Film: The Palm Beach Story

The Palm Beach Story is a 1942 Screwball Comedy from writer/director Preston Sturges. The story concerns a New York couple who are struggling to make ends meet. Gerry, the wife (Claudette Colbert) comes up with a Zany Scheme to divorce her husband Tom (a struggling inventor played by Joel McCrea) so she can get a new rich husband to help her ex-husband with his plans for an above-ground airport. Gerry runs away to Palm Beach to get her divorce, Tom right behind her because he disapproves of the whole thing, and she captures the eye of one of the richest men in the world, Hackensacker (Rudy Vallee). Tom butts in and has to pretend to be his wife's brother, and he becomes the target of affection from the multiple-divorced sister of Hackensacker, the princess Centimillia (Mary Astor). As they get deeper and deeper into this scheme, Gerry begins to have second thoughts.

Hilarity Ensues even further.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Toto is this to the Princess.
  • Accidental Marriage: At the end of the film, we learn that this describes Tom and Gerry's marriage. Tom thought he was marrying Gerry's sister when he replaced his brother at the altar, while Gerry thought she was marrying Tom's brother when she replaced her sister.
  • Affectionate Nickname: The Princess calls her brother "Snoodles".
  • Alcohol Hic: One of the members of the Ale and Quail Club is so drunk, this is his only method of communication.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: The Ale and Quail Club shooting up their boxcar after too much booze.
  • All Women Are Lustful:
  • Always Identical Twins: Tom and Gerry are each one of a pair of identical twins. This is why they thought no-one would notice if they replaced their twins at the wedding at the beginning of the film... except neither knew the other had the same idea.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Toto speaks an indistinguishable (presumably European) language.
  • Book Ends: The film opens and closes with weddings; Tom and Gerry'snote  at the beginning, and John Hackensacker to Gerry's sister and the Princess to Tom's brother at the end. Both times, the camera cuts to hanging text reading "And they lived happily ever after...", followed by "... Or did they?"
  • Brick Joke: The opening sequence. At first, it appears as though Gerry is simultaneously tied up in a closet and scrambling to get to her wedding on time, while Tom likewise seems to be in two incompatible situations as he scrambles to get to the wedding. At the end of the film, it turns out that Tom and Gerry both have identical twin siblings; Tom's brother was engaged to Gerry's sister, but Gerry was also in love with Tom's brother while Tom was also in love with Gerry's sister, and so both tried to replace their siblings in the original wedding... meaning the only pair who weren't in love with each other were the ones who ended up married to each other.
  • Brutal Honesty: The princess is this towards Toto.
    Princess: Toto, this is Captain McGloo. I'm going to see more of him and less of you from now on.
  • Butt Monkey: Toto, all the way. The Princess has long since lost interest in him, but since he doesn't understand English well enough to take the hint (or is simply too stubborn to give up), she has resorted to trying to push him away by treating him with utter contempt.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Gerry and Tom revive their love but in the process they leave behind a flabbergasted Hackensacker and his Princess sister. Time to Pair the Spares by suddenly bringing in the twin brother/sister ploy for everyone to be Happily Ever After.
  • Comedy of Remarriage: Gerry goes to Palm Beach to begin divorce proceedings and is determined to make Hackensacker her new husband while Tom tries to persuade her to come back to him.
  • Creator Cameo: Sturges is leading a crew carrying Gerry's luggage off the yacht.
  • Curtain Camouflage: Gerry tries to hide from the old business man behind the shower curtain of her apartment.
  • Curtain Clothing: Gerry moans about not being a good housewife at the beginning, lacking an ability to make a dress out of window curtains, yet later she has to improvise a skirt made from a Pullman train blanket.
  • Deus ex Machina: The contrived situation that both Gerry and Tom had a twin sister/brother which helped to clean up romantic loose ends. The existence of their twins is implied in the opening sequence, but while Tom mentions a brother and Gerry mentions a sister several times during the film, it is only at the end that they are explicitly revealed to be identical twins in both cases.
