My Top 15 Favorite Screwball Comedies

I love screwball comedies. They are so crazy and fun and over-the-top! I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, and I finally decided to do it, simply because I’ve been waiting too long, so I just thought ‘why not now?’

CRITERIA

This is my personal list of favorite screwball comedies. I am not claiming these are the best, in this particular order, these are just MY favorites.

This list is open for an update, because these things always change.

Some comedies don’t necessarily fit into the screwball comedy genre. There are tons of sub-genres, screwball, romantic, sophisticated, dark, supernatural, etc… There are many comedy films that I absolutely love and do not consider to be screwballs, like for instance The Philadelphia Story (1940), which is mostly a romantic/sophisticated comedy, or The Thin Man (1934), which is a regular comedy with elements of mystery/drama. These 15 films are the ones that I think are closest to the accepted definitely screwball comedy genre.

Here we go!

 

15. Nothing Sacred (1937)

      Dir. William A. Wellman

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Carole Lombard and Fredric March are fantastic together. What a great duo!

 

14. His Girl Friday (1940)

     Dir. Howard Hawks

 

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Fast, frantic and full of lines!

 

13. Midnight (1939)

     Dir. Mitchell Leisen

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Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote the screenplay for this, so obviously it’s brilliant.

 

12. The Pam Beach Story (1942)

      Dir. Preston Sturges

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I love Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea’s relationship in this. It’s so sweet!

 

11. The More the Merrier (1943)

     Dir. George Stevens

 

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I think I developed a slight crush on Joel McCrea after watching this. Also Jean Arthur is perfect in everything.

 

10. Trouble in Paradise (1932)

    Dir. Ernst Lubitsch

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Trouble in Paradise is, in many ways, the originator of all of these. I think it’s probably fair to say it’s the original screwball comedy, but that’s likely up for debate.

 

9. Merrily We Live (1938)

   Dir. Norman Z. McLeod

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My Man Godfrey’s younger cousin. Pretty much the same plot, but it is sooo lovely!

 

8. It Happened one Night (1934)

  Dir. Frank Capra

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The only Best Picture on the list, and how deserving! It’s extraordinary.

 

7. Ball of Fire (1941)

   Dir. Howard Hawks

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Barbara Stanwyck’s Sugarpuss is one of my all-time favorite movie characters. Wilder and Brackett also wrote this.

 

6. Easy Living (1937)

    Dir. Mitchell Leisen

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The taxi cab scene, Louis, the enourmous bedroom, Jean Arthur and Ray Milland’s relationship… Everything about Easy Living is fantastic.

 

5. Twentieth Century (1934)

  Dir. Howard Hawks

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It was so close! This and Easy Living were almost tied, but in the end, I had to put this one higher because I saw it on the big screen, so it has sentimental value for me.

 

4. The Awful Truth (1937)

   Dir. Leo McCarey

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Irene Dunne’s performance is the greatest screwball comedy performance by an actress in my opinion. It is incredibly complex once you analyze it.

 

3. My Man Godfrey (1936)

   Dir. Gregory LaCava

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The craziest family ever? I think so. Mind you, in a weird way, I would kind of like to live in that house for like a day or two. Sounds fun!

 

2. The Lady Eve (1941)

  Dir. Preston Sturges

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Big debate between this and Godfrey as well, but in the end, I had to go with Eve. It’s just slightly more convoluted, which is perfect for screwball.

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1. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

  Dir. Howard Hawks

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Well, of course. You all knew it. It is the greatest of them all, in my opinion, and one of my absolute favorite films in any genre, ever.

 

Happy Screwball! (don’t really know what that means, but let’s go with it)

DOUBLE BILL #5: Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945)

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For a brief period of time, four of Hollywood’s biggest stars got together and formed one of the most constantly overlooked partnerships in movie history. Between 1944 and 1945, Fritz Lang, Joan Bennett, Edward G. Robinson and Dan Dureya made two films together, Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945). To me, these two films always go hand-in-hand. I can never help but compare them to one another and I can’t even think of one without thinking of the other.

