The comic genius Preston Sturges believed that laughter is the best medicine, and that what people in hard times want is to forget their troubles and escape for 90 minutes or so into a world of lighthearted comedy, snappy repartee and slapstick silliness.
One should be rooting for Cary Grant to get the girl, which means he ought to deserve her — and if that’s more or less the case here, well, it’s only because the girl turns out to be no great shakes either.
Call me an Albany-living mama’s boy, but when Hildy tells her male colleagues in an early scene that she’s going to be a woman, not a news-getting machine, and have babies and take care of them, and give them cod-liver oil and watch their teeth grow, and not have to worry any more about crawling up fire escapes, getting kicked out of front doors, or eating Christmas dinners in one-armed joints — well, I for one think that sounds kind of nice.
Often credited as the first screwball comedy, Howard Hawks’s Twentieth Century is an acerbic satire of show-business ego and superficiality starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard.
Possibly the screwiest of all screwball comedies, My Man Godfrey is the ultimate Depression-era satire of the idle rich and tribute to the noble poor.
This theme of romantically linking an upper-class society girl and a man beneath her station would become a popular device in screwball comedies, appealing to Depression audiences both as escapist entertainment and as satire of the idle rich and celebration of the hardworking poor.
She’s fleeing from her concerned father (Walter Connolly) and returning to the shiftless beau (Jameson Thomas) she married in a civil ceremony to spite her father (who had her whisked away from the service, so it’s not final legally or sacramentally).
The prologue, with its storybook-like, slightly arch voiceover narration finely read by Audrey Hepburn, suggests a charming fairy tale with a satiric subtext. And, indeed, Sabrina, Billy Wilder’s delightful romantic comedy starring Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden, is a sort of Cinderella story, with a chauffeur’s daughter who is transformed into the belle of the ball and dances with the prince — except that the "prince" is, if not a beast, at least a shallow cad, while the real love interest is almost more a frog than a prince.
The zaniest, most delightful, most romantic screwball comedy of them all, Bringing Up Baby features Katherine Hepburn at her effervescent best and Cary Grant in a marvelous performance combining stuffiness and injured dignity with his usual debonair charm.
Yet where Hepburn’s character was merely flighty, Judy Maxwell exists, like the Cat in the Hat and Bugs Bunny (note the title line and the carrots she munches in one scene), in the mode of the Trickster archetype, with inscrutable motives, capricious behavior, and almost preternatural abilities, capable of whimsically making Bannister’s life a living nightmare — or putting things to rights again at a moment’s notice.
Audrey Hepburn is utterly beguiling in her star-making role opposite Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, a delightful romantic comedy about a poised young princess of an unspecified European country who spends a magical day with an American reporter (Gregory Peck) in the Eternal City, playing hooky from her official duties.
Like the heroines of The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday, Katherine Hepburn plays a divorcée caught between flawed ex-husband Cary Grant and a respectable but somehow unsuitable fiancé (John Howard). But The Philadelphia Story goes beyond the formula by throwing in surprise contender Jimmy Stewart as a disgruntled novelist-reporter — an unexpected source of conflict and uncertainty that eliminates the need for Grant to resort to the underhanded tricks he needed to show up his rivals in Awful Truth and Girl Friday.
Often described as "the best Hitchcock movie Hitchcock never made," Charade stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in a sparkling thriller with overtones of screwball romantic comedy — or is it the other way around?
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.