This was the second film I had seen by Preston Sturges since his masterpiece, the meaningful but hilarious Sullivan’s Travels, which could easily fall into my top 20 films of all time. And while The Palm Beach Story isn’t as charged or meaningful as Sullivan’s Travels, it’s still a pretty damn good movie. The story involves a married couple, Geraldine (Claudette Colbert) and Tom (Joe McCrea) who are down on their luck, economically-speaking. Geraldine decides that the best way to solve their problems is to get a divorce, so she hops on a train full of drunken hunters to get one. Tom isn’t exactly happy, so goes after her. On the way, Geraldine meets millionaire John D. Hackensacker (Rudy Vallee) who is hoping to get a wife, and finds Geraldine the perfect one for himself.
Meanwhile, Tom reaches his wife in Palm Beach and finds out that she’s been hanging about with a millionaire. While Geraldine tries to explain that they are doing it to get money for Tom’s airport invention, Hackensacker’s sister, the Princess Centimilla (Mary Astor from The Maltese Falcon) joins in on the fun, and thinks Tom is the perfect man to join the ranks of the many husbands she’s been collecting. As you can tell it’s incredibly wacky, but that’s the point. Sturges’ usual flawless screenwriting shines in this film, giving us a group of over-the-top characters and situations. The movie is filled with hilarious sequences, such as the opening scene with Colbert talking to a deaf old man who, after a series of misunderstandings, lends her seven hundred dollars. There’s also the scenes on the train where we get a bunch of drunken hunters going after Geraldine, thinking she’s been kidnapped, with the dogs and everything. It’s the kind of exaggerated, anarchistic comedy setups that Sturges is known for, and it’s awesome too.
The acting is pretty much excellent from everyone involved. Claudette Colbert shines as always in a role that she was basically born to play, while Joel McCrea is perfectly dull for his role, which works since he isn’t supposed to be a very exciting guy. I’m surprised he didn’t get more comedic roles and was mostly a western star, considering how great he is here and in Sullivan’s Travels. The other person who shines is Mary Astor, who is excellent as a spoiled brat, even though she’s a little too unattractive for the role. The ending is so ridiculous that it actually makes sense. In conclusion, this film is perfect Sturges, with all the characteristics and traits that his movies contain. Romantic comedies are so terrible these days, they really should consider rewatching this film and learn a thing or two.