Movies watched: The Palm Beach Story, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Safeguarding Military Information
Where watched: home
Elapsed time: 88 minutes, 122 minutes, 9 minutes
Total cumulative time: 12 hours, 56 minutes
If you watch a lot of movies, then you have felt the influence of Preston Sturges, even if you’ve never seen one of his movies. Many directors and writers over the last 75 years mention him as a major influence. Are you a fan of the Coen brothers? Preston Sturges’ fingerprints can be seen on several of their films, especially Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, and Hail, Caesar! The Coen brothers “borrowed” the title O Brother, Where Art Thou? from the Sturges film Sullivan’s Travels. Sturges was the first Hollywood writer to transition to director; he paved the way for John Huston and Billy Wilder. His films have elements of screwball comedy, but often mix tone, and don’t necessarily have a conventional plot structure. Preston Sturges seems self-indulgent; he wrote and directed what amused him.
The Palm Beach Story is about a woman (played by Claudette Colbert) who leaves her husband (Joel McCrea)that can’t provide for her, because he can’t find investors for his crazy inventions. She meets a millionaire (played by Rudy Vallee) named John D. Hackensacker (clearly based on Rockefeller) and seduces him. At the same time, Hackensacker’s sister (played by Mary Astor) falls for Joel McCrea’s character. The set-up sounds like it could be a Shakespeare comedy. There are sections of this film that are laugh-out-loud hilarious, even by today’s standards, particularly when the members of an “Ale and Quail” hunting club shoot up a moving train that they are traveling in. If you watch enough Sturges movies you will start to see the same faces over and over; he had a stock company of actors that he used repeatedly.
I’ve never found Claudette Colbert particularly attractive, but she certainly is charming in this movie. By this time she had already won an Oscar in Capra’s It Happened One Night. The more I see of Joel McCrea, the more I like.him. The entire cast is exceptional really, making the most of Sturges’ screenplay. The beginning and ending of this movie are a bit bizarre, something that could only come from Preston Sturges (or the Coen brothers), but it works. While this is not my personal favorite of his movies, I would recommend it highly to anyone who likes classic Hollywood comedies, or the offbeat comedies of the Coens.
Sidenote: This movie was released by Paramount in 1942. I already wrote about a movie I watched called I Married A Witch, which was also made at Paramount in ’42. But Paramount had an excess of films that year, so they sold the Witch movie to United Artists, who were in need of titles to distribute. Can you imagine a studio today having a glut of movies in the can, and selling off titles? It would never happen.
Safeguarding Military Information is a short film that was originally made for the military, but was shown in theaters during World War II, so I will include it in my movie watching time. It was written by Preston Sturges, and features Sturges regular Eddie Bracken in one scene.
There was another director named Sturges. I’m talking about John Surges of course (no relation to Preston). John Surges was a manly man; most of his films focused on men in situations where their resolve is tested. The women in John Sturges movies are usually window dressing, there just to comfort the men.
So just a few quick observations about this film:
Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were both big stars by this point, and they both provide effortless and powerful performances. Lancaster may be the best Wyatt Earp to ever grace the screen. As far as Doc Holliday goes, I would put Kirk Douglas somewhere in between Val Kilmer and Victor Mature.
This movie was shot in VistaVistion, Paramount’s widescreen process. VistaVistion movies look amazing on HD televisions, especially in blu-ray. The colors and depth of focus are breathtaking.
DeForest Kelley (who will forever be remembered as “Bones” McCoy on Star Trek) plays Morgan Earp. That’s him in that famous shot at the end, walking with Lancaster and Douglas to the O.K. Corral. That’s Bones! DeForest was under contract to Paramount at the time.
Three of the people in this 60-year-old movie are still with us: Kirk Douglas, the awesome character actor Earl Holliman, and the beautiful Rhonda Fleming.
There are a ton of other great character actors in this, including: Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, Whit Bissell, and John Ireland. Also look for a young Dennis Hopper.
Charles Lang Jr.’s cinematography is breathtaking, and Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is one of the classic western scores of all time.