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

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

#1 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 16, 2018 7:45 pm

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THE SCREWBALL COMEDIES OF THE 30s & 40s LIST
DECEMBER 16 2018 - FEBRUARY 17 2019


All lists should be submitted to me, domino harvey,
via PM no later than February 17th


ELIGIBILITY

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There are varying explanations for what constitutes a “Screwball Comedy.” Here’s my summary of Byrge and Miller’s definition from the earlier Screwball Comedies thread:
domino harvey wrote:
Wed Jan 07, 2015 2:22 am
Roger Ryan wrote:As concerning this thread, I have to assume we are following the definition provided by Duane Byrge and Robert Milton Miller in their book "The Screwball Comedy Films: A History and Filmography, 1934-1942" (as Dom notes in the OP)
The book offers a four page definition in single space and small type, so I'll summarize as best I can (according to Byrge and Miller):

Common Features of American Screwball Comedies

+ Tied strongly with the New Deal era in which the core films were released and initially consumed
+ Combine "slapstick with sophistication"
+ Central narrative is one of a love story
+ Center on an aggressive female lead, frequently in pursuit of a pliable male lead
+ Much of humor is derived from embarrassment
+ Snowballing improbable events and narrative complications to which the final coupling is seen as the only logical way to find respite from the chaos
+ "Rules, customs, family obligations, [and] romantic rivals" stand in way of eccentric lovers' coupling
+ Subversion of "historic and contemporary class conflicts"
+ Happy ending of coupling of different classes transmits "unifying illusion" to audiences in time of social division
+ Overall attitude that life should be like a child's playtime, with characters driven by "defiant determination" to have fun / a good time regardless of societal or monetary cost
+ Individual self-assertion prized
And here’s zedz’ simpler and more inclusive definition:
zedz wrote:
Tue Jan 06, 2015 4:32 pm
Traditionally, and loosely, screwball comedy is considered a special evolution of romantic comedy in which the comic quirks of the supporting cast have been transposed to the romantic leads. If you look at the early Marx Brothers films, you can see that the lunatics have already taken over the asylum, but there's still the phantom limb of the 'straight' romantic leads (that nobody could care less about) existing in the margins of the film. Screwball allowed the leads to be their own comic relief, acting as zany, crazy or stylized as various esteemed character actors had previously. Lots of other characteristics of the genre emerged over time, but that, for me, is the distinctive core idea.
Perhaps, most broadly of all, Screwball Comedies feature mismatched couples from different walks of life interacting and forming a romantic entanglement despite or perhaps because of all the screwy antics they get into along the way. There are no universally agreed upon perimeters of start and stop end dates, though most critics agree the genre’s heyday was from the mid-30s through the early 40s. For the purposes of this list, any screwball comedies released in the 30s and 40s are eligible. Only American films are eligible.

For an exhaustive (though not necessarily complete) list of eligible titles, please consult Screwball Comedies: A Guide and Discussion


POST-40s SECONDARY LIST
You may also submit a secondary list featuring fictional works from 1950 onward that carry on the screwball spirit. These might include obvious referential homages, like What’s Up Doc?, or the sex comedies of the late 50s and early 60s (the Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies, Tall Story, &c), or other comedies that somehow seem indebted to the original lineup. Non-American films can be included on this list only. I am open to allowing TV series to be eligible for this— feel free to discuss in-thread and a final decision will be made and this post updated.

IN SUMMATION
Your primary list of American Screwball Comedies from the 30s and 40s should contain a minimum ten films in ranked order on list, and a maximum of twenty films. You may submit a list with any number between 10-20.

Your secondary list of Screwball Comedies from 1950 onward should contain a minimum five works in ranked order on list, and a maximum of ten works. You may submit a list with any number between 5-10.

Not participating?

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EXISTING FORUM DISCUSSIONS
103 The Lady Eve
114 My Man Godfrey
118 Sullivan's Travels
670 To Be or Not to Be
676 I Married a Witch
736 It Happened One Night
742 The Palm Beach Story
1930s List Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 3)
1940s List Discussion and Suggestions
Addictive "NIghtlights"
Alfred Hitchcock
the Alternative American Film List
The Alternate Oscars: Best Picture (1927-1968)
Arrow: Sullivan's Travels
Astaire & Rogers Collection
The Best Books About Film
Billy Wilder
Books on Screwball Comedies
Carole Lombard
Classic Holiday Collections
Columbia Classics
Defend Your Darlings, You Sad Pandas! (List Projects Vol. 3.0)
Films For Cancer Survivors
George Cukor
George Stevens
Howard Hawks
James Whale
Leatherheads (George Clooney, 2008)
Loy & Powell Collection
Mitchell Leisen
The Musicals List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)
Nothing Sacred (Wellman, 1937) - who owns it?
Otto Preminger
The Philadelphia Story
Preston Sturges
Rosenbaum's The Unquiet American: 50 Transgressive Comedies
She's Funny That Way (Peter Bogdanovich, 2015)
Sissies, Pansies, Fairies, and Other Exotic Fruits
TCM Vault Collection
The Thin Man Collection
Universal Backlot Series / Universal Studio Selections
Warner Brothers Archive Collection
Warner Classic Comedies Collection

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

#2 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 16, 2018 7:56 pm

Discussion open!

