Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#26 Post by Rayon Vert » Tue Jan 01, 2019 5:53 pm

I acquired that one for the 30s list but I figure it fits here too!

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#27 Post by Feego » Thu Jan 03, 2019 1:54 pm

The Mad Miss Manton (1938, Leigh Jason)
Enjoyable trifle in the Thin Man vein that mixes screwball comedy with murder mystery. Barbara Stanwyck plays the title character, a frivolous socialite who discovers a dead body that later disappears but can't get the police to believe her because of her penchant for practical jokes. When reporter Henry Fonda -- who hates the upper class -- calls out her claims as a hoax in the paper, she and her society friends decide to sue him for millions in damaged reputations and solve the murder themselves. I'll admit that the mystery angle lost me as suspects and red herrings started racking up, but the investigation is amusing. Stanwyck's gaggle of girlfriends are a fun and wacky bunch even if their individual personalities are never defined enough to tell them apart. Fonda's character is all over the place, alternately resenting Stanwyck and going goo-goo eyed for her while declaring that she's going to be his wife. It's hard to keep track of when his romantic advances are genuine or just a ploy to get information from her. There are some visual delights with shadows in dark corridors, and the first meeting between the leads is memorable for a trio of slaps to the face. Hattie McDaniel steals every scene she's in as as the maid who is fed up with all the white folks (so basically her usual role). Nothing spectacular and it certainly has nothing on Stanwyck and Fonda's later teaming in The Lady Eve, but it's a good time passer.

Turnabout (1940, Hal Roach)
After finally getting around to watching this whole thing, I can say there are a lot of problems with it, chief among them that it's not particularly funny. For a body-swap fantasy, this element doesn't even enter the film until more than half an hour into it. Until that point, we are rapidly introduced to upward of 15 characters and several story threads that either get resolved too quickly or are forgotten entirely. The most memorable episode during all this involves a baby bear being thrown about and clearly agitated by Donald Meek that would horrify PETA today. When bickering husband and wife John Hubbard and Carole Landis eventually do swap bodies, they retain their own voices, which makes for some truly strange performances. Hubbard especially stands out for his over-the-top prancing, which is noted by all of his co-workers. Domino mentioned earlier how both he and Landis take their characterizations to feminine/masculine extremes, though honestly this seems par for the course in body-swap comedies (I'm thinking specifically of Barbara Harris and Jamie Lee Curtis in their respective versions of Freaky Friday, playing what feels more like a 40+ year-old woman's idea of an annoying teenager as opposed to the less manic characters established by Jodie Foster/Lindsay Lohan). On the face of it, Hubbard is the most entertaining thing here. He dives headfirst into the oldest sissie stereotypes, but I'm honestly not bothered by it. What sits less well with me is literally everything surrounding the body swap. Nothing in the movie makes a lick of sense, and it frequently seems like a bunch of ideas for Hal Roach shorts were just thrown together into a feature. Characters are weird for the sake of being weird, and they never serve the story or compliment our leads. I will say that the final joke is hilarious and seems like it would have been at home in a pre-coder.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#28 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jan 03, 2019 2:19 pm

The non body swap stuff is pretty broad, especially Adolphe Menjou hiding drinks around the office, but I also thought his KKK joke was the funniest line of the movie

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#29 Post by Feego » Thu Jan 03, 2019 3:00 pm

That KKK line took me by surprise and I even played it again to make sure I heard it correctly!

Edit: I also enjoyed the masseur who is all too eager to crack people's necks, which is probably the best running joke.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#30 Post by domino harvey » Tue Jan 08, 2019 2:36 pm

Image

Watched the back half of the two 4-film Icons of Screwball Comedy sets Sony put out, and there were no hidden treasures remaining. In fact, there aren’t even that many screwball comedies here!

Together Again (Charles Vidor 1944) fares okay in repairing Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer from Love Affair (hence the nonsensical title) in new roles as a Female Mayor and a lusty big city sculptor. The movie’s gags are a bit more risqué than I expected for the era, but like many of these movies, they come wrapped in oppressive sexism. Some scant laughs come courtesy of Mona Freeman as Dunne’s daffy stepdaughter— Freeman broadly plays her hifalutin teen to the hilt, but it works. Charles Coburn is given less to do and disappears for great stretches of the film, but he does end up wearing a woman’s hat, so there’s some value there.

