Palm Beach Story is a Preston Sturges who was the first Hollywood writer-director to start by establishing himself as a screenwriter and then moving into directing his own scripts. It’s also amazing he had this run between 1940 and 1948 and almost flamed out as quick, he would die at the age of 60 in 1959. This was filmed after Sullivan’s Travels, and reunites him with Joel McCrae in a screwball comedy. I still prefer Sturges’s work in that genre to anyone else’s—Howard Hawks is close, of course, but he did so many other things as well.
McCrae plays Tom Jeffers, a down-on-his-luck inventor/architect who is married to Gerry (Claudette Colbert). Their marriage is falling apart, so Gerry comes up with a plan to marry a Palm Beach millionaire so she can get the money to help him with his plans. Of course, they’ll have to get divorced first. The plot is pretty convoluted, as you might expect.
Of course, it’s really funny, and totally bonkers. The film runs like a freight train, and never lets up for its 88 minutes. There are wild twists and turns, and it has a great script from Sturges. The script actually faced a lot of issues with the Hays Office because of its light treatment of marriage and divorce and the name of the millionaire sounded a bit too close to “Rockefeller” for comfort.
The disc from Criterion includes an appreciation of Preston Sturges by Bill Hader of Barry fame; Hader even does impressions how the characters speak There’s also a similar clip with the writer and film historian James Harvey, a propaganda film written by Sturges Safeguarding Military Information and a Screen Guild radio adaptation from 1943. As essay by Stephanie Zacharek is also included.