I know links need to be updated, I copied this from the previous thread and just added the Carole Lombard thread. If anyone wants to lend a hand before I get to it, feel free to PM me links

I'm also bringing up the spectre of including television series since the idea here is to acknowledge works indebted to this tradition in the secondary list, which gives us a little leeway. But I'm not sure. So, I throw it open for discussion (and lack of discussion on this point will indicate no one cares and I'll probably just say fine to TV series being eligible)

I will also say, fair warning: in my experience this is a hard genre to marathon, because some of these plots are just too much to handle one after another. So, perhaps planning a more spread-out approach may prevent burnout. Or not, who knows!

I finished the entire Byrge and Miller list a little while ago and am looking to start exploring the hundreds of tertiary titles they didn't include (which I've compiled in the thread linked in the first post) though I know better by now than to expect I'll get through my entire backlog!

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

#3 Post by swo17 » Sun Dec 16, 2018 9:01 pm

I think the first time I ever heard the term "screwball" was in reference to NewsRadio so...

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

#4 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 16, 2018 10:10 pm

Just saw the deadline rubbed up on the 30s List deadline, so I gave this one an extra week. So, in February, when someone asks for extension, good news: you've already received one!

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

#5 Post by TMDaines » Mon Dec 17, 2018 5:35 am

This IMDB list of Screwball Comedy: 1931-1956 Definitive List of Early Films might be useful. Revealing that I have only seen 15 of these!

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

#6 Post by domino harvey » Mon Dec 17, 2018 12:10 pm

As uneven as this genre is, it would not be hard to complete one's entire ballot from only the 57 films Byrge and Miller single-out in their genre study (and reproduced in the first post in this thread. This isn't my Top 10 overall, but I did pull ten favorites (in a mix of established classics and lesser-seen gems) from their list (presented in alphabetical order), for those who are looking for recommended starting points:

Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks 1938)
the Devil and Miss Jones (Sam Wood 1941)
the Doctor Takes a Wife (Alexander Hall 1940)
the Feminine Touch (WS Van Dyke 1941)
Fifth Avenue Girl (Gregory La Cava 1939)
Holiday (George Cukor 1938)
Libeled Lady (Jack Conway 1936)
Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey 1935)
Twentieth Century (Howard Hawks 1934)
Woman Chases Man (John G Blystone 1937)


Weirdest film from their list: Turnabout (Hal Roach 1940) -- there's a reason no other body-swap movie has ever done what this movie did, but someone has to make these kind of mistakes first!

Worst film from their list: A tie between Topper Takes a Trip (Norman Z McLeod 1938) , still the worst sequel I've ever suffered through, and Too Many Husbands (Wesley Ruggles 1940), which is blessed with the single stupidest plot of any film I've ever seen

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

#7 Post by Feego » Mon Dec 17, 2018 12:40 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Mon Dec 17, 2018 12:10 pm
Weirdest film from their list: Turnabout (Hal Roach 1940) -- there's a reason no other body-swap movie has ever done what this movie did, but someone has to make these kind of mistakes first!
I've never seen all of Turnabout, but certainly the weirdest aspect is that after the husband and wife swap bodies, they retain their own voices. There actually have been other body-swap movies in which the gender is swapped (if that's what you're referring to), notably Goodbye Charlie with Debbie Reynolds, Switch with Ellen Barkin, and The Hot Chick with Rob Schneider and Rachel McAdams. But the point still stands that perhaps there has never been a good one.

