Monday, September 20, 2010

My Favorite Classic Screwball Comedies

Back in the day when I went on a kick exploring different genres and sub-genres, switching from one to another to find something new to tickle and awaken my soul, I eventually stumbled on the classic Screwball Comedy. I instantly fell in love with these madcap, quick-witted comedies that almost always were populated by a married or would-be couple who almost love to hate each other. These Films started in the 1930's (one would argue 1934's Frank Capra's It Happened One Night to be the first film to really kick off the genre) mostly to counteract the times of the great depression, giving audiences something funny yet never condescending to go to. The dilms were popular, and up stayed as such for about a decade up until the end of the second world war.

 I can't fully articulate why I'm drawn to these Films, but upon reflecting on my favorite titles in the genre, I find a common denominator. These pictures were all superbly written and directed-- Their dialogue and editing was often at a breakneck pace (unlike anything else in Film of the time) and even though the story often revolved around a couple who couldn't stand each other, love often won them over at the end. These Films stimulate both the head and the heart and that is far too rare.

 Here are my 10 favorites, all movie shows I cherish dearly no matter what genre they are in...

Bringing Up Baby (1938) Directed by Howard Hawks

Howard Hawks' film is my favorite. It's also the first Screwball Comedy that I ever saw. The chemistry between Grant & Hepburn is dynamite. The lunacy captured here is like other film in the genre and Hepburn's Susan Vance is a complete original. Bringing Up Baby for me is complete movie heaven.

The Lady Eve (1941) Directed by Preston Sturges

Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve may not be the film he's always identified with (That honor usually goes to Sullivan's Travels) but I count it to be the best thing he's ever done. I'd also count The Lady Eve as one of my biggest inspirations for writing. The dynamics between the characters shine beautifully with Preston's sparkling and razor sharp dialogue.

The Awful Truth (1937) Directed by Leo McCarey

Leo McCarey won the oscar in 1937 for best Director for The Awful Truth (he won again in 1944 for Going My Way) and it was well deserved. McCarey may not be a household name like Hawks, Capra or Sturges but he's right up there with him. The Awful Truth is the perfect screwball comedy with star making performances by Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. Even the dog in the film, named Mr. Smith, gives a wonderful performance. See this movie!

His Girl Friday (1940) Directed By Howard Hawks

The Front Page gets another spin in Howard Hawks' now legendary version, His Girl Friday. This is the best version of the much adapted hit play because of it's writing and pitch perfect performances by the two leads. When I first saw this film I blown away at how lightning paced dialogue can be totally effective and joyous to watch. Nobody does it better than in this one.

It Happened One Night (1934) Directed by Frank Capra

The great It Happened One Night kicked off the genre and still remains one of the most influential movies of all time. Any film about romantic relationships, especially those of opposition, owes a great deal to this film. Capra sets the standard and the film remains hugely enjoyable and fresh to this day.

My Favorite Wife (1940) Directed by Garson Kanin

The re-teaming of Irene Dunne and Cary Grant leads to more screwball comedy gold. The quintessential story of love lost and suddenly regained leads to crazy antics as former spouses Dunne and Grant find themselves back in each other's lives after years apart, but now each involved with someone else. My Favorite Wife never fails to make me smile.

The Philadelphia Story (1940) Directed by George Cukor

The Philadelphia Story has since become a cherished classic, and a well deserved one. The performances by all 3 leads are magnetic and at turns hilarious. Jimmy Stewart won the oscar here, but I really think Cary Grant steals the show (he was the only one not nominated that year) Also, wonderful writing by Donald Ogden Stewart (Holiday, An Affair To Remember)

Mr. And Mrs. Smith (1941) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Suspense maestro Alfred Hitchcock put his bid into the popular Screwball Comedy genre in the early 40's and succeeds brilliantly. Mr. And Mrs. Smith like the best of screwball comedies is equal parts funny and sophisticated, and it's story prime for the genre. A married couple discover their marriage wasn't legally performed in their county so suddenly everything gets thrown into upheaval. Carole Lombard really shines here.

The Palm Beach Story (1942) Directed by Preston Sturges

Preston Sturges' with each film elevated the genre, and The Palm Beach Story is another treasure. Actors Joel McCrea and especially Claudette Colbert are wonderful as a husband and wife who decide to divorce in Palm Beach after financial issues and the ever important screwball comedy element of misunderstanding put a damper on their marriage.

Twentieth Century (1934) Directed by Howard Hawks

Howard Hawks' first screwball comedy effort is also one of the very first films in the genre (it's often cited as the prototype for the screwball comedy film) Great performances and master scribe Ben Hecht's (Notorious, Kiss Of Death, Nothing Sacred) screenplay are the star here in a story about a partnership between a Broadway producer and his protegee. This is the movie that made Carole Lombard a well deserved comedic star.

a still from "The Awful Truth"

I also have much love for:

Arsenic And Old Lace Ball Of Fire Born Yesterday Design For Living Easy Living Holiday I Was A Male War Bride The Major And The Minor Miracle Of Morgan's Creek My Man Godfrey Nothing Sacred Sullivan's Travels That Uncertain Feeling The Thin Man Series Topper Trouble In Paradise Unfaithfully Yours You Can't Take It With You



Rob said...

Love 'em all (probably The Awful Truth most of all). And you just can't go wrong with anything Carole Lombard related

Propagatrix said...

Excellent list, and many of my own favorites are included! One that isn't, though, and is definitely worth seeing if you haven't already: 1947's "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer." Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple, Rudy Vallee, and a Sidney Sheldon screenplay. Quite amazing.

Cinema Du Meep said...

I haven't seen that one, Propagatrix. But now I must! Thanks for the rec!

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