The Palm Beach Story (1942), Preston Sturges’ rom-com about love & money, features many screwball moments. But few would deny that the screwiest are with the trigger-happy Ale & Quail Club. I have heard many arguments over the years claiming we need tighter governance over gun ownership. But none have been more compelling than simply watching this hunting club in action.
Near the start of the film, Gerry (Claudette Colbert) is leaving her husband, Tom (Joel McCrea). Believing her extravagance is holding him back, she seeks a rich lover to–wait for it–help his business. She dodges Tom at the train station, and convinces a group of millionaires (the Ale & Quail Club) to buy her a ticket to Palm Beach. What she doesn’t know is just what kind of group she’s joined.
They dance with her; they sing to her, their intoxication becoming more evident by the moment. They serenade her with “Sweet Adeline,” to her evident annoyance:
But not just hers. Two of the hunting club’s members haven’t joined the singing–one (William Demarest) because he detests such unmanly behavior, the other (Jack Norton) because his drunkenness has reached the pass-out point.
“Well, what did you think I was using,” Gordon answers, “bird seed?”
At this point, we might expect Demarest to cry foul. Instead, he loads his own weapon, and chaos ensues as they shoot up the car, with George ducking for safety. The singers in the other room, instead of trying to stop their friends, rush to join the party, calling, “Crap shooting.”
After they’ve completely busted up the car, one member realizes that Gerry, who was almost taken out when she checked to see what was happening, has disappeared.
If you haven’t seen it, this ridiculous scenario is, as you can imagine, hilarious. You’ll quickly remember all those Dick Cheney hunting jokes, perhaps the funny Parks and Recreation hunting trip.
But it’s also a terrifying scenario if you shift the light a little: a posse of men chasing after a woman, one black man hiding from the white men threatening him, loaded guns everywhere, a train full of potential victims, and not one person among the group sober. You will laugh–as I did–to see these goofy men, and their strange notion of partying. But you may also find yourself thinking, “You know, some of these guys would have failed a good background check….”