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

#8 Post by domino harvey » Mon Dec 17, 2018 12:41 pm

Well, if we're going to just say it, yes, I was referring to the film retaining the character's voices (and not as internal monologues, but as the voice others hear as well). Way too distracting, and I think symptomatic of the filmmakers not trusting the audience to keep track of who is who. Goodbye Charlie is a not bad film and I hadn't thought about in contention for the secondary list, but it fits. Too many better 60s sex comedies for it to make my list, though! And it's not really a screwball comedy (or is it?), but I have fond memories of Vice Versa, which based on my track record with revisiting childhood faves, I may keep a pleasant memory for the time being

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

#9 Post by domino harvey » Mon Dec 17, 2018 1:02 pm

Also, along those lines, lemme give a shout out to two films battling it out for the top spot in my secondary list: Bedtime Story (Ralph Levy 1964) and Tall Story (Joshua Logan 1960). Hopefully someone releases the former since its getting remade again with Anne Hathaway next year, and the latter is out via Warner Archives. Both are among the funniest, freshest, and liveliest comedies ever made, and beautifully inhibit the screwball comedy spirit while tweaking it for the times

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

#10 Post by Feego » Mon Dec 17, 2018 1:02 pm

Full disclosure, I've never seen any of the films I just named above. General consensus wasn't favorable for any of them, hence my remark about there not being a good gender-swap film. The parts I did see of Turnabout were bizarre, particularly for John Hubbard's role (I was going to say husband character but I guess that's not really accurate). Seeing him scuttle about in the most prissy way with Carole Landis's voice coming out of him almost seems like a gonzo extension of Cary Grant going "gay all of a sudden" in Bringing Up Baby. My introduction to the film came years ago when it was included in TCM's survey of homosexuality in the movies, and it even graced the cover of that series' host Richard Barrios's book Screened Out.

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

#11 Post by domino harvey » Mon Dec 17, 2018 1:08 pm

Turnabout is a strange film, and fully deserving of its own category of consideration. There's a lot to like about how the gender-swaps legitimately and baldly undermine sexual roles at a time when other screwball comedies were only safely doing so. But Hubbard plays Carole Landis in a mincing fashion that she herself didn't exhibit when being, uh, herself in the film. Though the same is true for Landis-as-Hubbard, and her macho DIYing brings lots of laffs, so it feels like applying double-standards is missing the point! But it can't be undersold how distracting the voice thing is, I remember sitting there agog that the film was actually going to follow-through with it

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

#12 Post by domino harvey » Mon Dec 17, 2018 1:14 pm

Also, here's my writeup of Goodbye Charlie from the Minnelli thread:
domino harvey wrote:Goodbye Charlie finds Minnelli in much better shape than any film he made after, and thankfully from the very first post-credits shot, the mise en scene is fully Minnelli's. The opening hand-held footage on the boat is an interesting choice, but it's those fluid long takes that make one feel at home in a Minnelli film, and here he uses the 'Scope as he never will again. The film is a body-switching comedy, a sort of riff on Here Comes Mr Jordan without morals or life lessons. I haven't read his book, but I'm sure that the Minnelli biographer who is convinced the director's conflicted homosexuality informed all his pictures has a field day with this one, as Tony Curtis' sleazy best friend is murdered and comes back to life in the shape of Debbie Reynolds. She's the only misstep here, and while she does her best, she is utterly miscast in a role that calls for a sexpot, not a loud-talking girl scout. Walter Matthau has a bizarre accent that's as much Hungarian as Curtis' was Australian in Some Like It Hot, but the role calls for a degree of flamboyance and doesn't suffer from his choice. The film certainly invites homoerotic readings as Curtis struggles with falling for his best friend transplanted into a woman, and the pic wraps up the whole affair with a ludicrous ending that is less of a cop-out than it appears to be at first. George Axelrod's source play, unread by me, appears to be the biggest guiding hand here, but it's still nice to see Minnelli could churn out one last lowkey charmer like this near the end.

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

#13 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Dec 17, 2018 2:28 pm

Feego wrote:
Mon Dec 17, 2018 12:40 pm
There actually have been other body-swap movies in which the gender is swapped (if that's what you're referring to),*** But the point still stands that perhaps there has never been a good one.
Have you seen the recent animated Your Name?

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

#14 Post by Murdoch » Tue Dec 18, 2018 3:18 pm

While I unfortunately won't have time for this project having begun a new job as a public defender, I'd like to throw my hat behind Hitchcock's underrated and somewhat maligned Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I love Lombard in anything, but Montgomery and Gene Raymond really steal the show. I think I will revisit it for the holidays since it's been a few years but I wanted to bring some attention to it again with this project beginning. I do plan on doing a short little write-up on it sometime soon

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

#15 Post by dustybooks » Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:25 pm

