This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

15Aug/12

AMERICAN GAGSTERS — GREAT COMEDY TEAMS: THE PALM BEACH STORY

Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert, and Rudy Vallée are caught up in a romantic triangle in Preston Sturges’s THE PALM BEACH STORY

THE PALM BEACH STORY (Preston Sturges, 1942)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Friday, August 17, 4:30 & 9:15
Series runs through September 17
212-415-5500
www.bam.org

Writer-director Preston Sturges was on quite a roll in the early 1940s, making a string of memorable pictures that included The Great McGinty, Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, and Hail the Conquering Hero. In the midst of that amazing run is The Palm Beach Story, one of the craziest of the classic screwball comedies. Running out of money, married couple Tom (Joel McCrea) and Geraldine (Claudette Colbert) Jeffers are preparing to leave their ritzy Park Ave. apartment until a straight-talking, shriveled old wienie king (Robert Dudley) hands Gerry a wad of cash so she doesn’t have to move out. She pays off their many bills, but Tom is suspicious of how she got the money, demanding to know if any sex was involved, a rather risqué question for a 1942 Hays Code-era romantic comedy. Gerry decides that she is no good for Tom and insists on getting a divorce even though they still love each other. So she grabs a train to Florida, meeting the wacky Ale & Quail Club and John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallée), a kind, soft-spoken gentleman who takes a liking to her and helps her out of a jam. Things reach a manic pace as Tom heads to Palm Beach as well, trying to save the marriage while fending off the advances of the the Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor). McCrea and Colbert make a great comic duo in, displaying a fiery sex appeal that is still hot all these years later. What’s not hot is the film’s use of black characters, who are horribly stereotyped and are even referred to as “colored” in the credits. It might have been a different time, but there aren’t a whole lot of quality movies that were that blatant about it. In addition, the shooting scene with the Ale & Quail Club goes way over the top. But when the film focuses on Tom and Gerry, caught up in their own endlessly charming game of cat and mouse, The Palm Beach Story shines. The Palm Beach Story is screening August 17 in the BAMcinématek series “American Gagsters: Great Comedy Teams,” which runs through September 17 and consists of fifty films (all but one in 35mm) featuring fabulous comedic pairings; Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels, the socially conscious comedy starring McCrea and Veronica Lake, is also being shown on Friday.

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