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  Palm Beach Story, The Where Did Our Love Go?
Year: 1942
Director: Preston Sturges
Stars: Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Rudy Vallee, Sig Arno, Robert Warwick, Arthur Stuart Hull, Torben Meyer, Jimmy Conlin, Victor Potel, William Demarest, Jack Norton, Robert Greig, Roscoe Ates, Dewey Robinson, Chester Conklin, Franklin Pangborn
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: The tale of how Gerry (Claudette Colbert) and Tom Jeffers (Joel McCrea) were eventually married is such an unlikely one that it hardly bears going into in any great detail, but what you need to know is they lived happily ever after. Or did they? Advance a few years of wedded bliss and the bliss is in short supply, with Gerry wanting to divorce Tom since his grand plans for a new type of airport which will be situated over cities rather than some way outside them is failing miserably, and with the money running out dramatically she doesn't think there's any point in them continuing. But Tom wants to carry on...

In 1942 the Second World War was raging and the United States had just waded in, so all the Hollywood studios were crafting their patriotic propaganda movies to do their bit for the troops. Director Preston Sturges, slap bang in the middle of his meteoric rise as one of the finest manufacturers of screwball comedies that the early nineteen-forties had to offer, was not going to travel down that road, however: indeed, his idea of a patriotic film was the decidedly subversive Hail the Conquering Hero, but what he recognised was the value of escapism, especially when the future looks bleak. Give us something to cheer us up, said the public, and he was only too happy to oblige.

What he came up with in the space of a year were two films, Sullivan's Travels and The Palm Beach Story. The former explicitly examined the worth of entertainment to not only take the audience's minds off the problems in their lives, but to actually fortify them and sustain them through those dark times: these works were incredibly important, Sturges reasoned. But with the latter, he took his own advice to heart and created a comedy which was laugh a minute and just the tonic to cheer the public when they were low, and along with that he introduced a sly commentary on just how valuable the Hollywood ideal of romance was to a real life where things just didn't work out so well a lot of the time.

The title sequence is ingenious, since it shows the denouement of another screwball comedy we will never see, the story of how Tom and Gerry (hah!) got together in the first place, blatantly ridiculous and precisely the sort of movie that The Palm Beach Story was, yet was also a commentary on. The wild coincidences, eccentric characters, fast-paced dialogue and a hefty dose of romance were all here, but the sadness that this was pure fantasy was never far away: after all, the hero and heroine who should have been appreciating their union thanks to the Hollywood ending are now splitting up. Sturges still mined humour from this, with Tom chasing after Gerry as she tries to slip out of the apartment unnoticed, and there was no bitterness, but the sense this whole situation was a true shame was never far away. Fortunately, none of the people we see sit around moping, they endeavour their utmost to do something positive with the scenario that is not looking too good for them.

So Gerry may have gotten on a train to Palm Beach to secure a divorce, but Tom is determined to win her back whether it means a life of poverty or not. On that train typical Sturges lunacy erupts, as a hunting club (but mostly a drinking club) of millionaires buy her a ticket, then proceed to engineer a meeting with another millionaire who is in the sleeping car after the club get so drunk they start shooting up the train, all the while singing harmonies at the top of their voices. The rich bachelor Gerry meets is J.D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee) and he falls for her in a big way, taking her to his mansion to stay with his flighty sister (Mary Astor talking a mile a minute) while she gets the marriage ended. But Tom follows... Embracing the preposterousness to illustrate the benefits of ludicrous plot contrivances, Sturges also managed a scene of such sweet romance after all that laughter which was unexpectedly affecting during Vallee's serenade as the married couple realise they can't live without each other. Once again, escapism has value: never underestimate the power of cheap music - or great comedy. Music by Victor Young.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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