The Palm Beach Story

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The Palm Beach Story
The Palm Beach Story postr.jpg
theatrical release poster
Directed by Preston Sturges
Written byPreston Sturges
Produced by Buddy G. DeSylva (uncredited)
Paul Jones
(assoc. producer)
Starring Claudette Colbert
Joel McCrea
Mary Astor
Rudy Vallee
Cinematography Victor Milner
Edited by Stuart Gilmore
Music by Victor Young
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • December 10, 1942 (1942-12-10)(New York City)
  • January 1, 1943 (1943-01-01)(U.S. general)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$950,000 (approx) [1]
Box office$1.7 million (US rentals) [2]

The Palm Beach Story is a 1942 screwball comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges, and starring Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Mary Astor and Rudy Vallée. Victor Young contributed the musical score, including a fast-paced variation of the William Tell Overture for the opening scenes. Typical of a Sturges film, the pacing and dialogue of The Palm Beach Story are very fast.



Inventor Tom Jeffers and his wife Gerry are down on their luck financially. Married for five years, the couple is still waiting for Tom's success. Anxious for the finer things in a life, Gerry decides that they both would be better off if they split. But before she can act, she ends up entangled with the Wienie King, a strange older man being shown around her apartment with his wife by a building manager anxious to rent it out from beneath his delinquent tenants. Sympathetic to her plight – and utterly taken by her youth and charm – the man gives her $700 from a giant roll of cash he keeps in his pocket. This is enough to get their rent current, pay off their most urgent bills, buy a new dress, take Tom to an expensive dinner, and still leave $14 and change in pocket money for Tom, and then she says she's leaving him.

In spite of a night of amour following their tipsy return home after their dinner, she awakens early, packs a bag, and makes for the train station. Bound for Palm Beach, Florida, her plan is to get a divorce, meet and marry a wealthy man who can both give her what she craves and also help Tom. Penniless, and repeatedly escaping from Tom's clutches, she is finally invited to travel for free as a guest on the private car of the well-to-do and soused Ale and Quail Club.

When the Club proves too rowdy and repeatedly fire off hunting rifles in the private car, nearly killing their bartender, she flees to the upper berth of a Pullman car, in the process meeting the meek, eccentric, amiable, and bespectacled John D. Hackensacker III (played by Rudy Vallée), who immediately falls for her.

Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert, stars of The Palm Beach Story, from the trailer for the film Palm Beach Story McCrea Colbert trailer screenshot3.jpg
Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert, stars of The Palm Beach Story, from the trailer for the film

Left without her clothes or purse in the chaos of her flight from the Ale and Quail reverie, she willingly accepts Hackensacker's chivalrous charity, although she doesn't know who he is. This takes a dramatic turn towards extravagance during a shopping spree for ladies finery he instigates in Jacksonville, swirling from trifles to haute couture and jewelry encrusted with precious stones.

Only when Hackensacker hands the store manager a card telling him to charge it all to him is it revealed he is the third richest men in the world and owner of the Erl King, a fabulous yacht, which the twosome board for the final leg of the journey to Palm Beach.

Back in New York, the now despondent Tom receives the same kind of generous no-strings-attached charity from the Wienie King he had accused Gerry of trading sexual favors with, which helps clear his mind. The King encourages him to rent a plane, fly to Florida, and show up with a bouquet of roses to win back his bride.

Arriving in Palm Beach, Tom is directed to the dock and Hackensacker's yacht. There he sees the affectionate new couple aboard. Failing to run him off on shore, a flustered Gerry introduces Tom as her brother, Captain McGlue. Hackensacker's oft-married, man-hungry sister, Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor), is immediately smitten with Tom, dismissing her current lover, the bumbling Toto, by asking him to retrieve a handkerchief.

When Gerry tells Hackensacker, who is working his way to propose to her, that her "brother" is a partner with her husband in the same investment, Hackensacker agrees to back it, saying he likes the Captain and it will keep it "all in the family" once they are married.

Invited to stay at the Princess' estate, the Jeffers' couple valiantly try to maintain their farce while Tom reluctantly wrangles to win Gerry back, and Gerry determinedly seeks to stick to her original plan. Until, to the strains of Hackensacker crooning "Goodnight Sweetheart" beneath their window, the couple end up romantically entangled just as they had their last night together.

