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The Palm Beach Story (November 6, 2007)

Preston Sturges wrote and directed several of the cleverest and sharpest comedies of the 1940s. Born in Chicago in 1898, he was raised in a Bohemian atmosphere in Europe. His mother was a friend of Isadora Duncan, the dancer. After being a cadet aviator in World War I, and managing his mother’s perfume store in New York, he wrote a Broadway hit, Strictly Dishonorable, in 1929. He started writing for movies the next year. His goal in Hollywood was to become a director, because, as he said, “When I first went to Hollywood I discovered that the directors were treated as Princes of the Blood, whereas writers worked in teams of six like piano movers. In the beginning I tried to prove that writers were easily as important as directors, then one day I realized that it was easier to become a Prince of the Blood myself than to change a whole social order.” In 1939, he threatened to quit Paramount unless he was assigned to direct a film for which he had written the screenplay. Paramount bought a story (for $10) from him and assigned him to direct what would become The Great McGinty, the first of eight movies he made for the studio. He died in 1959.

Andrew Sarris, the film historian, said Sturges was “by far the wittiest scriptwriter the English-speaking cinema has known.” Richard Corliss, in his 1974 review of screen writers Talking Pictures, called him “Hollywood’s greatest writer-director, with emphasis on the former. He created a racy, malappropriate idiom whose deceptive ease would prove inimitable.” The movies feature funny and bright dialogue, visual humor, and a group of familiar character actors who often appear in film after film.

This movie stars Claudette Colbert as the wife of an unsuccessful inventor (Joel McCrea) who decides to leave him by fleeing on a train to Florida. The 1942 screwball comedy also stars Mary Astor and Rudy Vallee.