Preston Sturgesí The Palm Beach Story has received a new 4K restoration that serves as the base for Criterionís new Blu-ray edition. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer presents the film in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc.
Iím not entirely sure if Criterion or Universal is behind this new transfer but either way what we get is absolutely wonderful. Other than a couple of places where I feel the source limits things the digital transfer is crisp with superb definition making fine patterns clearly visible and delivering excellent textures. The image is free of noise and distortion, with natural looking film grainóthat is very fineóand cleanly rendered edges. Contrast looks nicely balanced, providing fairly deep blacks and distinctively rendered gray levels.
Most impressive, though, is just how clean the source is. Despite a few very minor issues (there are some fine tram lines in places, a few bits of debris, minor scratches, and a few moments that look out-of-focus) there is next to nothing in terms of damage. Itís clean. This, together with the superb transfer, aids in delivering one of the more outstanding digital presentations Iíve seen recently. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
With Criterionís fairly loaded special editions for other Sturges titles (The Lady Eve, Sullivanís Travels, and to a lesser extent, Unfaithfully Yours) itís not that of a big a surprise to see that the features for The Palm Beach Story are sparse, though itís no less a letdown. James Harveyís 17-minute interview simply feels like a summarization of the excellent Sturges documentary The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer, found on Criterionís Sullivanís Travels, where Harvey simply gives a general overview of Sturgesí career. He does talk a little about the directorís style and writing, covers what he most admires about his work while addressing some criticisms against him, and even looks a little at the film and some of its more baffling moments (the opening and ending for starters) but itís not a terribly in-depth interview.
A bit better for me (though I have a feeling it may irritate others) was probably Bill Haderís 10-minute contribution. An obvious fan of Sturgesí work, Hader focuses mostly on Sturgesí writing, admiring how much effort he puts into his secondary characters, the effortless flow of his dialogueóeven reading a few lines from the script for The Palm Beach Story to give an exampleóand then talks about modern writers and filmmakers who have obviously been inspired by the man. He tries to imagine how Sturges probably acted out the roles while writing the characters, something he noticed the stronger writers on SNL do, and explains how that helped in developing characters and situations. I sense some may find the feature a bit tactless, though I think Hader is just excited to be talking about Sturges and deconstructing his writing style, which made the feature a fun one from my perspective.
The remaining disc features come from the archives, starting with a radio adaptation from 1943, put on by the Screen Guild Theater. Starring Claudia Colbert and Rudy Vallee reprising their roles, and Randolph Scott filling in for McCrea, the 29-minute adaptation heavily compresses the filmís story, managing to pack the first hour of the film into 10-minutes of the radio adaptation, quickly jumping from Colbertís meeting with the Wiener King (who now sounds like Elmer Fudd) to her on the train, where she immediately meetsí Valleeís character (it completely bypasses the gun club). From there it then follows the last act of the film, though again rushes through it. Itís more interesting just as a product of radio theater, though itís not a terribly good adaptation, rushing through everything and changing a lot of key points (it even drops the ďtwistĒ ending).
Criterion also includes Safeguarding Military Information, an 11-minute wartime ďeducationalĒ film written by Sturges, which was also recently included on Arrow Videoís Blu-ray edition of Sturgesí Sullivanís Travels. It basically points out the dangers of military personnel or civilians inadvertently giving away secret information as presented in a couple of scenarios: 1.) a sailor explaining to his girlfriend over the phone that he canít make a date because his ship is scheduled to depart as a man with a not-so-inconspicuous radio hangs out nearby or 2.) a mother reading a letter from her son deployed overseas to the local meat shop clerk while everyone listens in. It also helpfully tells you what to do when some random person comes up to you in a bowling alley and asks you out of the blue about that secret anti-aircraft gun youíre working on. Though the message is fine (ďlose lips sink shipsĒ) itís still a somewhat unintentionally funny propaganda film, just a teeny bit over the top. Still, itís a nice inclusion.
The release then presents a standard fold out (not one of the large ones that has been appearing in most Criterion releases as of late) featuring an essay by Stephanie Zacharek, which offers a decent examination of the film, with a section on odd opening and ending.
Overall itís disappointing, with very little in the way of a critical slant, but I enjoyed Haderís portion and the included propaganda short. 5/10