A Night to Remember (Richard Wallace 1942) is pure garbage about Brian Ahern and Loretta Young moving into a “haunted” Greenwich Village basement and solving a murder mystery. Absolute laugh free and not remotely screwball. My Sister Eileen (Alexander Hall 1942) is also set in a Greenwich Village basement (and also not a screwball comedy), but despite the masterpiece status of Quine’s musical remake (and he actually co-stars here in the Bob Fosse role— perhaps he’s why this part is far larger in the remake), the material’s never been particularly funny. While there’s still a good degree of sexual threat and objectification present in this earlier version, this film has no brain to use that to make larger points. Also WTF is up with that
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cameo at the end?

And last and certainly least is She Wouldn’t Say Yes (Alexander Hall 1945), a trainwreck of a movie that is as awful as a comedy, screwball or otherwise, can be. Rosalind Russell is a therapist (like Dunne’s female mayor in Together Again, “woman doctor” is supposed to be funny) specializing in what we now call PTSD. We see her being successful in her duties at the outset of the film via various techniques and I had brief, fleeting hope for this one. That was short lived, as soon a pushy cartoonist about to be sent to Japan as war correspondent falls for Russell. Before long he’s convinced her father that she should be tricked into marrying him, and we get a long series of imbecilic scenes wherein Russell thinks the justice of the peace who is marrying her is a mental patient and he thinks she’s loony too and dear lord in heaven this just goes on and on. Preston Foster’s character in Love Before Breakfast already pushed the “No boundaries pursuer” thing as far as it can go, and did so with such grotesque glee that it somehow worked in part due to its tastelessness. This film takes a softer touch to the cartoonist’s violation and as a result actually feels more offensive. At a basic level, this is a movie that advocates for a form of rape and does so with the willing participation and oppression of all the men in Russell’s life. It’s as gross and unpleasant a movie as I ever hope to sit through, and it certainly belongs in the same set as Too Many Husbands for those who need a quick reference for the worst the genre can offer.

It occurred to me while suffering through She Wouldn’t Say Yes that one of the reasons this genre is so taxing on me is that it frequently requires characters to be idiots and do the stupidest shit imaginable. I think it’s no coincidence that the best screwball comedies allow their wacko characters to be intelligent and scheming rather than dopes.

The set with Theodora Goes Wild and the Doctor Takes a Wife (Volume Two) is worth picking up. The first volume is only worth picking up to throw with great energy against a hard surface.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#31 Post by Shrew » Wed Jan 09, 2019 7:38 pm

Bachelor Mother (Kanin, 1939)—A screwball comedy played at half speed, but that’s not a bad thing. The plot, wherein Ginger Rogers is mistaken as the mother of an abandoned baby and then forced by the orphanage and her employer to raise the child despite her protests, is still plenty ludicrous, but the rapid-fire banter is replaced with Niven’s low-key charm. So you get odd non-sequiturs like Niven bumbling about the gender etiquette of holding a drinking fountain in the park for some random couple. The set-up takes awhile to get through its hoops, but once Niven and Rogers hook up, their chemistry makes for an amusing, if rarely laugh-out-loud, breeze of a film. Also, Elbert Coplen Jr., who must have peaked early in life as one of the best (read: least irritating) babies in film history, and lots of Donald Duck product placement.

Fifth Avenue Girl (La Cava, 1939)—Sort of a distaff My Man Godfrey, where a dysfunctional wealthy family brings in an unemployed outsider who fixes them up. Only Ginger Rogers is no William Powell and the keeps her in a dulled stupor for too much of its running time. Someone could write an interesting gender studies piece on how both Powell and Godfrey are objects the family projects various desires and anxieties onto, only Powell really has agency to plot around and defy the family’s various whims. Rogers on the other hand just sort sits there and takes it. Her best scenes are those few that give her an active role: sussing out what family patriarch Walter Connelly wants from her, or stepping into the kitchen to bring the flirtation of family daughter and chauffeur to a head. The film has a number of fun bits and is generous with its depiction of class, but the central role and/or Rogers feels vacant.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#32 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 11, 2019 11:55 am

