Directed by: Preston Sturges
Produced by: Buddy G. DeSylva (uncredited) Paul Jones (assoc. producer)
Written by: Preston Sturges
Starring: Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Rudy Vallee
Music by: Victor Young
Cinematography: Victor Milner
Edited by: Stuart Gilmore
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release dates: November 2, 1942 (NYC)
Running time: 88 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $950,000 (approx)
The Palm Beach Story is a 1942 romantic screwball comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges, and starring Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Mary Astor and Rudy Vallée. Victor Young contributed the lively musical score, including a fast-paced variation of William Tell Overture for the opening scenes. Typical for a Sturges movie, the pacing and dialogue of The Palm Beach Story are very fast.
Tom and Gerry Jeffers (Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert) are a married couple in New York City who are down on their luck financially, which is pushing the marriage to an end. But there is another, deeper problem with their relationship, one that is hinted at in the prologue of the movie as the opening credits roll and then explained near the movie’s end.
In the prologue Claudette Colbert appears bound and gagged in a closet, but then a second later in a wedding dress, seen by a maid who faints at every disturbance. The movie reveals much later that Colbert is playing identical twins, both of whom are in love with the intended groom played by Joel McCrea. The sister of the bride has just tied her up in an attempt to steal the wedding for herself. The pantomime is cross-cut with action showing McCrea hurriedly changing from one formal suit to another in the car as he rushes to the church. McCrea also is playing twins and the sibling is likewise in love with the tied up sister. He too is trying to steal the wedding. The end result is that the two siblings, not the original bride or groom, are married, and those two were not in love with each other.
The two remain married from 1937 until 1942 where the film resumes. Gerry decides that Tom would be better off if they split up. She packs her bags; takes some money offered to her the Wienie King (Robert Dudley), a strange but rich little man who is thinking of renting the Jeffers’ apartment; and boards a train for Palm Beach, Florida. There she plans to get a divorce and meet a wealthy second husband who can help Tom. On the train, she meets the eccentric John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallée), one of the richest men in the world.
Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert, stars of The Palm Beach Story, from the trailer for the film
Because of an encounter with the wild and drunken millionaire members of the Ale and Quail hunting club, Gerry loses all her luggage; after making do with clothing scrounged from other passengers, she is forced to accept Hackensacker’s extravagant charity. They leave the train and go on a shopping spree for everything from lingerie to jewelry – Hackensacker minutely noting the cost of everything in a little notebook, which he never bothers to add up – and make the remainder of the trip to Palm Beach on Hackensacker’s yacht named The Erl King (a Sturges joke on the Hackensacker family business, oil).
Tom follows Gerry to Palm Beach by air, also with the impromptu financial assistance of the Wienie King. When Tom meets Hackensacker, Gerry introduces him as her brother, Captain McGlue. Soon, Hackensacker falls for Gerry, while his often-married, man-hungry sister, Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor), chases Tom, although her last lover, Toto (Sig Arno), is still following her around. To help further his suit with Gerry, Hackensacker agrees to invest in Tom’s scheme to build an airport suspended over a city by wires.
Tom finally persuades Gerry to give their marriage another chance, and they confess their masquerade to their disappointed suitors. Even though he is disappointed, Hackensacker intends to go through with his investment in the suspended airport, since he thinks it is a good business deal and he never lets anything get in the way of business. Then, when Tom and Gerry reveal that they met because they are both identical twins – a fact which explains the opening sequence of the film – Hackensacker and his sister are elated. The final scene shows Hackensacker and Gerry’s sister, and the Princess and Tom’s brother, getting married.
The film ends where it began after the prologue, with the words “And they lived happily ever after…or did they?” on title cards.