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Palm Beach Story


The Palm Beach Story (1942)

     So ends the three-part incidental series on movies about married life. Couples in No More Ladies, Love Crazy and The Palm Beach Story consider divorce but none follow through, which is the happy ending we expect in a romantic movie. The latter, however, might offer the most illogical reason for seeking separation, one the wife claims is based on, what else, logic.

     Claudette Colbert, queen of the screwball comedy, and Joel McCrea, who has a special place in my heart for Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, are shown rushing to the altar at break-neck speed while some woman who looks like Colbert is tied up in a closet and a maid repeatedly faints. That all occurs in the opening credits, and with no explanation of what happened with those side characters, the story line begins five years down the road.

     Tom and Gerry Jeffers (wait, I’m picturing a cat and mouse all of a sudden) are about to be evicted from their Park Avenue flat because Tom cannot seem to make an income as an inventor. Luckily, an old bean magnate who is considering renting the unit decides to give Gerry a bit of his giant wad of cash to cover the rent and other odds and ends. Now that the couple is financially on the level, Gerry feels it is the proper time to mention splitting up. She thinks Tom will be better able to live the life of a penniless engineer or something without having to care for her. Plus she has grand plans to settle down with some wealthy chap she has yet to designate. Gerry flees Tom’s refusal and heads toward Palm Beach where an easy divorce can be processed. She makes her way by train, despite being broke, on the good graces of an Ale and Hound Club.

     The group of hunters manages to get drunk and shoot up the club car, which is when the train conductor opts to disconnect the unit, with Gerry’s things inside. Enter: Rudy Vallee‘s John. The gentleman offers to buy the ticket-less woman “the few things” she needs and take her by boat the remainder of the trip. She soon learns he is one of the wealthiest men alive after he buys her several thousand dollars worth of clothing, handbags and jewelry. John wants to marry Gerry, and John’s sister, the Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor), want to marry Tom once he arrives in Palm Beach (also by the generosity of the bean magnate).

     As one can plainly see, this plot is already severely complex, similar to Love Crazy. It works to convey unrealistically the emotional result of one half of a relationship fighting for love’s sake and one who does not care. Gerry thinks she is doing the practical thing for both of them, and even works her boyfriend for cash to cover Tom’s bizarre airport construction plan, but the word “love” never crosses her lips to my recall. Her affection for her husband is only ever conveyed in physical intimacy, which of course is a lousy basis for a marriage. These movies perhaps act as sequels to the endless number of films that follow the typical romance between couples that end in quick, and perhaps ill-advised, jaunts down the aisle.

     In The Palm Beach Story Astor is her most funny in the role of a princess who can ramble for hours. McCrea plays a superb serious straight man for whom one’s heart breaks while watching him pretend to be Gerry’s brother and stand idly by while another man woos her. As in Love Crazy, a snappy, easy ending allows for a happy conclusion for all parties and explains to a point what the hell happened in that opening sequence.

     The Palm Beach Story is possibly most enjoyable for its wardrobe by designer Irene, who also provided Joan Crawford’s gowns in No More Ladies. Irene masterfully supplied most of the fabulous female attire during this era and was a preference of Crawford’s. Colbert’s character most memorably fashions an outfit from a blanket and men’s pajamas, but all of her ensembles herein are not to be missed.


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