12 Dec Silver Screens and Screwballs
BY TIASHA BHUIYAN
Recently, I discovered a new favourite genre of film. Well, maybe new isn’t the right word, since this genre is a gem originating from the 1930’s. During the Great Depression, Hollywood brought life back through screwball comedies.
Although these black and white “pictures” contain traditional beliefs, they defer in other films of their time through their characters – the screwballs. They were romantic comedies with common elements (mostly Cary Grant but I’m not complaining) where the male and female lead were equally important to the story and went head-to-head in amusing, and often rather risqué, dialogue. While presenting these crazy “screwball” characters, the love stories unexpectedly mimicked modern couples. Also, it pioneered women-led movies and created a new form of comedy.
You might be wondering how a millennial came upon films of this genre. Well, it happened one night (you’ll get the joke by the end of this article). I was in a rom com mood and The Philadelphia Story from 1940 came up as a recommendation, boasting names of Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant whom I’ve always heard of but was not familiar with. I decided to watch and I’m so glad I did – no wonder it’s called one of the best romantic comedies of all time as it’s now one of my favourite films.
I began searching for more movies like it, and came upon lists of iconic screwball comedies. The list goes on forever but here are a few films I loved. Yes, they are all in black and white but trust me, Clark Gable is worth it.
It Happened One Night (1934):
Told you you’d get the joke. This film is known to have pioneered the screwball comedy genre. So, boy and girl are strangers on a train. Girl is an heiress running away from her father to marry an unworthy man, while boy is a newspaper writer who vows to help her in exchange for an exclusive story. Of course, when you’re running away together, a romance must ensue.
The Awful Truth (1937)
What happens when a husband and wife mutually accuse each other of cheating and get a divorce but still really love each other? They attempt to ruin each other’s chances of finding new relationships, of course. The leading characters are true definitions of screwballs – the schemes are classic and funny.
The Philadelphia Story (1940):
Katherine Hepburn lives out every girl’s fantasy of being loved by three dashing gentlemen but not really caring for any of them. The socialite is engaged to a wealthy man but things get complicated when her ex husband casually shows up, and a sneaky newspaper reporter comes in disguised as her brother’s friend. All hell breaks loose when the reporter gains feelings for her, and the ex husband starts flirting, and her fiancé is confused.
My Favourite Wife (1940)
Okay, if your wife was lost at sea, presumably dead, for seven years and on the day you remarry she reappears. Now you got two wives, which one’s your favourite? Irene Dunn and Gail Patrick’s characters really pull the strings on Cary Grant in this one and you can’t help but laugh at his comical struggles.
His Girl Friday (1940)
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russel are the ultimate career driven newspaper power couple – until she divorces him and gets engaged to a man who will allow her to have the traditional domestic life she thinks she wants. Grant, wanting to prevent this, distracts her in the easiest way to distract an investigative reporter; he gave her a story on a convicted murderer. It’s heart warming and gasp worthy.