Probably the most startling thing about The Palm Beach Story is the fact that the footage playing under the opening credits makes absolutely no sense until you get to the astounding plot twist (referred to in the dialogue as “but that’s another plot entirely”) at the very end of the film. This, however, is certainly not the only remarkable delight in the film, which, as I said is possibly the plain funniest film Preston Sturges made during his brief (1940-44), meteoric stint as the reigning director at Paramount.
Those incomprehensible credits, however, do indicate the pace of the film, which can best be described as fast and furious. It almost never slows down, and when it does it is never at a loss for witty dialogue. The jokes and gags are so constant that it’s almost impossible to catch them all in a single viewing — and it is impossible to fully appreciate the sheer beauty of and love for language that permeates the film. Typically for Sturges, many of the gems are almost throwaways given to minor players — like the cop who notes, “I like peace, but I’m not morbid about it,” or the philosophical train porter who opines, “I don’t see how any man who can give me a nickel tip from New York to Jacksonville could have a yacht — maybe a canoe or a bicycle. Maybe.” The repartee is non-stop and every joke lands exactly as intended. This is a film that ought to be compulsory viewing for the people who write what passes for comedy these days.
The Asheville Film Society will screen The Palm Beach Story Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.