An interesting contrast in styles of comical gags is presented in a short time frame in the Preston Sturges comedy “The Palm Beach Story” from 1942. The club car scene, in which the Ale & Quail Club members shoot up the railroad car, is an example of slapstick at its most wild and boisterous. This scene is almost immediately followed by the sleeping car scene, in which Geraldine (Claudette Colbert) is helped into an upper berth by John D. Hackensacker (Rudy Vallee). As he supports her foot for a boost, it slowly slips down and crushes his glasses -- twice. Here we have a much more subtle form of slapstick. While I find the club car scene hilarious, I think the breaking glasses is even funnier. And none of it would have been possible without the financial backing of the Wienie King (Lay off ‘em, you’ll live longer).The versatility of Sturges, in this period is truely amazing. Visual slapstick and verbal fencing abounds in this and other Sturges classics such as “The Lady Eve” (1941) and “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” (1944).
1948 appears to have been a great year for genre spoofing. As we have already discussed, “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” was a near perfect spoof of the Universal horror series of the 1930’s and early 1940’s. But we had another spoof of the western/civil war genre with Red Skelton’s “A Southern Yankee.” The story is a standard civil war spy tale with Skelton’s comedic character running amok through it (with the off-camera help of Buster Keaton). This structure fits Miller’s definition of a spoof: the movie treats the genre with respect and pokes lighthearted fun at it. The story is meant as a comedy but has scenes that are played straight. Another example of a spoof (not on our viewing list) is Bob Hope’s “The Paleface.” As with “Southern Yankee,” “The Paleface” respectfully presents a standard western story line with a comic character (Painless Peter Potter, the dentist) operating within its bounds. When Hope was not on screen, it can be easily mistaken for a serious western. Bob Hope did several movies that would fit Miller’s definition of a spoof: “My Favorite Blonde” (1942) spoofed spy thrillers: “the Princess and the Pirate” (1944) spoofed pirate movies; “Monsieur Beaucaire” (1946) & “Casanova’s Big Night” (1954) spoofed historical dramas; and “My Favorite Brunette” (1947) spoofed detective/noir movies.