The NW Film Center's annual Top Down Rooftop Cinema series gets off to a rollicking start this week with Preston Sturges' 1942 screwball take on the romantic comedy, The Palm Beach Story. As with most of Sturges' output, the film locates its humor in the narrow margins of what was socially acceptable in that era; in this case, it's an impending divorce that drives film's witty banter and absurd situations.
Gerry (Claudette Colbert) and Tom (Joel McCrea) are a married couple whose financial shortages inspire her to call it quits, citing the burden that she's become to him as reason enough to head on down to Palm Beach, where interested parties can get split up on the cheap. Along the way to the city of their final separation, Tom and Gerry get entangled with a wealthy brother (Rudy Vallee) and sister (Mary Astor) duo who fall for them. Oh, and I'd be remiss to not mention the presence of a guy calling himself the "wienie king" (Robert Dudley).
It all travels on a simple premise and, like in Leo McCarey's 1937 similarly-themed classic The Awful Truth, one can see from a mile away that this couple will, by the end of the picture, find themselves in each others arms once more. Fortunately, the element of surprise really isn't the point of a film like The Palm Beach Story. Like the best of these classic rom-coms, this is a picture in love with winking at the audience, letting us in on the joke quite early so we can laugh it up as the misguided actions of the characters multiply. All the while, it assures us that everything will work out in the end. The expected uplift is just part of the deal. After all, who would really want a realistic, downer of an ending capping off a film such as this?
The NW Film Center's Top Down Rooftop Cinema series presents The Palm Beach Story on Thursday, July 26th at 8pm. More info available here.
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