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.”
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.