Hollywood was rife with comedies during the early days. At first there were the silent clowns such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd; then came farce (e.g. The Three Stooges), buddy films (Abbott and Costello, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Laurel and Hardy), satire (The Marx Brothers), and in the early 1930s Mae West invented the sex comedy (before the 1934 Production Code effectively banned it).
The most well-known comedy form of the 1930s and 40s though, was screwball, which began with “It Happened One Night”. What is a screwball comedy? Good question – thank you for asking. Screwball films were romantic comedies which focused on the pursuit of the opposite sex – usually the woman chasing the man. Screwball characters behaved in unpredictable ways, and most had a “screw loose”. The humor comes from the wacky characters, breakneck pacing, witty dialogue, and occasional slapstick. Screwball comedy declined in popularity after the USA entered world war II, when the frivolous nature seemed inappropriate.
Which classic comedies are still worth watching today?
Not all classic comedy movies have aged well, but here at b&wm.com we think that there are plenty of early comedies that are still funny today, and some later b&w comedies from the 1950s and 1960s are really quite sophisticated. The films listed below are the ones we recommend – perhaps because they have a gentle humour, or perhaps a dark humour, or just an old fashioned charm that makes them irresistable.
It Happened One Night
Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert star in the original screwball comedy – the template for every romcom made since.
Our favorite silent movie ever. The little tramp (Charlie Chaplin) finds himself raising a child during the great depression. Very funny, and surprisingly moving.
The Lavender Hill Mob
A timid bank employee becomes the unlikely leader of a gang of criminals who to plot steal the bank’s gold.
Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House
Mr Blandings (Cary Grant) lives with his family in a cramped New York apartment. He decides to buy a house in the country, but things do not go as planned.
A mad American general brings the world to the brink of nuclear war. Can Dr Strangelove (Peter Sellers) save the day?