Sad to hear you didn't get much out of 5th Avenue Girl. To me the joy of watching and realizing Walter Connelly was the actual lead of the film is still something I fondly remember, and I enjoyed seeing him square off against his family in the first couple acts. It does lose itself in the end, but the wind-up is still so enjoyable and it's a definite contender for my list

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#33 Post by DarkImbecile » Thu Jan 17, 2019 5:25 pm

This isn't a genre I've ever been able to connect with particularly strongly, despite having caught many of the exemplars at one time or another. I tend to like romances more in the melodramatic style, and comedies either more physical or more absurdist than many classic Screwballs end up being, so most of even the best of these end up settling in the great "appreciate, but don't love" middle for me. Still, I'm a glutton for mild disappointment, so I've been revisiting those I own and catching some that are new to me in the hopes that I'll finally fall inexplicably in love with this genre despite repeated rejections, a lingering sense of irritation, no logical reason that we'd be a good match, and my longstanding engagement to a more sensible, down to earth genre that doesn't involve me in its zany adventures.

His Girl Friday, for example, is one I keep expecting to finally fully embrace each time I see it, but as much as I appreciate the high quip rate and verbal dexterity required by the actors, the awkwardness of some of the plotting and the film's overall staginess always keep me feeling at a remove from it. It'll end up on my list unless I see a dozen or so unexpectedly good films in the next month, but the fact that it'll almost certainly finish in the top half despite my ambivalence is telling.

The Mad Miss Manton feels like it wanted to be an actual mystery film but was half-heartedly shoehorned into being a comedy, and only really feels like it belongs in the genre in brief moments like the faked deathbed plea for information; despite a good Stanwyck performance, I ended up sympathizing with the police captain who either wanted to jail everyone involved or use them as bait on the off chance they'd be shot.

For the first three-quarters of The Awful Truth, I was solidly on board with the palpable sexiness and charm of the leads and their chemistry with each other, but this will dragged down my eventual list a few places by losing all momentum once Grant drives Dunne out to her country house. Dialing down the humor from hat chasing dogs and fistfights with voice coaches to ill-fitting pajamas and a door with a weak latch (not to mention some really discordant cuckoo clock effects) keeps this from being a total winner. That said, usually the rest of the cast in screwballs seem to be overly broad sketches or straight men to contrast with the wacky leads, but this film has a few of the better supporting characters I've seen in a screwball comedy: Cecil Cunningham's arch Aunt Patsy, who subverts the matronly chaperone stereotype by being more interested in going out and landing men than Irene Dunne; Ralph Bellamy's classic yokel and his acidic mother-in-law; and Joyce Compton's Dixie Bell Lee, whose club number delightfully embarrasses Grant but toward whom McCarey somehow manages stay just this side of being cruel.

Finally, the film that I had never seen before catching the TCM New Years airing for this list project was Bringing Up Baby, and I'm really glad I set my DVR because it's probably now atop my list for fully embracing the zaniness and upping the situational absurdity with each subsequent scene all the way to the end credits. I never once bought that any halfway sane person would tolerate a fraction of what Grant is subjected to by Hepburn, but Hawks rarely slows down long enough to let you consider why Grant doesn't run screaming in the opposite direction or turn this into an off-kilter Hitchcock film by beating her to death with that dinosaur bone. My wife, who was willing to watch most of these with me, gave up on this one because it was just too much absurd behavior, which, it turns out, is exactly the envelope I like these films to push.

Any recommendations for other screwball films that are as deliriously madcap as Baby, or is that pretty much the pinnacle of that subsection of the genre?

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#34 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jan 17, 2019 5:38 pm

Woman Chases Man and the Feminine Touch both have similar speediness to their plot mechanations without being obnoxious-- I think both are available from the Archives, and both will be on my list

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#35 Post by Feego » Thu Jan 17, 2019 9:20 pm

The Feminine Touch will air on TCM next Saturday the 26th at 9:30 am central time.

