Hepburn, Maggie, Melanie Parker and a Screwball Obsession

It’s been all about the classics in my house recently, not just film noir and westerns, but Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in movies directed by George Cukor and Howard Hawks.Watching Holiday, Bringing up Baby and The Philadelphia Story, I’ve come to realise that screwball comedies from the 193os and early 40s are a pure delight.Cary Jimmy and KatharineOf course, screwball as a genre doesn’t really exist anymore, but once in a while an example of this rare, exotic breed will surface and establish what all screwball comedies do, that the couple that fights together must stay together.Petulant MaggieWhat marks One Fine Day as the quintessential quick-banter comedy is not just its archetypal plot, but the perfect confluence of two charm-for-miles stars in a sophisticated and realistic story of people getting together. The dialogue, predictably, pits the wordsmiths against each other. He’s a journalist, she’s a firecracker: and it works.
Wide Eyed PfeifferIt’s easy to hear the rapid fire talk of Hepburn’s Susan Vance and Tracy Lord in One Fine Day‘s Melanie Parker, and once you “give in” to the insanity, there’s something magical about that type of dialogue. It’s precisely this carefully choreographed barbfest, with characters talking over each other, that makes One Fine Day such a brilliant comedy. There must’ve been some careful rehearsal, because once the cameras roll, everything flows seamlessly.
Peter Pan ComplexPfeiffer is absolutely divine as the waspish leading lady, swooping from scene to scene with such flair and shoulder padded confidence. She struts like a peacock for the duration, and shows a real flair for physical comedy. At key moments she gives what I call the Michelle Pfeiffer reaction, a slightly resigned expression of wry acceptance and knowingness, that dovetails nicely with her appropriation of Meg Ryan’s wide-eyed double-take.
Wide Eyed MaggieIf One Fine Day‘s Melanie is a sexy throwback to screwball heroines like Carole Lombard and Katharine Hepburn, her antics seem positively subdued next to the off-the-wall outrageousness of Meg Ryan’s Maggie in Addicted to LoveMaggie gesturesMeg could look seductive in one scene, then laugh like a hyena in another, but one thing about her performance that stood out for me was her excellent use of hand gestures. Many times, she embellishes situations and thoughts with simple sweeps of her hands instead of words and it’s brilliant, subtle and funny.
Screwball maggieI distinctly remember first watching Addicted to Love, and giving myself up to Meg Ryan’s Maggie, the striking visuals and offbeat dialogue, I thought to myself…this is genius. Since everyone is “screwball” there is really no likeable character to root for, which may have been the reason it bombed at the box office. But I think Addicted to Love is a wonderful mix of light and dark, the Rear Window and Vertigo of romantic comedy.
The Pfeiffer LookIt might seem contrary to declare One Fine Day as the definitive screwball update, then write about Addicted to Love as though that title belonged to it. The awful truth is I’m cursed to continually relate and compare these films to each other… even though they represent opposite approaches to the same end.
Kelly Preston and MegWhen I’m in a bad mood, these are the movies I turn to. Screwball? chick-flick? rom-com? Who cares. They make me completely and utterly happy, and what more could you possibly ask for? Taken on those terms alone, they’re perfect.

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30 Comments

Filed under Retrospective

30 responses to “Hepburn, Maggie, Melanie Parker and a Screwball Obsession

  1. I love a good screwball comedy! They are hard to do well, but the good ones are treasures.

    • They just don’t make em like they used to, do they?

      • That’s for sure. Good romantic comedies are especially rare.

      • Now that you mentioned it…that’s so true. I first thought that maybe it’s because all the actresses/actors of those good old ones had grown too old (sorry) or that I had grown older too and therefore was looking in all the wrong places. But no, the magic is what’s missing. That special something. Things have changed. So, nope, they definitely don’t make them like they used to. (Even the Romantic Comedies are not the same, in my opinion – look at “You’ve Got Mail” and “Serendipity” – they just had that sparkle, that magic)

        • I’m glad to know it isn’t just me who feels that way, I rarely watch new films, but when I do I’m invariably disappointed. For me the magic is definitely missing. I watched the first two Godfather movies again recently, and couldn’t help but feel sad watching De Niro and Al Pacino and thinking of the garbage they appear in nowadays!

