Tag Archives: claudette colbert

The Palm Beach Story (1942)

26 Apr
The Palm Beach Story (1942)

How is it that a scene where that guy helps that woman with a wayward necklace clasps is one of the hottest scenes ever filmed? How?

Preston Sturges and Jacques Tati are two of my favorite – I use this word under duress – auteurs.  What made me put them in a sentence together, something I wouldn’t normally have thought to do? The Palm Beach Story is on TCM at midnight and I watched Tati’s Play Time (againagainagain) the other night, and just now I got to thinking about The Rich. Money in comedy is usually either blithely ignored (all Fred & Ginger movies) or paramount (almost all Chaplin), especially in the Depression-era stuff in which I tend to indulge.

But in these two films I’m talking about, there are millionaires pulling strings hither and yon (in Tati’s case, only one – the American in the Royal Garden sequence, though someone (maybe the American?) must own that company Hulot is interviewing with; in Palm Beach it’s tough to throw a rock without hitting an affluent white guy). And they’re generally likeable, despite the fact that they’re also complete if somewhat unconscious puppetmasters. Perhaps that’s what feels unusual: in recent news, the ultra-rich are almost never portrayed as, you know, possessing of basic decency. In our modern Depression, it’s hard for me to imagine a hit comedy coming out that would treat wealth so blithely.

I am, however, quite certain that Abe Froman of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a direct descendent – perhaps the son – of The Wienie King. You will never convince me otherwise.

In the same vein, I like to think Frank Faylen’s taxi driver is Ernie of It’s a Wonderful Life – but why isn’t he in Bedford Falls? Do you think you know everything about Ernie’s life? Do you? Marvel Comics pulls this crap all the time. Why can’t Frank Faylen?


I should also commit the brief blasphemy that this is my favorite Claudette Colbert performance. Yes, yes, It Happened One Night is a thing of beauty. “De gustibus non est disputandum” is tattooed on my bicep. Probably the finest work of Vallee and Astor, too. For McCrea, I have to lean more toward Sullivan’s Travels, which isn’t really surprising.


And let’s meditate for a second on the ending. Without spoiling it, it’s a lot like the end of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Which got me to pondering:

-time spent on an unusual  boat ride;

-significant time spent pretending to be someone else;

-a romantically fickle wealthy woman (though The Princess Centimillia is a drop less mournful than Olivia);

-and I think it could safely be said that Sirs Toby & Andrew could slip unnoticed into the Ale & Quail Club’s private car.

My conclusion? I don’t have one. But comedies are, as I’ll probably harp on repeatedly here, so seldom taken seriously as art and as craft (why award one when there’s a Dour and Important story out there), so a gentle formal comparison to Shakespeare couldn’t hurt my case, could it?