I revisited The Miracle of Morgan's Creek a few days ago; it had been my first encounter with Preston Sturges a decade and a half ago and it didn't land with me at all, but because I've since found and grown to love Sullivan's Travels and The Lady Eve and Christmas in July I looked forward to a reevaluation. Unfortunately, while I grasp the appeal of the dialogue and the general zaniness (and risque nature) of the situation, I still found it loud, annoying and unappealing. To me screwball comedy always walks a fine line between elegance and just high-pitched noise, and there's been more than one incident when I think my own tendency toward migraines kept me from being able to appreciate what one of these movies was doing. (In Twentieth Century, for example, I wasn't attuned at all to the outlandish performance style until I tried again after getting a lot older. Even now, it's not among my favorites.) That's borne out by the fact that I can't think of any actual criticism of Creek that explains why I dislike it and like some of Sturges' other works, since they could have the same accusations weighed against them about feeling unnatural, being a little too "cute" and suffering from really subpar staging of the slapstick scenes. I think Betty Hutton does exactly what the script demands of her but it's still too grating for me, and Eddie Bracken is given so many different afflictions that it takes away from the charming slightness of his performance. Sturges does get some amusing mileage out of how physically and temperamentally mismatched they seem as a couple; the scene of their actual marriage is the most delightful part of the film for me.

I'd be interested to read anyone's warmer thoughts on the film, though; and also, to know whether I'm wrong in thinking that the plotline of a woman getting pregnant from an encounter she doesn't remember while extremely drunk is still pretty alarming subject matter for a comedy even now...

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

#16 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Dec 21, 2018 4:55 pm

dustybooks -- I find both Morgan's Creek and Twentieth Century almost intolerable -- despite liking/loving other comedies by Sturges and Hawks.

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

#17 Post by Rayon Vert » Wed Dec 26, 2018 5:06 pm

Is Sullivan's Travels really a screwball (it's listed at the top)? It's a typical Sturgean comedy in terms of its boisterousness but when it comes to its storyline and thematic focuses, I don't see enough of the elements (screwball as a subgenre of romcom) to make it a contender. Although I realize lots of people are going to have their own definition and boundaries when it comes to the label.

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

#18 Post by hearthesilence » Wed Dec 26, 2018 10:02 pm

I haven't seen it in a long while, but I liked The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and put it on par with Preston Sturges's best work. It's arguably the first great film to work the "what happened last night? Maybe we can retrace our steps" plot device. Obviously it's been done time and time again with varying results, but it's a marvelous premise that's a gift to any writer: they can pretty much make up anything they want.

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

#19 Post by knives » Wed Dec 26, 2018 10:40 pm

The Tashlin and Lewis remake is pretty great as well. I actually significantly prefer it to the original.

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

#20 Post by Feego » Sat Dec 29, 2018 3:13 am

Just a heads up for those in the U.S. with TCM, they will be airing practically an entire day's worth of eligible screwball comedies on January 1:

The Mad Miss Manton
Libeled Lady
Bringing Up Baby
His Girl Friday
You Can't Take It with You
The Awful Truth
Twentieth Century
Turnabout
Topper Returns

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

#21 Post by FrauBlucher » Sat Dec 29, 2018 2:14 pm

Does The Man who came to Dinner fit in screwball comedy territory? This is definitely a fave of TCM. I can’t believe how often they show this.

I do love Monty Wooley. What a wickedly fun character.

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

#22 Post by PillowRock » Sun Dec 30, 2018 6:06 am

dustybooks wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:25 pm
I revisited The Miracle of Morgan's Creek
and also, to know whether I'm wrong in thinking that the plotline of a woman getting pregnant from an encounter she doesn't remember while extremely drunk is still pretty alarming subject matter for a comedy even now...
As I recall, the memory was not due to alcohol - it happened because she accidentally hit her head on a low hanging light fixture while dancing. Apparently, the Breen Office didn't approve of drunkenness being shown as the cause for marrying and not remembering it. I think it was a DVD commentary that marveled and laughed at the idea that having a concussion was somehow a more acceptable (for movie depiction purposes) explanation of the same thing.

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

#23 Post by hearthesilence » Sun Dec 30, 2018 3:07 pm

Feego wrote:
Sat Dec 29, 2018 3:13 am
Just a heads up for those in the U.S. with TCM, they will be airing practically an entire day's worth of eligible screwball comedies on January 1:
Bringing Up Baby
His Girl Friday
The Awful Truth
Twentieth Century
These will probably make my list - definitely the first three.

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

#24 Post by TMDaines » Tue Jan 01, 2019 4:23 pm

Watched Bachelor Mother today, which was all kinds of great. Laughs all around during the final climatic scenes. Get this one on your seasonal schedule.

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

#25 Post by Feego » Tue Jan 01, 2019 5:50 pm

I'll second the Bachelor Mother praise. It contains my favorite New Years scene and features great chemistry between Ginger Rogers and David Niven. Rogers especially is so down to earth that she tempers the often outrageous misunderstandings. I hope to write more about this one after I give it another look.

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