Posts Tagged ‘screwball’

Screwball comedies were very popular in the 30s – 50s, but there are less of them in more recent times.  However, this film from 1972, is an extremely funny screwball, which pays homage to the earlier films in the genre (and in particular, Bringing Up Baby; Ryan O’Neal’s character in this film was based on Cary Grant’s character in the earlier film).

O’Neal is Howard Bannister, an uptight, straight-laced researcher who goes to San Francisco with his equally uptight fiancee, Eunice Burns (Madeline Kahn).  There they get mixed up with free spirited Judy (Barbra Streisand) and due to Bannister, Judy and two other guests at the hotel all having identical plaid suitcases, various mix-ups ensue.

This is an extremely funny film, which genuinely had me laughing out loud on several occasions.  O’Neal is fine as Bannister (although he cannot hope to play such a part as well as Cary Grant did), and Barbra Streisand is wonderful as Judy, who Bannister finds in equal parts gorgeous and utterly frustrating.  However, Madeline Kahn practically steals every scene she is in as the bossy, demanding and (understandably, to be fair) irritated fiancee.

As with most screwballs, the plot is pretty ludicrous, and in real-life, things would be sorted out pretty quickly – but that is not the point of this film.  This is entertainment pure and simple and doesn’t aim to be any more than that.  Rather wonderful, and the perfect film to watch if you feel in need of a good belly laugh!

Year of release: 1972

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Producers: Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Lewis

Writers: Peter Bogdanovich, Buck Henry, David Newman, Robert Benton

Main cast: Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, Madeline Kahn, Austin Pendleton, Michael Murphy, Mabel Albertson

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This screwball comedy stars Cary Grant (master of the screwball genre) and Irene Dunne, in the first of three films in which they starred together.  They play Jerry and Lucy Warriner, a couple who each suspect the other of being unfaithful, and so decide to get divorced.  However when they both become involved with other people, they each try to interfere with the other’s new relationship.

The film has some similarities to My Favourite Wife (1940) which also starred Grant and Dunne, but I preferred this one of the two movies.  Grant is his usual face pulling, funny self, in a role which he was perfect for.  Dunne however matched him scene for scene – she was wonderful and very endearing as Lucy.  There was also an extremely cute dog called Mr Smith, of whom both Lucy and Jerry want custody, and it was Mr Smith who played a large part in one of the funniest scenes in the film!  In fact, I did laugh out loud on several occasions – look out for the scene where Jerry is on a date with a singer and meets Lucy and her new boyfriend!

It’s a screwball romantic comedy, so the ending is pretty predictable, but the journey there is so much fun.  A must for any fan of either of the stars, or of the screwball genre.

Year of release: 1938

Director: Leo McCarey

Producers: LeoMcCarey, Everett Riskin

Writers: Arthur Richman (based on a play by), Vina Delmar, Sidney Buchman

Main cast: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy, Alexander D’Arcy, Cecil Cunningham, Molly Lamont, Esther Dale

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In this 1938 comedy, James Stewart plays Peter Morgan, a college professor.  While on a trip to New York City, he meets nightclub singer/dancer Francey  Brent (Ginger Rogers), and after a whirlwind romance, they get married.  But when he takes her home to meet his family, he finds it difficult to tell his very conservative parents about his wedding…

What a gem of a film this turned out to be.  Stewart and Rogers were both extremely funny and likeable as the mis-matched but devoted couple, and as one thing after another conspired to keep them apart, the laughs kept coming.  An excellent supporting cast – especially Beulah Bondi as Peter’s mother, and James Ellison as his cousin Keith – who has also fallen for Francey – further enhanced the film.

It is a mixture of screwball comedy and romance, and both aspects balance each other out nicely.  It is a very light-hearted film, and I defy anyone not to laugh during it, and not to have a broad smile on their face at the end of it.

Vivacious Lady is not the most famous film featuring either Stewart or Rogers, but it does deserve to be better known.  The cliche ‘they don’t make ’em like that anymore’ is certainly true here.  Sadly, this film doesn’t seem to come on television very often, so if you do see it in programme listings, don’t miss out on the opportunity to watch this delightful picture.

Year of release: 1938

Director: George Stevens

Producer: George Stevens

Writers: I.A.R. Wylie, P.J. Wolfson, Ernest Pagano, Anne Morrison Chapin

Main cast: James Stewart, Ginger Rogers, James Ellison, Beulah Bondi, Charles Coburn, Frances Mercer


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Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made 10 films together, and this one from 1938 is probably one of the least well known.  There’s less dancing in this one than in some of the others (only four numbers), but the film itself is still highly enjoyable, being something of a screwball comedy.

