In one of his memoirs, Rudy Vallee compared his casting as John D. Hackensacker III in the Palm Beach Story to the hypothetical (and unorthodox) casting of Marlon Brando in a Charlie Chaplin re-make, baggy pants and derby cap included.
The seemingly strange casting of Vallee aside, here are four (random) thoughts about the movie:
- Despite the film censors' apparent attempts to scrub similarities between the fictional John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee) and the real John D. Rockefeller III from the movie, the former is clearly based on the latter. Besides the similar names, there are the numerous references to vast inherited wealth, a New York heritage, and the reference to his grandfather being considered a "burglar" (read: Robber Baron). It should be noted, however, that Hackensacker's philandering sister is evidently based on one of Preston Sturges's ex-wives, not Rockefeller's sister, Abby.
- The film's portrayal of blacks is often cringe-inducing. Blacks only played the roles of stuttering and stammering porters who--when they weren't butchering the English language (one porter mispronunced yacht twice, muttering "yatch-it" each time)--were on the receiving end of the white characters' meanness [besides the one porter who almost became target practice in the Ale and Quail Club's drunken shooting fit, another was on the receiving end of an unneccessary and uncharacteristically cold scolding from Geraldine Jeffers (Claudette Colbert)].
- The movie is well-written. Despite a flimsy plot and an unsatisfactory ending, the movie's dialogue is witty and smart. Which is good, considering it has been deemed the seventy-seventh funniest movie by the American Film Institute.
And finally, Rudy Vallee could afford to laugh about the unorthodox casting as John D. Hackensacker III: The role won him the National Review Board 's Best Actor of 1942 award.
- John C.L. Morgan
(Disclosure: I was involved in the planning and showing of the movie.)