not wanting to scuttle her plans of marrying the rich Hackensacker, our heroine has introduced Tom as her brother, whom she preposterously names as "Captain McGlue". Hubby becomes the prospective romantic interest of Hackensacker's sister, Maud (Mary Astor), AKA the Princess Centimillia, who makes a play for Tom whilst her whining lap-dog lover Toto (Sig Arno) crazily continues to follow her around.

Tom has a great idea to invent an airport in the sky. Hackensacker and the Wienie King are both thrilled by the investment prospects. Is it possible for things to turn around? Given the nonsensically harebrained proceedings, anything is possible.

Have I, for instance, mentioned there are identical twins in the mix? No? Good. Suffice to say it has something to do with a ludicrous wedding scene scored to the William Tell Overture and the copious melange of nuttiness in this tin of comedic comestibles which, is so infectious, you'll be desperately longing for the world, invented by the inadvertent strangler of Isadora Duncan to exist - for real.

Nobody made movies like Sturges. Thank God. There could only, really and truly be just one. And I steadfastly guarantee that your jaw will be agape from beginning to end - either in utter incredulousness and/or because howls of laughter will be spewing forth. Make sure you're not chewing on nuts.

You might choke on them.


The Palm Beach Story is available on a gorgeously transferred 4K Blu-Ray disc with wonderful uncompressed mono from The Criterion Collection and includes a solid array of extra features including an all new interview with film historian James Harvey who focuses on Preston Sturges, a terrific interview with the great comic actor Bill Hader about Sturges's influence, a delightfully ridiculous 1941 World War II propaganda short written by Sturges, a magnificent Screen Guild Theater radio adaptation, an essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek and delicious new colourful caricatured cover illustration by Maurice Vellekoop.