Reunited and unmasked the next morning, they confess the ruse to the Hackensackers. After John agrees to finance Tom's invention as simply a "good investment", sans sentimentality, and Tom and Gerry are asked if they have a brother and a sister. They do...twins!

There is an elaborate dual wedding, with Tom as best man and Gerry as matron of honor, John Hackensacker hand-in-hand with Gerry's sister and the Princess with Tom's brother. A title card tells us that they "lived happily ever after...or did they?", before credits roll.



At least part of the initial inspiration for The Palm Beach Story may have come to Preston Sturges from close to home. Not only had he shuttled back and forth to Europe as a young man, his ex-wife Eleanor Hutton was an heiress who moved among the European aristocracy, and had once been wooed by Prince Jerome Rospigliosi-Gioeni. One scene in the film is based upon an incident that had happened to Sturges and his mother while traveling by train to Paris, where the car with their compartment and baggage was uncoupled while they were in the dining car. [3]

The story Sturges came up with was entitled Is Marriage Necessary?, which, along with an alternative, Is That Bad?, became a working title for the film. The original title was rejected by Hays Office censors, who also rejected the script submitted by Paramount over its "sex suggestive situations...and dialogue." In spite of changes the script was still tabled because of its "light treatment of marriage and divorce" and overt parodying of John D. Rockefeller. More changes were made, including reducing Princess Centimillia's divorces from eight to three (plus two annulments), before the script finally was approved. [4]

Rudy Vallee and Claudette Colbert Rudy Vallee and Claudette Colbert.jpg
Rudy Vallée and Claudette Colbert
Mary Astor and Joel McCrea Palm Beach Story Astor McCrea.jpg
Mary Astor and Joel McCrea

This was Sturges' second collaboration with Joel McCrea, following Sullivan's Travels from the previous year and they worked again on The Great Moment , filmed in 1942 (but released in 1944). Although Colbert and Sturges worked on The Big Pond (1930) and the first version of Imitation of Life (1934), The Palm Beach Story was the only time they worked on a movie Sturges wrote and directed.

The movie was Rudy Vallee's first outright comedic role, and he gained a contract with Paramount, [4] as well as an award for Best Actor of 1942 from the National Board of Review. [5] He appeared in Sturges' The Sin of Harold Diddlebock , Unfaithfully Yours and The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend .

Many members of Sturges' unofficial "stock company" of character actors appear in film, such as Al Bridges, Chester Conklin, Jimmy Conlin, William Demarest, Robert Dudley, Byron Foulger, Robert Greig, Harry Hayden, Arthur Hoyt, Torben Meyer, Frank Moran, Charles R. Moore, Jack Norton, Franklin Pangborn, Victor Potel, Dewey Robinson, Harry Rosenthal, Julius Tannen and Robert Warwick.

This was the seventh of ten films written by Preston Sturges in which William Demarest appeared. [6]

Claudette Colbert received $150,000 for her role, and Joel McCrea was paid $60,000. [3]

The second unit did background shooting at Penn Station in Manhattan. The film went into general release on 1 January 1943. It was released on video in the U.S. on 12 July 1990 and re-released on 30 June 1993. [7]


Contemporaneous reviews

Upon its release The Palm Beach Story received mixed reviews. Among the positive reviews were The Hollywood Reporter calling it a "sophisticated laugh riot" featuring one of Colbert's "most accomplished light performances." [8] The Daily Film Renter praised the film's "scintilating dialogue and provocative situations." [9] Variety described the film as a "tongue-in-cheek spoofing of the idle rich" and predicted that the escapist nature of the story "will prove a welcome change of pace in theaters that have perhaps been overloaded with strictly war output." [10] "The boys in the camps, and in far-off places...will welcome the film for that very reason...there is no hint of war," wrote G.L. Burnett of The Knoxville Journal. [11]

Other critics were put off by the escapist narrative. Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times said the film “lacked social significance” and contained "next to no drama," concluding that "it's a question of weighing, perhaps, whether this is the least best or the next to least best" of Sturge's five films. [12] He added that The Palm Beach Story suffered from the same fault as Sullivan's Travels : "a tricky and not too convincing ending." [12] Several reviews claimed the reliance on dialogue made the film “slow and garrulous." [13] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times claimed the film “is very short on action and very long on trivial talk…It should have been a breathless comedy. But only the actors are breathless—and that from talking too much.” [13] He added: “Perhaps he was making an experiment in conversational comedy.” [13]