  • Embarrassing Last Name: When Gerry hastily introduces Tom to the Hackensackers as her brother, she refers to him as "Captain McGloo". When they are alone together, Tom confronts her over choosing such a silly pseudonym for him, and she claims that she thought it was his mother's maiden name (it was actually McGrew). Tom grumbles that he'll have to stick with it. Even the Princess, smitten as she is by Tom himself, finds his name unfortunate.
  • Enormous Engagement Ring: Gerry is proposed to by one of the richest men in the world. The ring so large that she tells him to put it away, or else the sight of it will convince her to go through with it (she is married already, anyway). She takes a final look at it before putting it away forever.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: The Princess is extremely fond of these:
    Hackensacker: You don't marry someone you just met the day before; at least I don't.
    Princess: But that's the only way, dear. If you get to know too much about them you'd never marry them.
  • Funny Foreigner: Toto. We don't know where he's from or what language he speaks. He's more like a dog than a companion.
  • Happily Ever After: Inverted by opening the film with a wedding. Reconstructed by showing how the marriage goes awry but the couple finding themselves back together by the end. Lampshaded and subverted both times by following the caption "And they lived happily ever after" with another: "Or did they?"
  • Hypocritical Humor: Hackensacker calls his sister out on her tendency towards marrying men so quickly after she's met them, yet he's willing to do the same thing with Gerry.
  • Love Dodecahedron:
    • At the beginning of the film, Tom —> Gerry's sister <—> Tom's brother <— Gerry. (Notably, Tom and Gerry were not in love with each other, but ended up married anyway.)
    • By the end of the film, Toto —> Princess —> Tom <—> Gerry <— Hackensacker.
  • Marriage Before Romance: Tom and Gerry were not actually in love when they got married (Tom was in love with Gerry's sister, Gerry was in love with Tom's brother). By the time the film proper begins, they have tried to make the best of their Accidental Marriage, but money problems have prompted Gerry to seek a divorce in Palm Beach so she can marry a rich second husband who can bankroll Tom's invention idea. But while Gerry tries to carry out this scheme and Tom tries to stop it, they end up (re)discovering that they really do love each other.
  • Motor Mouth: The princess wll not stop chattering.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Played with; Hackensacker is generally nice to all the service people he encounters, he just doesn't believe in tipping.
    Hackensacker: Tipping is un-American.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: John D. Hackensacker III is a pretty obvious goof on the Rockefellers.
  • Pair the Spares: To other people, namely, the twins of the leads.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Tom tries to evade the guard at the train station by wearing a hat and glasses. It doesn't work.
  • Pun: Hackensacker: "You made quite an impression" (after Gerry stepped on his face twice).
  • Punny Name:
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense
  • Running Gag:
    • The only words of Toto's native language the Princess can translate with certainty are "Nitz!" and "Yitz!" (meaning, respectively, "No!" and "Yes!") - which turn up at least once in every scene in which he appears.
    • Hackensacker getting his glasses broken at several occasions.
  • Serial Spouse: The princess has possibly been married six times; she's had three divorces and two annulments, and she says she's "not quite through with the Prince" (although she is certainly looking for candidates to replace him).
  • Settle for Sibling:
    • In a particularly insane, madcap ending which reveals that both Gerry and Tom have identical twin siblings. As soon as they hear of the existence of the twins, the Hackensacker siblings simultaneously ask, enthusiastically, "Well, what's he/she doing?" In the final scene, the Princess marries Tom's brother, while John marries Gerry's sister. (And Toto doesn't marry anyone.)
    • The ending also finally clarifies that Tom and Gerry themselves have settled for siblings; Tom originally wanted to marry Gerry's sister, who was engaged to Tom's brother, whom Gerry originally wanted to marry. In the opening credits, Gerry has tied up her sister to steal her fiancé, unaware that Tom has also waylaid his brother to steal his fiancée.
  • Take That:
    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?
  • Trigger Happy: The Ale and Quail Club members on the train.
  • Wealthy Yacht Owner: Hackensacker.
  • Zany Scheme: The thrust of the plot, which is a divorce to get her husband money from a new rich husband.
  • Zip Me Up: On two different occasions Gerry asks Tom's help to get out of a dress, and sexy times ensue.