Unfortunately, I've not had time to watch much of anything lately so I didn't get around to everything I wanted to see for this project. Here's the last two I watched:

I Met Him in Paris (1937, Wesley Ruggles)
I'm rather surprised this is even considered to be a screwball comedy. It's played more with the seriousness of The Philadelphia Story or Holiday's most dramatic scenes and never goes as broad as you expect of the genre. I have to say the two male protagonists played by Melvyn Douglas and Robert Young are generally unlikeable, and I wondered the whole time why Claudette Colbert's heroine found it necessary to choose between either man as opposed to just leaving their triangle (for a moment during the climax, I thought it would go that direction, but this is a Hollywood move so no). While the film didn't impress me so much with its story or characterization, I found individual moments pleasant, particularly those at the Swiss ski resort -- most of the film takes place in Switzerland, title be damned. There's a genuinely lovely scene of Colbert and Douglas ice skating, shot in a few long takes that lovingly capture them in motion. The yodeling skiers who torment Young provide the biggest laugh. There's not a whole lot to recommend here, so don't go out of your way to see it. And for my money, it's not screwball.

The Awful Truth (1937, Leo McCarey)
Perhaps the quintessential balance of screwball and sophistication, with the utterly elegant Cary Grant and Irene Dunne playing childlike games to win each other back after rashly deciding to divorce. There's so much joy to be had in their shenanigans, like their custody battle over Mr. Smith (the same pooch who played Asta in The Thin Man and George in Bringing Up Baby), Grant's battle with a chair, and Dunne's burlesque performance late in the film. But there's also real pain and regret shared between them. We don't learn much about their marriage during the film (indeed, we don't even learn the "awful truth" about their respective whereabouts that instigate their divorce), but we learn all we need to know from the chemistry between the two leads. They suggest a history of highs and lows that never needs to be explicated in the script. I also love Ralph Bellamy's gravelly-voiced turn as Dunne's bear of a fiance. Also, Dunne has the most adorable laugh ever, and the scene in which Grant tickles her with a pencil is the funniest moment.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#36 Post by Rayon Vert » Thu Jan 17, 2019 9:34 pm

DarkImbecile wrote:
Thu Jan 17, 2019 5:25 pm
His Girl Friday, for example, is one I keep expecting to finally fully embrace each time I see it (...) the film's overall staginess always keep me feeling at a remove from it.
You're not alone here, for the same reason(s), especially the one I highlighted. I ordered the upgrade and so will revisit it, also in the hope that I'll appreciate more what's there. Both this and (even more so) Twentieth Century are two Hawks films fueled on "high quip rate and verbal dexterity", as you put it, that don't do it for me.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#37 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jan 17, 2019 9:37 pm

I would also of course never point out that Woman Chases Man is up on YouTube...

I agree I Met Him in Paris doesn't feel very Screwball-y to me either, but I think I've mentioned before that while I don't like the movie much, it has one of my favorite lines in any film ever
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When Colbert asks Melvyn Douglas if he minds that she doesn't love him back and he replies that he loves books and art and they don't love him back either, so it's fine. Just such one of those moments that left me dumbstruck on first viewing and that has stuck with me ever since
Bellamy should have won the Oscar for the Awful Truth (and he was justly nommed), he gives the quintessential wrong suitor perf. I also think the film falls apart in the last act and it won't make my list either, but it's worth seeing for Bellamy alone

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#38 Post by Cold Bishop » Thu Jan 17, 2019 10:11 pm

I don't know about best, but Awful Truth is perhaps the quintessential screwball, certainly as far as it and the "Comedy of Remarriage" overlap. I don't know that I'll contribute here, but it's in the upper echelons of my 1930s list.

