***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Rudy Vallee
written and directed by Preston Sturges
by Jefferson Robbins The Palm Beach Story is lesser candy from a master confectioner--so it's still worth a taste. Preston Sturges's screwball portrait of a marriage upending itself braids together multiple comedic forms: road trip, Elizabethan comedy of errors, have-nots infiltrating the haves, and a distinct and strange but intriguing touch of fairytale. For instance, the yacht on which jillionaire J.D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee) absconds with disenchanted young wife Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) is christened The Erl King. Sure, Hackensacker is an obvious gloss on Rockefeller and there's the play on "oil king," but the Erl King of legend is a kidnapper of innocents. (Goethe's poem casts him as a child murderer.) Gerry's scratching a five-year itch, taking flight from glum husband Tom (Joel McCrea), partly on the advice of another "king." "Cold are the hands of time that creep along relentlessly, destroying slowly but without pity that which yesterday was young," warns the millionaire Wienie King (Robert Dudley), after moseying into the Park Avenue duplex Gerry and Tom are about to lose. (A Tiresias who's deaf rather than blind, he can't hear anything anybody says, so he might as well be talking to himself.) Although "adventuress" Gerry, abandoning her marriage without money or clothing, can still wield youth and beauty as sword and shield, she pays a price for the attempt, first charming and then dodging the heavily-armed, dangerously inebriated Ale & Quail Club as it pursues her throughout a southbound train. They're a Wild Hunt straight out of pagan lore.