Screwball comedy film

Screwball comedy film

The screwball comedy is a subgenre of the comedy film genre. It has proven to be one of the most popular and enduring film genres. It first gained prominence in 1934 with "It Happened One Night", and, although many film scholars would agree that its classic period ended sometime in the early 1940s, elements of the genre have persisted, or have been paid homage to, in contemporary film.

While there is no authoritative list of the defining characteristics of the screwball comedy genre, films considered to be definitive of the genre usually feature farcical situations, a combination of slapstick with fast-paced repartee, and a plot involving courtship and marriage or remarriage. The film critic Andrew Sarris has defined the screwball comedy as "a sex comedy without the sex." [ [ Citation] - Sarris, Andrew. You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: The American Talking Film, History & Memory, 1927-1949, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.]

The screwball comedy has close links with the theatrical genre of farce, and some comic plays are also described as screwball comedies. Many elements of the screwball genre can be traced back to such stage plays as Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing", "As You Like It" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest". Other genres with which screwball comedy is associated include slapstick, situation comedy, and romantic comedy.


Like farce, screwball comedies often involve mistaken identities or other circumstances in which a character or characters try to keep some important fact a secret. Sometimes screwball comedies feature male characters cross-dressing, further contributing to the misunderstandings ("Bringing Up Baby", "I Was a Male War Bride", "Some Like It Hot"). They also involve a central romantic story, usually in which the couple seem mismatched and even hostile to each other at first, and "meet cute" in some way. Often this mismatch comes about because the man is much further down the economic scale than the woman ("Bringing Up Baby", "Holiday"). The final marriage is often planned by the woman from the beginning, while the man doesn’t know at all. In "Bringing Up Baby" we find a rare statement on that, when the leading woman says, once speaking to someone else than to her future husband: "He’s the man I’m going to marry, he doesn’t know it, but I am"

Class issues are a strong component of screwball comedies: the upper class tend to be shown as idle and pampered, and have difficulty getting around in the real world. The most famous example is "It Happened One Night"; some critics believe that this portrayal of the upper class was brought about by the Great Depression, and the poor moviegoing public's desire to see the rich upper class brought down a peg. By contrast, when lower-class people attempt to pass themselves off as upper-class, they are able to do so with relative ease ("The Lady Eve", "My Man Godfrey").

Another common element is fast-talking, witty repartee ("You Can't Take it With You", "His Girl Friday"). This stylistic device did not originate in the screwballs (although it may be argued to have reached its zenith there): it can also be found in many of the old Hollywood cycles including the gangster film, romantic comedies, and others.

Screwball comedies also tend to contain ridiculous, farcical situations, such as in "Bringing Up Baby", in which a couple must take care of a pet leopard during much of the film. Slapstick elements are also frequently present (such as the numerous pratfalls Henry Fonda takes in "The Lady Eve").

One subgenre of screwball is known as the comedy of remarriage, in which characters divorce and then remarry one another ("The Awful Truth", "The Philadelphia Story"). Some scholars point to this frequent device as evidence of the shift in the American moral code as it showed freer attitudes about divorce (though the divorce always turns out to have been a mistake).

The philosopher Stanley Cavell has noted that many classic screwball comedies turn on an interlude in the state of Connecticut ("Bringing Up Baby", "The Lady Eve", "The Awful Truth"). [ [Cavell, Stanley. Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.]

Thirty notable examples of the genre from its classic period

* "It Happened One Night" (1934), d. Frank Capra
* "Twentieth Century" (1934), d. Howard Hawks
* "Hands Across the Table" (1935), d. Mitchell Leisen
* "She Married Her Boss" (1935), d. Gregory La Cava
* "Libeled Lady" (1936), d. Jack Conway
* "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936), d. Frank Capra
* "My Man Godfrey" (1936), d. Gregory LaCava
* "The Awful Truth" (1937), d. Leo McCarey
* "Easy Living" (1937), d. Mitchell Leisen
* "Nothing Sacred" (1937), d. William A. Wellman
* "Tovarich" (1937), d. Anatole Litvak
* "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" (1938), d. Ernst Lubitsch
* "Bringing Up Baby" (1938), d. Howard Hawks
* "Holiday" (1938), d. George Cukor
* "You Can't Take It with You" (1938), d. Frank Capra
* "Vivacious Lady" (1938), d. George Stevens
* "Bachelor Mother" (1939), d. Garson Kanin
* "It's a Wonderful World" (1939), d. W. S. Van Dyke
* "Midnight" (1939), d. Mitchell Leisen
* "His Girl Friday" (1940), d. Howard Hawks
* "My Favorite Wife" (1940), d. Garson Kanin
* "The Philadelphia Story" (1940), d. George Cukor
* "That Uncertain Feeling" (1941), d. Ernst Lubitsch
* "Ball of Fire" (1941), d. Howard Hawks
* "The Lady Eve" (1941), d. Preston Sturges
* "Rings on Her Fingers" (1942), d. Rouben Mamoulian"
* "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (1941), d. Alfred Hitchcock
* "The Palm Beach Story" (1942), d. Preston Sturges
* "To Be or Not to Be" (1942), d. Ernst Lubitsch
* "Arsenic and Old Lace" (1944), d. Frank Capra