Woman in the Window is an interesting one. The ‘mid-life crisis’ theme that can often be found in film noir – Pitfall (1948) comes to mind – is certainly one of the best starting points in films of the genre. A man is bored with his life, his marriage and himself and he seeks some excitement elsewhere. After that, his life takes a turn for the worse. Perfect. In Woman in the Window, that man is Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) a professor who, after meeting up with his friends in his club, goes outside to look at a painting of a woman in a shop window. He meets Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), the woman in the painting, and the two of them go for a drink. Later, back in her place, Alice’s lover Claude Mazard (Arthur Loft) breaks in and starts fighting with Richard, who ends up killing him. With a murder to cover up and a body to dispose of, Richard and Alice soon make a plan and decide to pretend nothing ever happened. However, Mazard’s bodyguard Heidt (Dan Dureya) knows what happened and starts blackmailing Alice. Things get worse…

I love the fact that Woman in the Window is pretty much a stereotypical film noir, with all the elements there and in the right place, yet somehow it feels different. It’s kind of quiet and almost soothing. Apart from two or three scenes, everything is quite calm, and I really like that. I suppose its tongue-in-cheek ending might have something to do with it, who knows, I just find that interesting.

Scarlet Street, on the other hand… boy, is it dark! Edward G. Robinson plays Chris Cross (and that’s not even the best name in the film), a cashier who, after attending a dinner thrown in his honor, walks home through Greenwich Village and spots Kitty March (Joan Bennett) being attacked by a man. He runs to her rescue and the two of them go to a restaurant nearby. They start talking about art and Kitty wrongly assumes he’s a famous painter. After that, she and her boyfriend Johnny Prince (best name in the film), played by Dan Duryea, start working up a scheme to extort money from Chris. After that, things start going really wrong…

Scarlet Street is just an unrelenting spiral descent into madness. And it is unafraid. It gives you a pitiful leading man, a lazy layabout femme fatale and Dan Dureya, the caddest cad that ever cadded, and on top of that, it gives you nothing to comfort you. Has there ever been a sadder ending to a film noir? I’m talking genuinely sad, not ‘dark but had it coming’ sad. It’s quite impressive.

I love the fact that they are so similar and yet so different. They both have quite similar themes, they start more or less the same way, but they go down such drastically different paths. It almost feels like Woman in the Window is the antidote to Scarlet Street. Although I think Scarlet Street might be the better movie of the two – it is actually the remake of a Renoir film called La Chiene (1931), so maybe that’s another Double Bill?

Lang, Bennett, Robinson and Dureya were simply a great foursome. I kind of feel cheated that they didn’t make more movies together, but these two make up for that.

The greatest blog post ever written!

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I love movie taglines. I love the fact that nobody has actually really nailed the art of the tagline. Then and now. For the most part, movie taglines are usually so weird and random. Like, every other crime movie always seems to be advertised as ‘the biggest crime ever committed!’ It’s actually quite fun looking up movie posters and reading the taglines, because they’re so repetitive and interchangeable and they often do not reflect the film at all (looking at you, All about Eve). Mind you, I understand completely the purpose of a tagline and how hard it is to fit a whole story into one sentence, so I’m saying this with the biggest love in my heart. It’s all in jest.

So I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite movie taglines.

Here we go!

All about Eve (1950) – ‘It’s all about women and their men!’ It absolutely isn’t.

Double Indemnity (1944) – ‘It was love and murder at first sight!’ Every single film noir ever made.

The Third Man (1949) – ‘You’ve never met anyone like him!’ Fair enough.

Citizen Kane (1941) – ‘It’s terrific!’ Bit of an underwhelming thing to say about ‘the greatest film ever made’

The Maltese Falcon (1941) – ‘A story as explosive as his blazing automatics’ I love this one. HOW COOL IS THAT?!

Born to Kill (1947) – ‘The coldest killer a woman ever loved!’ What are you talking about, she’s even worse than him!

Adam’s Rib (1949) – ‘The funniest picture in 10 years!’ Haha, why only 10 years? Why undersell it like that?

Shane (1953) – ‘In all your Motion Picture going experience, Shane will remain forever memorable!’ True but what a bizarre way to put it.

Cover Girl (1944) – ‘The most brilliant musical of our time!’ I don’t know, Meet me in St Louis came out the exact same year.

Meet me in St Louis (1944) – ‘MGM’s glorious love story with music’ See?

These are all brilliant and weird and fabulous in their own way. And there are so many more!

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

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Iverstown has seen it all. And its secrets will come back to slap you in the face.