Astaire plays psychiatrist Tony Flagg.  His friend Stephen (Ralph Bellamy) is worried because Ralph’s finance, radio singer Amanda Cooper (Rogers) keeps calling off their wedding.  He asks Tony to treat Amanda, to overcome her reluctance to marry.  However, some of Tony’s methods have unexpected side-effects – and then Tony starts to fall for Amanda himself.

This is a very enjoyable and very funny film.  Ginger Rogers was best known for her amazing dancing, but she really had a flair for comedy too.  She shines in the role of Amanda Cooper, and also looks beautiful.  Astaire is also fine as Tony, but of course with Astaire the real magic is in watching him dance.  I’ve always been more of a Gene Kelly fan, but there’s no denying that Astaire could dance beautifully.  The golf tap dance – shown in the clip above – was a joy to watch, and when he and Rogers dance together, its just glorious.  Luella Gear is also brilliant as Amanda’s Aunt Cora.

The ending is entirely expected, but still nice to see.  This is just a nice, light-hearted film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a few lovely dance sequences.  Well worth a watch.

Year of release: 1938

Director: Mark Sandrich

Writers: Allan Scott, Ernest Pagano, Dudley Nichols, Hagar Wilde, Marian Ainslee, Guy Endore

Main cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Luella Gear, Ralph Bellamy, Clarence Kolb

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Cary Grant is Nick Arden, a man whose wife was believed to have drowned seven years earlier.  After having her officially declared dead, he marries Bianca Bates (Gail Patrick), but on the very day of their wedding, his former wife Ellen returns home and Nick realises that his wife didn’t die after all.  His old feelings for her are reawakened, but how can he tell Bianca that his wife has come back?  And how will Nick feel when he finds out that Ellen hasn’t been alone for the past years, but actually lived on an island with Steve Burkett (Randolph Scott)…?

This is exactly the type of screwball comedy that Cary Grant excelled at.  His facial expressions, double takes, and the way he mutters away to himself are hilarious.  Irene Dunne is also brilliant as the newly returned Ellen, and it’s not hard to see why she and Grant made three films together in total – their on-screen chemistry is brilliant, and they are both excellent leads.

I should also mention Granville Bates, who played the judge who married Nick and Bianca after declaring Ellen officially dead, and who has to subsequently sort out the entangled mess.  Although he played only a small part, Bates came dangerously close to stealing all of the scenes he was in.

The whole storyline is totally unbelievable and that’s probably the point.  But it gives rise to lots of giggles and laughter, and this is a thoroughly enjoyable film, with Cary Grant’s magic sprinkled all over it.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1940

Director: Garson Kanin

Writers: Bella Spewack, Sam Spewack, Leo McCarey, Garson Kanin, John McClain

Main cast: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott, Gail Patrick

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This little gem of a movie was made in 1934, and is often considered to be the first screwball comedy.  It’s also ranked at number 3 of the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest romantic comedies.  However, neither of the two stars, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, wanted to do the film, and several stars turned down the female lead.  (Colbert only agreed to do it on the basis that her salary was doubled and that it would only entail four weeks work.)  However, it was the first movie to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay – although Colbert was apparently so convinced that Bette Davis would win best actress for Of Human Bondage, that she (Colbert) did not even attend the Oscars ceremony.  When it was announced that she had won, she had to be tracked down at a train station and brought to the ceremony to accept the award.  She gave her acceptance speech in her traveling clothes!

But onto the movie itself…Colbert plays Ellie Andrews, a wealthy heiress whose father disapproves of her recent marriage.  In a bid to escape her father’s clutches, Ellie runs away from Miami to get to New York and her new husband.  Along the way she meets newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Gable) who helps her get to New York on condition that she gives him an exclusive piece for the paper he works for.  Initially antagonistic towards each other, they soon develop a friendship and then their feelings start to turn to something more…

This really is a lovely movie, which transcends the passage of time.  Of course it looks dated now, but that only adds to its charm.  Gable is roguish, cavalier and very dashing, whereas Colbert plays the part of the pampered heiress with a vulnerable side extremely well.  There are many hilarious moments in the film – the hitchhiking scene in particular is especially funny.

(N.B.: If the plotline sounds similar to that of Roman Holiday, which came two decades later, there are a few similarities, but the comparisons which have been drawn between the two movies are largely unwarranted.  Whereas Roman Holiday focuses more on the romance aspect, It Happened One Night is more comedy focussed.  I would highly recommend both movies.)

Year of release: 1943

Director: Frank Capra

Writers: Robert Riskin, Samuel Hopkins Adams

Main cast: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly

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