Other films from this period in other genres incorporate elements of the screwball comedy. For example, Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 thriller "The 39 Steps" features the gimmick of a young couple who find themselves handcuffed together and who eventually, almost in spite of themselves, fall in love with one another, and Woody Van Dyke's 1934 detective comedy "The Thin Man" portrays a witty, urbane couple who trade barbs as they solve mysteries together. Many of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals of the 1930s also feature screwball comedy plots, notably "The Gay Divorcee" (1934) and "Top Hat" (1935).

Actors and actresses frequently featured in or associated with screwball comedy include:
* Jean Arthur
* Claudette Colbert
* Gary Cooper
* Melvyn Douglas
* Irene Dunne
* Clark Gable
* Cary Grant
* Jean Harlow
* Katharine Hepburn
* Carole Lombard
* Myrna Loy
* William Powell
* Barbara Stanwyck
* James Stewart
* Gene TierneySome notable directors of screwball comedies include:
* Frank Capra
* George Cukor
* Howard Hawks
* Garson Kanin
* Gregory La Cava
* Mitchell Leisen
* Preston Sturges
* Billy Wilder
* Ernst Lubitsch
* W. S. Van Dyke

Latter-day screwball comedies

Various later films are considered by some critics to have revived elements of the classic era screwball comedies. A partial list might include such films as:
* "The Mating Season" (1951), d. Mitchell Leisen
* "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953), d. Jean Negulesco
* "The Seven Year Itch" (1955), d. Billy Wilder
* "Bell, Book and Candle" (1958), d. Richard Quine
* "Pillow Talk" (1959), d. Michael Gordon
* "Some Like It Hot" (1959), d. Billy Wilder
* "The Grass Is Greener" (1960), d. Stanley Donen
* "One, Two, Three" (1961), d. Billy Wilder
* "Man's Favorite Sport?" (1964), d. Howard Hawks
* "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1966) d. Richard Lester
* "What's Up, Doc?" (1972), d. Peter Bogdanovich
* "Mr. Mom" (1983), d. Stan Dragoti
* "To Be or Not to Be" (1983), d. Alan Johnson (remake of 1942 movie of the same title)
* "Spaceballs" (1987), d. Mel Brooks
* "A Fish Called Wanda" (1988), d. Charles Crichton
* "The Hudsucker Proxy" (1994), d. Joel and Ethan Coen
* "Forces of Nature" (1999), d. Bronwen Hughes
* "State and Main" (2000), d. David Mamet
* "Down with Love" (2003), d. Peyton Reed
* "Intolerable Cruelty" (2003), d. Joel and Ethan Coen
* "I ♥ Huckabees" (2004), d. David O. Russell
* "Burn After Reading" (2008), d. Joel and Ethan Coen

Elements of classic screwball comedy often found in more recent films which might otherwise simply be classified as romantic comedies include the "battle of the sexes" ("Down with Love", "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days"), witty repartee ("Down with Love"), and the contrast between the wealthy and the middle class ("You've Got Mail", "Two Weeks Notice"). Modern updates on screwball comedy may also sometimes be categorized as black comedy ("Intolerable Cruelty", which also features a twist on the classic screwball element of divorce and re-marriage).

crewball comedy elements in other genres

Elements of screwball have also appeared in other genres altogether: the characters of Han Solo and Princess Leia in the film "" have been described as "a classic screwball comedy pair". [ [ "Star Wars"] , Brian Libby, "", May 28, 2002]

The television series "Moonlighting" (1985–1989), "NewsRadio" (1995–1999), "Gilmore Girls" (2000–2007), and "Standoff" (2006–2007) have also adapted elements of the screwball comedy genre for the small screen.

The Tintin book, "The Castafiore Emerald", contains settings, plots, comic devices and character types that share many similarities to screwball comedies.

ee also

*Comedy of errors - similar genre


External links

* [ Senses of cinema: Mitchell Leisen]
* [ Screwball at Green Cine]
* [ La Screwball Comedy"']

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