Count me among those that can't cotton to Twentieth Century, try as I might dozens of times. I think I narrowed down why on my last viewing: Lombard and Barrymore simply don't interact enough after the prologue. That love-hate sadistic-courtship is the stuff the genre is made of, and the film spends too much time on other machinations. Contrast that with Friday where the two leads are incessantly bouncing off eachother.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#39 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 18, 2019 1:32 pm

So many of you are getting the iron door closed on you

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#40 Post by DarkImbecile » Mon Jan 21, 2019 6:55 pm

Another TCM DVR alert: this Saturday they’ll be showing The Feminine Touch and Holiday if those are on anyone else’s watchlists.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#41 Post by Shrew » Fri Jan 25, 2019 4:23 pm

Anyone planning to vote for something from the "Frequently Cited as Screwball" list, or are you more sticking to the original list? A couple thoughts on some of those outliers:

Remember Last Night? (Whale, 1935)—Not to be confused with Remember? or Remember the Night or A Night to Remember or any of the other permutations found on the master list. This is James Whale’s still-pushing-the-limits-of-post-code comedy about a bunch of rich swells who get hungover and can’t remember how one of them got murdered (pertinent to the earlier conversation about good movies with Hangover plots). In Whale fashion, the film is fast-paced, antic-filled, and made with more than touch of style, but it’s a screwball only in that it is screwy. No real class or gender topsy-turviness to be found here, other than the usual suspicion of servants and the lower class inherit to the murder mystery.

You also have a problem where the central group (led by socialite couple Constance Cummings and Robert Young) just isn’t very interesting or likable. The Thin Man is an obvious point of reference, but these characters act much more like, well, actual rich people, and are thus pretty obnoxious. It also introduces people quickly and without much fanfare so it’s hard to follow who’s who, almost if it were part of a series of films where we’re expected to know about these folks. I don’t know if the studio was hoping to make a franchise off the leads or even off Edward Arnold’s district attorney, who plays a traditional class-crossing superdetective, but as far as I can tell the source is the only thing its author ever wrote.

But for all its flaws, I’d heartily recommend this one to anyone who enjoys Whale’s earlier films. Specifically, this is to murder mysteries as The Old Dark House is to horror films. Nothing quite makes sense, the connections between characters aren’t clear, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun as it simultaneously mocks and revels in the tropes of the genre. But be warned, there’s a really egregious blackface number early on during the big “night-of” sequence where the party puts on African masks and enacts a faux ceremony as an excuse to drink (as I said, our heroes are obnoxious rich people).

Rings on Her Fingers (Mamoulian, 1943)—Henry Fonda is back in… The Lady Eve II: Adam’s Revenge. Gene Tierney is a bored shopgirl recruited by con artists Spring Byington and Laird Cregar, who use her to entrap rich young men that they then fleece. They sell Fonda a fake sailboat under the presumption he’s a millionaire, only to find he’s a clerk who hoped to use his life’s savings to live on the seas. The crew later runs into him again trying to work another rich mark, secret marriages and cons intertwine, and misunderstandings ensue. Perhaps the central issue is that there’s no real bite to Tierney’s character, who quickly falls for Fonda (less lovable dope and leaning slightly into arrogant jerk mode), and thus most of the comedy and conflict come from Byington and Cregar, who are able but are not Charles Coburn. No, it’s not up to the level of The Lady Eve, and as with most later Mamoulian, the brilliance of his early features isn’t apparent, but this is still perfectly fine, charming work.

No Time for Love (Leisen, 1943)—This might qualify as a “reverse” screwball, where a working-class man disrupts a well-to-do woman’s life. Of course, that dynamic can easily turn icky (all too often the independent woman’s work is dismissed as superficial) but this is probably on the better side of the genre. The central conflict is that Claudette Colbert’s artsy photographer can’t get Fred MacMurray’s hunky tunnel digger, jokingly referred to as “Superman” by Colbert’s society set, out of her mind; she even has an over-the-top dream sequence where MacMurray in cape and tights flies in save her from a Snidely Whiplash villain. She photographs him in a fight while working, which ends up losing him his job, so she hires him as an assistant out of pity/interest. They trade barbs and innuendos, and MacMurray is a huge boor, but at least the film takes Colbert’s job somewhat seriously and never belittles her. The whole premise is on a tightrope from the start, and while there are a few close calls, I don’t think it ever totally falls. I’m not sure if Colbert/MacMurray are ever credible as a couple beyond sex appeal, and the film is never particularly funny, but it’s worth a look as a curio.

