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 set to the tune of the William Tell Overture - 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
  • the opening conflict five years later in 1942 between the financially-strapped couple living in an apartment on Park Avenue in NYC, and delinquent in their payments - 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 "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"
  • dreading being in debt the next month and "tired of being broke", Gerry explained to Tom that she was contemplating breaking up after a 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
  • their romantic scene - upon their return home after dinner - and both a little tipsy, 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"
  • the madcap and raucous scenes on the southbound train to Florida when runaway wife Gerry, on her way to obtain a divorce, experienced 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 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
  • 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!"
  • the arrival at the West Palm Beach dock, where 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
  • the premise of complicated mistaken identities, when Tom pursued Gerry to West Palm Beach, Florida, and to hide her ploy at the dock, she claimed 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")
  • the sequence of Hackensacker's 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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