This week I decided to return my attention to screwball comedy, and since the one film on the top of my list. Bringing up Baby, was not available I decided to pick films at random from the B-List. While doing this I found myself having a secondary theme of romantic comedies about divorce… or more accurately attempted divorce.
My first selection, The Palm Beach Story written and directed by Preston Sturges tells the story of Tom and Gerry Jeffers (played by (Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert) a down on their luck couple (by the standards of 1940s gentry) about to be evicted from their luxury apartment. When Gerry is bailed out by an eccentric millionaire (Robert Dudley in a hilarious cameo) mostly due to her pretty face, she gets the idea that since she can get by on the kindness of strangers, she can help Tom best by leaving him so she won’t keep dragging him down.
She leaves to go to Palm Beach for a quick divorce with her Tom in hot pursuit. In Palm Beach she runs into one of the richest men in the country and then things start to get really crazy.
I had mixed feelings about this one. It had good dialogue and truly hilarious moments but it felt disjointed as if it were two separate films smashed together with most of the true comedy spent with a drunken gun club shooting up the train.
The other problem I had with it was one of those painful examples that the past is an alien world. In this case the casual racism of the period. I won’t call it insensitivity, I’ll call it a complete obliviousness to the possibility there would be anything wrong with regarding blacks an inferior caste of untermensch servants who were perpetually the victims of friendly slapstick. Perhaps I was being overly sensitive to this having read more than one article about the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, but more than one moment of said porters being part of an otherwise funny scene’s collateral damage had me wincing.
My next film, The Awful Truth by Leo McCarey starring Cary Grant in one of his earliest comic performances, Irene Dunne and Skippy. Grant and Dunne play Lucy and Jerry Warriner a married couple who divorce over a series of misunderstandings and mutual paranoia. While more than happy to split up themselves, there is only one last thing holding them together their mutual love for their Wire Fox Terrier Mr. Smith (Skippy.)
Having been allowed visitation rights to Mr. Smith Jerry finds himself interfering with Lucy’s progress new flame a very nice oil mogul from Oklahoma played by Ralph Bellamy as they wait for their divorce to be finalized. But as the time continues the find their mutual chemistry slowly dragging them back together.
Despite it’s numerous Oscar nominations I’m not sure it worked for me that well and while it certainly has some nice moments, for the most part it’s the dog that steals the show. My favorite bit in the film consist of it playing it’s favorite game of hide and seek where it keeps retrieving the hat of Lucy’s music teacher, a man Lucy has a mostly platonic relationship with (and was one of the reasons behind the divorce.) hiding from both Jerry and Bellamy made all the more funny when she has to hide Jerry as well.