Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Palm Beach Story (1942)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Palm Beach Story (1942)

In Preston Sturges' fast-paced 'comedy-of-errors' classic screwball comedy - about the threatened relationship between a married couple with the frustrated wife seeking divorce; also it provided an amusing look at life among billionaires in Palm Beach, Florida:

  • the frenzied opening credits marriage sequence, set in 1937, was accompanied by the William Tell Overture - it was a deliberately puzzling, freeze-frame montage of confusing, mystifying marital vignettes without dialogue (unexplained until film's end, when it was revealed that both fiancee-protagonists were identical twins, and each married the wrong person!)
Confusing Opening Title Marriage Sequence
  • five years later in 1942, the film officially opened with the end of a couple's five-year marriage; the financially-strapped couple, who were living in an apartment on Park Avenue in NYC, were delinquent in their payments; the conflicting partners were introduced: frustrated wife Gerry (Claudette Colbert), a scatter-brained and fortune-seeking female, and her beleaguered husband - poor, unsuccessful struggling inventor and visionary architect Tom Jeffers (Joel McCrea)
  • their financial straits were temporarily reprieved when hard-of-hearing, love-smitten "Wienie King" (Robert Dudley), a bothersome, rich prospective apartment renter-tenant from Texas in the "sausage business" generously gave Gerry $700 dollars (covering her rent and other bills and expenses, now making her "debt-free"); he theorized charitably: "Someday you'll wake up and find everything behind you. Gives you quite a turn. Makes you sorry for a few of the things you didn't do while you still could"
  • Gerry - who dreaded being in debt the next month and was "tired of being broke," explained to her husband Tom that she was contemplating breaking up with him after their five-year marriage; she was planning to move out and walk out on him - she theorized that she could make him happy by becoming an "adventuress" - finding a new, wealthy husband (pre-approved and in his "good graces") who might help him realize his ambitions and offer a business partnership to support him: "To know that I could get you someplace without doing any harm either. You have no idea what a long-legged gal can do without doing anything. And instead of that, I have to watch you stamping around proudly, like Sitting Bull in a new blanket, breathing through your nose while we both starve to death"
Gerry's and Tom's Dress Unzipping and Romantic Kissing
  • upon their return home after dinner - when both were a little tipsy, they became romantic; Gerry matter-of-factly stated: "You know we don't love each other anymore. We're just habits, bad habits...And when love's gone, there's nothing left but admiration and respect"; when she was unable to unzip the back of her dress, he assisted and had her sit on his lap - and their love and fondness for each other was rekindled as he reminded her: "You don't think this is a little intimate, do you? Doesn't mean anything to you anymore to sit on my lap, huh?...What if I kiss you there?...Or there?"
  • she shuddered under the spell of his passionate kisses on her back, but denied any effect: "It's nothing"; however, she succumbed as he wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her to himself on the couch; when he asked: "That doesn't mean anything to you anymore, huh?", she breathlessly replied: "Almost nothing" (as her toes curled forward!); she allowed herself to be limply carried upstairs to their bedroom - their kissing was a prelude to lovemaking
  • the next morning, Gerry left a goodbye note enroute to a divorce: "Darling, Just because you got me soused last night doesn't alter the logic of the situation. Good bye, Good luck. I love you. Gerry"
  • runaway wife Gerry, on her way to obtain a divorce, was on a southbound train to Florida; there were many madcap and raucous scenes when she came across the tipsy Ale & Quail Club - an unruly group of aging sportsmen and millionaires; on the train in the sleeping berth area, she met the wacky character of crackpot billionaire J.D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee); later, she had breakfast with him, and he bought her hundreds of dollars worth of extravagant clothes and accessories in a store; they transferred to his yacht, named The Erl King, for the rest of the trip from Jacksonville to Palm Beach
  • with her beauty, ingenuity, luck and appealing charms, Gerry's intention was to live the 'good life' in Florida and obtain monetary support; she told Hackensacker that she needed the cash to 'pay off' her husband, who demanded an alleged payment of $99,000 before granting a divorce - her real intention was to help her struggling husband's failing career
  • there were many examples of Hackensacker's pithy, funny one liners: "Chivalry is not only dead, it's decomposed!" and "That's one of the tragedies of this life - that the men who are most in need of a beating up are always enormous!"
  • when they arrived at the West Palm Beach dock, Hackensacker was greeted by his eccentric, carefree, man-crazy, oversexed, fast-talking oddball heiress sister Princess/Countess Centimillia (known as "Maude") (Mary Astor) - the five-time-married Princess Centimillia had been divorced three times: "She was annulled twice"; she called her brother Snoodles, who resided in her Palm Beach mansion; she also flaunted her kept-man companion Toto (Sig Arno)
  • taking advantage of complicated mistaken identities, Tom pursued Gerry to West Palm Beach, Florida, where on the dock, she deceptively claimed that he was her brother Captain McGlue; the Princess immediately fell for Tom (Gerry claimed he was not married but "entirely free") and she invited both of them to stay at her mansion; Gerry was immediately worried that Tom might ruin Hackensacker's offer to pay $99,000 for her divorce, and to also bankroll his fanciful plan of a "suspended airport" for $100,000 -- (Gerry to Tom: "You're going to get your airport if I have to build it for you myself - after I'm married")
  • Hackensacker made elaborate efforts to romantically serenade Gerry on her balcony by singing "Goodnight Sweetheart" - with the backing of an orchestra, while Tom was amorously seducing Gerry in his bedroom, without his knowledge; Gerry joked to Tom: "I hope you realize this is costing us millions"
"Goodnight Sweetheart" Serenade Sequence

Hackensacker Serenading Gerry

Tom Unzipping Gerry's Dress

Tom's Amorous Seduction of Gerry
  • Gerry announced to Hackensacker that she had decided to return (with McGlue) to her husband back in NYC; even so, Hackensacker promised to keep his promise as a benefactor to finance McGlue's airport for $100,000; but then Gerry revealed the entire masquerade: "He isn't exactly my brother...He's my husband!"; Hackensacker continued to insist on financing the Jeffers' airport as a good business decision
  • in the aftermath - due to the lucky coincidence (or weak plot contrivance) that both Tom and Gerry were identical twins, there was a return to the wedding altar sequence in the prologue; Centimillia married Tom's identical twin brother, and Gerry's identical twin sister married Hackensacker; Tom and Gerry stood by on the left as Best Man and Bridesmaid; a caption appeared: "and they lived happily ever after, or did they?"
Ending: Double Marriage of Identical Twins

Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert)

Tom Jeffers (Joel McCrea)

"Wienie King" (Robert Dudley)

Gerry's Good-bye Note to Tom

On the Southbound Train - The Ale & Quail Club Singing "Sweet Adaline" to Gerry

On the Train: Gerry Meeting J.D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee)

Having Breakfast with Hackensacker

In an Extravagant Clothing Store

On Hackensacker's Yacht, the Erl King

Princess/Countess Centimillia ("Maude") (Mary Astor)

On the Dock - Introducing Tom to Maude as Her 'Brother' Captain McGlue

Flirtatious "Maude" with Tom

End of the Masquerade - Tom Was Gerry's Husband!

Another Bombshell: The Existence of Both a Twin Brother and a Twin Sister!


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