Also interesting to note all the scenes of digging the tunnel, which bring a working-class/docurealist grit to a genre that’s usually all sparkles and sheen. And the rather prominent and non-judgmental/stereotyped role for Colbert’s queer-coded pianist friend.

The Egg and I (Erskine, 1947)—You know something’s wrong when the title cards feature sexualized chickens.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#42 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 25, 2019 4:29 pm

Some of my prelim picks are on the tertiary list for sure (the More the Merrier comes immediately to mind)

Also, while logging all my films this past week, I was reminded of a good one from the main list that I hadn't spoken up in favor of and which deserves to be in the mix: Good Girls Go to Paris. Now, I admit I had forgotten it, but immediately I remembered upon seeing the title that it has the funniest sustained "morning breakfast" scene in any screwball comedy, which may sound like an odd distinction but watching a bunch of these makes you realize this kind of scene is actually a common element in almost all screwball comedies

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#43 Post by mizo » Fri Jan 25, 2019 5:17 pm

Anyone else planning on listing Design for Living? The central performances and tone seem typically screwball but two things throw me off: the European setting (and the attendant differences in cultural mores from depression-era America) and the wide scope of the narrative. It seems to me that, excepting one or two big elisions or changes of scenery, most screwballs operate with a considerable unity of space and time. If they're not tied to a specific location (the game room in Holiday, the mansion in My Man Godfrey, the train in Twentieth Century) they've often got some time constraint working on the characters (the impending execution in His Girl Friday, the impending wedding in Bringing Up Baby). Probably both of these are artifacts of the theatrical origins of a lot of these stories, but still they seem to me like central criteria for identifying the genre. Anyone have any thoughts on this? (Make me feel better about voting for one of my favorite films :wink: )

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#44 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Jan 25, 2019 6:16 pm

mizo -- If I were making a list, I'd put it on my list ... ;-)

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#45 Post by Shrew » Fri Jan 25, 2019 6:36 pm

I'll probably vote for it. To me, the big qualifiers are fast pace/repartee, unbalanced gender dynamics, and some sort of class subversion/meeting. I think Design for Living meets all of that. And as for unity of time/place, Lubitsch's Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, which assuredly fits the genre, plays out over several locations and in a fairly relaxed time frame. Call it the Lubitsch exception if you want.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#46 Post by swo17 » Fri Jan 25, 2019 6:58 pm

I'm curious--what are some comedies from this era that would not be considered screwball?

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#47 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jan 25, 2019 7:08 pm

I mean, if you ask me, all of the Thin Man movies and their ripoffs...

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#48 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Jan 25, 2019 7:47 pm

Personally I don't get the screwball vibe from Design for Living - or any Lubitsch film (edit: except Bluebeard). It seems the '34 Twentieth Century and It Happened One Night are usually considered the originators (?). For me a screwball has to contain a madcap/absurdist flavor (at least some of the time), a romantic couple (preferably with marriage-divorce involved, but not always) - it is a subgenre within the romcom genre -, and a fast pace. Yeah, and those gender reversal thingies. Oh, and also that social class stuff. Ideally all or most of those things.
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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#49 Post by Feego » Fri Jan 25, 2019 9:00 pm

I would say, just as one example, that Mae West's films from this era don't qualify as screwballs. You do get certain elements of the genre, such as class conflict and reversed gender dynamics (with West usually as the working-class gal aggressively pursuing a rich man), but in these cases I think her films are too intrinsically built around her own personality more than anything else. There's certainly some witty banter, but it's ultimately just the Mae West show.

An interesting film that I recommend seeing in light of this list (if not exactly for it since it most likely doesn't qualify) is the 1927 film It with Clara Bow. It often feels like a proto-screwball, with Bow as a department store clerk who falls for the store's wealthy manager. They date and then separate over a misunderstanding about her being an unwed mother (there are some echoes of this in the later Bachelor Mother), which leads Bow to crash his swanky soiree posing as a socialite (echoed in The Awful Truth) for revenge. Chaos ensues and you can probably guess how it's all resolved.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#50 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Jan 25, 2019 10:33 pm

If non-Hollywood films count, I'd say Ozu's What Did the Lady Forget comes awfully close to screwball comedy.

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