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Archive for October 25th, 2012

by Brandie Ashe

Frenetic. It’s the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Preston Sturges’ 1942 comedy classic The Palm Beach Story. From the opening credits—a brief sequence with enough plot devices jammed in to fill an entirely separate movie—to the closing scene, the film proceeds at a breakneck speed, moving swiftly from one improbable situation to the next. The end result is one of the funniest comedies to ever be produced in Hollywood, one that defines the word “screwball” in every way imaginable.

That the film is a comedic masterwork should come as no surprise to those familiar with Sturges’ oeuvre, for no film director in history had quite as deft a hand in crafting wild, outrageous comedy as he. Not merely content to sit in the director’s chair, Sturges wrote and produced his own screenplays, in addition to dabbling in acting, songwriting, inventing, and playwriting, among other varied interests. A prototypical “Renaissance man,” Sturges brought a wide-ranging knowledge to his films, reflected in intelligent characterizations, sharp, witty dialogue, and furious pacing.

As I mentioned above, The Palm Beach Story begins with a wild opening sequence that barely makes sense—at least, until you reach the end of the film. A man and a woman are set to get married, but both are running late for the altar. We see a woman (Claudette Colbert) bound and gagged inside a closet, struggling to get free. Meanwhile, her doppelganger (Colbert again) runs out in a wedding gown as a maid faints in horror. The groom (Joel McCrea) races across town in the back of a taxi, trying desperately to throw on his tuxedo. The bound woman manages to kick a hole in the closet door—as her bound feet emerge, the maid faints dead away once more. The bride grabs a taxi and manages to make it to the altar just as the groom bustles in as well. As they proceed with the ceremony, title cards appear, telling the audience, “And they lived happily ever after … or did they?” No other explanation is given; the film simply moves on without further comment. (more…)

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