The Palm Beach Story (1942)

The Palm Beach Story
Written and directed by Preston Sturges
(number 308)

Same writer and director who did The Lady Eve, similarly starring another incredibly smart and smart talking, stylish woman who has brilliant plans.

This is another similarly charming and beautifully styled, smartly scripted romantic comedy. It’s also a bit of a mystery about what exactly is at play and how easily a woman could leave her husband like that, and then there’s a big Shakespearean level twist to the story.

I sort of watched this twice. The first time with Ellen, only we started talking and didn’t pay enough attention to it, so I had to watch it again. The movie is paced very oddly to me. There’s a lot of set up of the story, then a long sequence on the train with a frankly disturbing ‘ale and quail society’ variously charming Gerry and then terrorizing everyone. Then the actual love story plot is squeezed into the last 30 minutes.

There’s an uncomfortable sequence with the ale and quail society, who burst in on Gerry while she was sleeping to sing to her, and then some of them start shooting at the black bartender. I know it’s not… this is a forties movie and race relations in America were terrible back then, but it’s still uncomfortable to watch now. At least the black people get to speak a little… but they’re only present as servants.

Does it make me love the people? I feel a lot for Gerry, mostly because she just basically wants to do what’s good for her partner but all this weird shit keeps happening around her. I like Tom when he’s with Gerry and being tender. He’s a bit too forties gentleman treating his wife like property the rest of the time. The love scenes between the two are sweet though.

John Hackensacker is pretty cool, he’s very decent to Gerry and even when things blow up he keeps his side of the deals and is generous and reasonable. Kind of… unbelievable as a character really. Then his sister Maud is a stereotypical frivolous woman who’s married and divorced a number of times.

Bechdel test: Yes, Maud and Gerry speak to each other. Often about John but also about how pretty Maud is and clothes and so on.

Best line:

John: It is one of the great tragedies of this life that the men most in need of a beating up are always enormous.

Gerry: Don’t you know that the greatest men in the world have told lies and let things be misunderstood if it was useful to them? Didn’t you ever hear of a campaign promise?

State of Mind: That plot twist and resolution is just… I don’t know. I don’t know at all. You couldn’t remake this film now, I’ll tell you that. It’s pretty amusing but it’s not my favourite of these old comedies, it didn’t grab me the same way as Unfaithfully Yours or some of the others. It was just a bit… weird all round. I’m not sure if I’ll want to watch it again.

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Unfaithfully Yours (1948)


Written and directed by Preston Sturges
(number 358)

This is another of those movies I’d never heard of, but was pleased to find it’s a comedy. Once again a romantic comedy which is regarded as a valid piece of cinema due to its age?

Watching it, I can see some art to the direction, some weirdness about the plot, the structure of how he imagines what he will do about his supposedly cheating wife. The batshit premise of the film is quite at home with current comedy movie scripts, in that respect there’s very little has changed. This is one of those old ‘movie as play on screen’ productions, with lots of long scenes of dialogue between two people in one room.

What I really enjoyed about the film was the acting and the script. There’s some gorgeous long interchanges, some snappy one liners and some laugh out loud moments. It’s tight. Honestly? It reminded me of a Shakespeare comedy, with lots of misunderstandings, miscommunication, overly elaborate plots and long metaphors (especially the scene where Alfred describes a movie about a dog to Daphne but it’s all about how he knows she cheated on him.)

“For me no one handles Handel like you handle Handel”

The costuming and sets are very beautiful as well, reminiscent of all the high class inner spaces of All About Eve. It’s a stunningly beautiful film, and the black and white seems to emphasise that beauty. The gorgeous long takes of speech and action help as well.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely. Alfred’s sympathetic if a bit extreme in his reactions. I feel for Daphne more than him, but it’s the kind of film where people are generally likable and sweet.

The sequence where Alfred is trying to set up his perfect murder is just… incredible. Like those sequences in infomercials where everything goes wrong? It’s like that but writ large, hilarious! I watched it with Jo and the two of us where laughing so hard we were tearing up.

Bechdel test: Barbara and Daphne talk to each other a lot, but I rather think it’s always about either August or Alfred.

Best line:

August: You keep repeating ” keep an eye on your wife,” as if it had some special meaning. Well, you see Alfred, being a little nearsighted, I couldn’t keep an eye on her from Palm Beach. Nevertheless, I did not fail you.
Alfred: Again, something’s happening to my back hair. I don’t recollect saying anything to you at the airport except possibly good-bye. But if I did say keep an eye on my wife for me, I meant see if she’s lonely some evening. And if she is, take her to the movies, you and Barbara.
August: But you didn’t say that. You said, ” Keep an eye on my wife for me.”
Alfred: Well, supposing I did, how could you do it from Palm Beach?
August: With detectives.
Alfred: With detectives! You stuffed moron!
August: Control yourself, Alfred. Control yourself. This is entirely uncalled for. Kindly release my scarf.
Alfred: You dare to inform me you had vulgar footpads in snap-brim fedoras…sluicing after my beautiful wife?
August: I believe it’s called ” sleuthing.” Kindly let go of my shirt. You’re tearing it.There’s nothing to be so upset about. I merely had her tailed.
Alfred: You merely had her what?

Alfred: I give you my solemn word, August: if I don’t regain control of myself in a few minutes, concert or no concert, I’ll take this candelabrum and beat that walnut you use for a head into a nutburger, I believe they’re called!

Alfred: what would you think if your wife had been untrue to you?
Jules: Untrue to me, sir? Oh, I think it’s most unlikely. First of all,
where would she find anybody, sir? And in the second place, if she’d wanted
somebody better looking than me… she could’ve had him easy enough. – I was awful ugly when I was young, sir.

State of Mind: genius, I loved that. Bright and funny and a lovely ending. The characters are interesting and witty and the script zings. According to the internet this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite movies, and whether that’s a recommendation or not I’m not sure, but I can see how it would appeal to him. There are definite homages to this film in his works and his scripting is very much in this style.

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