Reporting a few hours after its release in the Rivoli Theatre, Ed Sullivan concluded:

"The cinema reporters did not like The Palm Beach Story...The reason that the critics felt let down by this flicker, obviously, was that they have come to look for something special from Sturges--wit, irony, undertones, the unconventional in a medium that often is conventional to the point of triteness...The Palm Beach Story, they felt, was third-rate Sturges and they announced the verdict, not with malice, but because they were rooting for another home run." [14]

Retrospective reviews

The Palm Beach Story went on to garner positive reviews from the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes with a 97% positive rating based on 30 critic reviews. Retrospectively, the film has received critical acclaim for representing "the culmination of the great screwball comedy tradition of the 1930s." [15] In 1998, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader included the film in his unranked list of the best American films not included on the AFI Top 100. [16]

In 2000, the American Film Institute included the film in AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs (#77). [17]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Screwball comedy</span> Genre of comedy film

Screwball comedy is a film subgenre of the romantic comedy genre that became popular during the Great Depression, beginning in the early 1930s and thriving until the early 1940s, that satirizes the traditional love story. It has secondary characteristics similar to film noir, distinguished by a female character who dominates the relationship with the male central character, whose masculinity is challenged, and the two engage in a humorous battle of the sexes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Claudette Colbert</span> American actress (1903–1996)

Claudette Colbert was an American actress. Colbert began her career in Broadway productions during the late 1920s and progressed to films with the advent of talking pictures. Initially associated with Paramount Pictures, she gradually shifted to working as an actress free of the studio system. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for It Happened One Night (1934), and received two other Academy Award nominations during her career. Colbert's other notable films include Cleopatra (1934) and The Palm Beach Story (1942).

<i>Sullivans Travels</i> 1941 film by Preston Sturges

Sullivan's Travels is a 1941 American comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges. A satire on the film industry, it follows a famous Hollywood comedy director who, longing to make a socially relevant drama, sets out to live as a tramp to gain life experience for his forthcoming film. Along the way he unites with a poor aspiring actress who accompanies him. The title is a reference to Gulliver's Travels, the 1726 novel by satirist Jonathan Swift about another journey of self-discovery.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Preston Sturges</span> American film director and screenwriter

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joel McCrea</span> American actor (1905–1990)

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  1. James Curtis, Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges, Limelight, 1984 p162
  2. "101 Pix Gross in Millions" Variety 6 Jan 1943 p 58
  3. 1 2 Stafford, Jeff "The Palm Beach Story" (TCM article)
  4. 1 2 TCM Notes
  5. Allmovie Awards
  6. Demarest appeared in Diamond Jim (1935), Easy Living (1937), The Great McGinty (1940), Christmas in July (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) and The Great Moment (1944)
  7. "The Palm Beach Story (1942) - Misc Notes -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  8. "Palm Beach Story is Sturges at Delightful Best". The Hollywood Reporter. Vol. 70, no. 33. November 3, 1942. p. 3. ProQuest   2320399192 . Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  9. "Palm Beach Story A Class Offering: Sturges' Fifth". The Daily Film Renter. July 22, 1942. p. 4. ProQuest   2594591716 . Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  10. "Miniature Reviews: The Palm Beach Story". Variety. November 4, 1942. p. 8.
  11. Burnett, G.L. Fayte (November 22, 1942). "Best Bets of The Week". The Knoxville Journal. p. 38.
  12. 1 2 Schallert, Edwin (December 24, 1942). "Palm Beach Story Best when Riotous". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest   165376801 . Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  13. 1 2 3 Crowther, Bosley (December 11, 1942). "The Palm Beach Story Brings Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea to the Rivoli". New York Times. ProQuest   106347320 . Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  14. Sullivan, Ed (December 15, 1942). "The New York Viewpoint". Los Angeles Evening Citizen News. p. 10. Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  15. Kehr, Dave (February 16, 2005). "Critic's Choice: New DVD's". The New York Times. pp. E7.
  16. Rosenbaum, Jonathan (June 25, 1998). "List-o-Mania: Or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love American Movies". Chicago Reader . Archived from the original on April 13, 2020.
  17. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2002. Retrieved August 22, 2016.