In 1928, a young Martha Ivers (Janis Wilson) tries to run away from her domineering aunt (Judith Anderson), and is helped by her friend Sam Masterson (Darryl Hickman). After a while, she’s brought back and the two of them have a row. Later that night, Martha strikes her aunt with her own cane and she falls down the stairs and dies. Walter O’Neill (Mickey Kuhn) witnesses the event, and his father promises to take care of Martha. Eighteen years later, Sam Masterson (Van Heflin) is back in his hometown by accident. He crashes his car and when he goes to have it fixed, he stops by his old home, now a hostel, where he meets Toni Marrachek (Lizabeth Scott). She tells him she’s just been released from prison and needs to get home. When she fails to return, she gets arrested for violating probation. Sam decides to go to Walter (Kirk Douglas), now a district attorney and married to Martha (Barbara Stanwyck), the most powerful woman in town, and he asks him to use his influence to get Toni released. A love triangle (or square?) begins to develop, and Sam is torn between his old love for Martha and his new-found love for Toni.

The first time I saw The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (dir. Lewis Milestone), I thought of doing a review, but I was so mesmerized by it, I couldn’t took away for two seconds to write something down. It’s such a compelling film. It’s the type of story that will never grown old, but it’s so much more than that. Sam Masterson is great character, and the whole film feels like a constant power struggle between his old life and his new life – and they’re actually not that much different -, and the two of them intertwine with each other wonderfully. For us anyway. Toni and Martha are almost like a metaphor for good vs evil, past vs future, and it’s great seeing him try to work it out. For me personally, Toni is the heart and soul of the film. She represents Sam’s future, she’s his way out of Iverstown for good, and she’s almost like a ray of light. I find myself drawn to her every time and I think this is one of Lizabeth Scott’s best performances.

I’m not sure if The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a melodramatic noir, or a noirish melodrama, but it’s definitely a combination of the two and it’s absolutely fantastic.

Summer…

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Summer’s great, but because I live in a big city, sometimes it gets a little too hot and you just don’t know what to do with yourself. I mean, usually, I’d be going back to my hometown for a week or two, go to the beach and all that, but it’s going to be a very hectic summer for me here, at least for a few weeks, so I’ll just have to make do in the meantime. And one of the things I love to do, that gets me all summer-y is watching summer-themed movies, or at least movies that remind of summer anyway. I think I’ve created a sort of tradition with La Piscine (1969), as well as To Catch A Thief (1955). I love those two movies, especially Thief. It’s one of my favorite Hitchcock films, and it just screams summer to me. La Piscine, on the other hand, is incredible and so very European (and I mean that in the very best way possible). Hot and cool, it’s pretty much a summer movie with a story in it, rather than the other way around, if that makes sense. I also love Summertime (1955), which I can watch pretty much anytime, but it’s just especially great to watch it in the summer. Hmm, I feel a marathon coming on…

DOUBLE BILL #4 All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956)

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Boy, was Douglas Sirk great! I’ve always admired how unapologetically soppy and melodramatic his films were. He was probably the most underrated and misunderstood of all directors, but I stand by him. I think he was fantastic. Rock Hudson was one of his greatest leading actors and the two of them gave us two of the best melodramas of all time: All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956).

In All That Heaven Allows, Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is a middle-aged widower living in the suburbs. Her two children are grown and she socializes with her group of friends on a regular basis. Her life isn’t massively exciting but she is quite content with it. She strikes up a friendship with her gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) and the two of them fall in love. He’s younger than her and when their relationship comes to light, her friends are quick to judge (it’s 1950s suburbia, what’d you expect?)

Written by Peg Fenwick, based on the story by Edna L. Lee and Harry, All That Heaven Allows is a product of its era but curiously ahead of its time. The small-town mentality and attitudes are dealt with in a way that almost feels like satire. There’s the detestable characters, especially Mona (Jacqueline De Wit), the instantly recognizable ‘judgemental frienemy’, there’s the whole thing about caring about what people think and then standing in the way of your own happiness in the process, and of course the standards and stereotypes that a 1950s society held dear. All of these and more are always made to feel like they’re being mocked. Cary is our main character and we’re totally, completely, almost devotedly on her side. In fact, she is so prominent that the light is never too far from her. There are hardly ever any moments or scenes in which her face is not lit. I’m not sure if that’s subconscious or not, but it works wonderfully. And then of course there’s Ron Kirby, the character we all want to be. He’s the only one who truly doesn’t care what anybody thinks. He’s true to himself and his love for Cary and that’s all that matters. All That Heaven Allows is beautifully understated and a stunning piece of romantic drama.

