Screwball comedy film: Wikis

Advertisements
  
  

Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Encyclopedia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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,[1] and, although many film scholars would agree that its classic period ended sometime in the early 1940s,[2] 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."[3]

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.

Contents

Characteristics

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 other than 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). [4]

Notable examples of the genre from its classic period

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:


Some notable directors of screwball comedies include:

Later 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:

Modern screwball comedies

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). The Coen Brothers often include screwball elements in a film which may not as a whole be considered screwball or even a comedy.

Screwball 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 Star Wars have been described as "a classic screwball comedy pair".[5]

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.

See also

References

  1. ^ Cele Otnes; Elizabeth Hafkin PleckCele Otnes, Elizabeth Hafkin Pleck (2003) Cinderella dreams: the allure of the lavish wedding University of California Press, p. 168 ISBN 0520240081
  2. ^ Citation The Screwball Comedy Films: A History and Filmography, 1934-1942, By Duane Byrge, Robert Milton Miller, McFarland, 1991, ISBN 0899505392, 9780899505398, page 104, quote:'With the explosive exception of His Girl Friday, screwball comedy had calmed considerably by 1940 from its peak of zaniness in 1937-38'
  3. ^ Citation - Sarris, Andrew. You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: The American Talking Film, History & Memory, 1927-1949, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.
  4. ^ Cavell, Stanley. Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.
  5. ^ "Star Wars", Brian Libby, Salon.com, May 28, 2002

External links

Advertisements

Advertisements






Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address
Message