Noag or Yoag?

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Rewatching THE PALM BEACH STORY with Fiona (before leaving for foreign parts), which my memory told me was Fiona’s favourite Preston Sturges film. She wasn’t sure I was right, but by about halfway through was willing to confirm it. She laughed at the bits she always laughed at, and then found new bits to laugh at. Not precisely new, but bits that kind of slip by the first couple of times and stand out more on a repeat viewing. The nonsense dialogue between Mary Astor and Sig Arno (the Princess Centimillia AKA Maude, and Toto, the refugee houseguest from Belugistan), for instance. Mostly Arno is funny physically, striking poses or failing to strike them, as when he leans nonchalantly on a stick which promptly bends into a rainbow shape and nearly drops him to the floor, before he shifts his weight and is nearly bounced off his feet. But the gobbledygook Belugistan deserves its own glossary. Too bad Anthony Burgess isn’t here to write it. For most of his screen time, Toto resists the Princess’s veiled commands to scram, with a simple, dignified declaration of “Nitzk.” The Princess will respond with a determined “Yitzk, Toto.”

But deep in the third act, determined to marry Captain McGlue (“That name!”), the Princess feels stronger measures are required to deal with Toto and proposes buying him a one-way ticket to Havana. This calls for a refusal in stronger terms, it seems: no mere “Nitzk” will do.

“Noag,” says Toto, firmly.

“Yoag, Toto,” says the Princess, equally firmly.

(Took me a looong time to realise that Arno played the inappropriate comedy relief in DIARY OF A LOST GIRL, a film which seems worlds away from Sturges.)

Bonus bit: having laughed herself silly on several previous occasions at the train porter’s “She’s alone but she don’t know it,” Fiona this time had hysterics at the same character’s musings, in the same scene, about how no man who leaves a dime as a tip can possibly have a yacht (pronounced semi-phonetically) — “A canoe, maybe, or a bicycle.”

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The porter’s on the poster! Somebody noticed how good Charles R. Moore was!

And also! A New York cabbie (Frank Faylen! Bim from THE LOST WEEKEND!), after Claudette Colbert asks if he can possibly take her to Penn Station for free: “Sure, hop in, babe.” It’s the micro-pause before he delivers it, since this is an unusual request and he has to give it a moment’s thought, and then the casual way he says it, since after all it’s no big deal, that for some reason makes it (1) totally convincing in real-world terms and (2) hilarious. The film is full of gleeful silliness, like the repeated Deus Ex Weenie King plot contrivance, but that moment is oddly convincing, despite its highly irregular nature — it also neatly illustrates the film’s underlying theme, what Sturges called “the aristocracy of beauty,” explained by Colbert’s character as the principle that a pretty girl can do a whole lot without doing anything.

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11 Responses to “Noag or Yoag?”

  1. F here – I think it’s the Princess who says “Noag.”

  2. From memory, I think the exchange goes something like this:

    Toto: “Havannag? Youg, meg, Havannag?
    The Princess: “Noag, Toto! Youg – Havannag, meg – here.”
    Toto: “Nitz.”
    The Princess: “I was afraid of that.”

    Anyway, a great comedy, and I’ve always had a special fondness for Toto as well.

  3. Thanks for your amendations. I’m sitting here in the Cinematheque (free local colour with every comment).

  4. Randy Cook Says:

    During the pause, the Cabbie’s also giving her “the Look”.

  5. I have read that Sturges always made a point of giving everyone onscreen something to say…. and lucky for his actors it was always something interesting. Not sure if this or THE LADY EVE is my favorite Sturges, The Weenie King is a pretty amazing creation. What is often funny too in his dialog is the characters thinking out loud, often coming to certain realizations in the middle of sentences.

  6. The Lady Eve is one I always liked better in its first half than its second. Feels like if you spend that long on an ocean liner, you should spend the whole film there. But I guess then we’d miss Eugene…

  7. Wait, I’ve got it, he could fly in on an autogyro…

  8. The Palm Beach Storyis my fave too, just for the sheer speed and variety of it. From Franklin Pangborn saying (of an opera singing tenant) “She’s leaving tomorrow,” to the Weenie King ( decrying his best-selling Texas Weenie with a quick “Don’t eat ’em you’ll live longer”), to the immortal Ale and Quail Club (“Bang-Bang!”) to the Princess (“Oh Captain and Thou!”) it’s non-stop Utter Heaven.

    Mary Astor’s Princess has always been my role model. She ‘s a nicer version of me in the West Village in the 70’s. (For the real version see Patrice Chereau’s L’Homme Blesse)

    The Princess was reportedly based on Sturges’ mother Mary Desti — a great friend of Isadora Duncan’s who gave her what turned out to be the fatal scarf. Sturges rather disliked her as she “dragged me through every goddamned museum in Europe.” But the education she provided served him well for his unique combination or erudite aesthete and barroom roughneck was clearly molded by Mom.

  9. It took a long time — and an article somewhere — but finally got how the opening silent sequence sets up the closing gag. I always assumed it was just meant to be a sendup of a generic screwball farce (fisticuffs, escaping girl, shocked housemaid, etc), positioning what follows as a sort of sequel to ALL pretty young couples who wed at the end of a comedy.

  10. Well, it sets up Claudette’s doppelganger, if that’s what you mean… not sure if there’s a second McCrea on the loose there, if he is he’s not clearly delineated from the main one.

    Sturges makes it very clear in his autobio that he was devoted to his mother (and he wrote the song “Home in the Arms of Mother” which is played or quoted in most of his films) but it was a complicated relationship. She was one of Aleister Crowley’s “scarlet women” too, leading to a Dennis the Menace type relationship between the young Sturges and the Great Beast…

  11. F here – OMG. That’s a movie idea! Or at least a short film idea.

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