Written on the Wind is the more dramatic of the two films. Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) is a hard-drinking playboy and heir to the Hadley empire. When he meets Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), he pursues her and asks her to marry him. Little does he know that she’s actually in love with his best friend Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) and that the feeling is mutual. On top of that, there’s also Marylee (Dorothy Malone in an Oscar-winning performance), Kyle’s sex-crazed younger sister, who’s been in love with Mitch all her life.

Written by George Zuckerman and based on Robert Wilder’s novel of the same name, Written on the Wind is over-the-top, melodramatic and fantastic. This is, to me, the quintessential Douglas Sirk movie. This is what he does best. Melodramas are usually frowned upon, and maybe with good reason, but if it’s a Douglas Sirk film, you know you’re in good hands. And once again, we turn to Rock Hudson for comfort. His performance as Mitch is a breath of fresh air, an unfazed character in an otherwise crazy world, and I think that’s what Sirk understood. This type of character is badly needed in melodramas. And that was the beauty of Rock Hudson’s partnership with Douglas Sirk. In their movies together, he always seems to play the most likeable characters, the ones we hold onto for security and comfort, because that’s what we need. Truly a great director/actor duo and one that should be more appreciated.

Decoy (1946)

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Dr Lloyd Craig (Herbert Rudley) hitchhikes his way to San Francisco in order to murder Margot Shelby (Jean Gillie). He walks into her apartment, shoots her and as she lies dying, she narrates her story to us. In the flashback, we see that she is the girlfriend of Frank Olins (Robert Armstrong), a gangster who is about to be executed. Along with Jim Vincent (Edward Norris) and Dr Craig, they conduct a plan that will culminate in them getting all of Frank’s money. Everything looks peachy, if it wasn’t for the fact that Sgt Joseph ‘Jojo’ Portugal (Sheldon Leonard) keeps standing in their way.

Directed by Jack Bernhard, Decoy (1946) is great because of how strange it is. The coffin scene in particular has got to be the most bizarre scene in a noir ever, and there have been quite a few (Lloyd Nolan’s fate in The Chase (1946) comes to mind), but it simply has to be seen to be fully appreciated. And that goes for a lot of moments in the film. However, the standout aspect for me is Sheldon Leonard’s performance. I so wish he could have played more roles like that! Full of cynicism and one-liners, he is not to be played with. Well, almost.

I like Decoy and I like the fact that it has achieved a cult status over the years. Weird and brilliantly surreal, Decoy is, in many ways, the perfect cult classic.

Things I’ve said as a Classic Hollywood buff…

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These are all things I’ve said either to myself (!) or to other people. They all true and I sometimes wish they weren’t…

‘Alright, Carol, you’ve been watching too many movies from 1932’

‘Never tell anyone how many times you’ve seen Double Indemnity (1944)’

‘This is too much Veronica Lake in one week’

 ‘You can’t book my plane ticket for the 22nd, Mom, that’s Billy’s [Wilder] birthday!’

*someone tells me when their birthday is* Me: ‘OMG that’s the same day as *Old Hollywood personality*, that’s so cool!’

(about The Big Sleep (1946)) ‘This ******* movie gives me a headache every time I watch it!’

(answering the phone) ‘Ahoy hoy, is this Myrna Loy?’

‘I blame Dark Victory (1939) entirely for my hypochondria’

‘April 5th is such an awesome day for Classic Hollywood buffs’

‘I would so love to go party with Eve Arden!’

And so on…
W
e’re a crazy bunch of people! ❤

Mr Wilder, I absolutely adore you

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It’s Billy Wilder’s birthday! Woohoo! The thing is, I don’t know what to say about Billy Wilder anymore. I’ve gushed about him so much over the years, I honestly can’t think of anything else to say. You know I’m obsessed with The Apartment (1960), that I consider Some Like it Hot (1959) to be comedy perfection, and that Double Indemnity (1944) is my favorite noir. Not to mention I can do a spot-on impression of Norma Desmond. Well, ‘spot-on’ might be an exaggeration. But yeah, Billy Wilder is one of my biggest idols and the reason why I decided to become a screenwriter. I love and double-love Billy Wilder.

So, all that’s left for me to say is thank you. Thank you for everything, Mr Wilder, and I hope you’re having a wonderful birthday in Hollywood Heaven.