          • You know what…you inspired me with your post…so, I have one coming up (hope I’m not treading on your toes)…it’s got to do with Addicted to Love…and you’d asked me to let you down gently when I’d watch it again…you need not worry….I’ll post it shortly!

  2. I gotta watch some more screwball comedies.

  3. RB

    Enjoyed this post very much Paul, as I too am a huge fan of a good dialogue driven movie. Give me OFD, WHMS, or Frankie and Johnny, over an action film any day of the week, It sort of reminds me in a way, what it used to be like decades ago, when matching wits with an exciting person was done in face to face conversations, not phones, and how these interactions light up our lives. I agree completely that the early films set the stage for the more modern versions, and a well-written script is indispensable. Love your posting series, keep them coming. I will not have much of a posting presence myself, for the 2-3 months (immediate family member recovering from major surgery) but will continue to follow your writings – always provides a nice respite for me.

    • Thanks RB. I’m sorry to hear you won’t be posting for a while, but family must come first, and most importantly I hope your loved one makes a full recovery.
      In the circumstances I appreciate your comment even more than usual, and it does mean a lot to me that you’re enjoying my series of posts. Obviously I cherish these films, and their characters, but I wouldn’t like to alienate my readers. This post started slowly, and for a while had no comments and I was convinced, as I nearly always am, that people disapprove of, or are disinterested in what I am writing. Happily there have been a few comments, and my fears have quietened, because I do love it when people share their thoughts here.
      You make a great point about the lack of face to face interactions in the modern world. One Fine Day was one of the first “mobile phone movies” but who could have foreseen how much technology would change peoples behaviour in the following 20 years. I’m grateful for my friends in the blogosphere though, nobody I know remembers these two movies in spite of the star studded casts!

  4. I love Cary Grant movies.. I go out of my way to watch them 🙂

    • People say Clooney is the new Cary Grant, who is our Katharine Hepburn though!

      • Lol.. I’m not sure about the female version off the top of my head. Yes I have heard that about Clooney .. And I love George .. But I’m not ready to give him the nod yet 🙂

        • Noooo…..I avoid Clooney movies (just like I avoid Pitt movies) – so yes, I’m shallow but I just can’t watch him (them).

          • I’ve never been a fan of Pitt, and I’m usually nonplussed when it comes to the aeons of charm George Clooney is supposed to exude. The only reason I paid One Fine Day any attention is because of Michelle, but then back in the 90s I’d have watched Pfeiffer in anything! Have you seen One Fine Day? Reading your post The Romantic in me, it definitely falls into the “we hate each other but actually love each other” trope.

  5. Great post 🙂 This is a really interesting blog. Speaking of screwball comedies, it has been said (I can not say for sure though) that The Awful Truth was the film that defined the Cary Grant persona. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    • Welcome and thanks for the kind words. The Awful Truth is perfection from beginning to end, and every time I watch it I’m amazed that there are still small details which I haven’t noticed before
      Cary Grant and Irene Dunne were great together. I think Michelle Pfeiffer has the same quality that Cary and and Irene did- this incredibly classy and intelligent person who is not afraid to look extremely silly. Michelle was a star without her comedy performances, so, I’m very grateful that she dipped her toe into this genre…. and proved to be the adept, as always.

  6. Pingback: A new appreciation for Addicted to Love and those days… | Thoughts All Sorts

  7. As you already know, I adore One Fine Day! I’m not as fond of the so-celebrated ‘The Philadelphia Story’ for some reason, but there are some amusing moments. When I’m in a bad mood, I always turn to period dramas, specifically Sense & Sensibility 😉

  8. For me though, nobody does it like they did in the old films though.

  9. Vishy

    I love Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story! Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart – what a cast! I can’t wait to watch One Fine Day and Addicted to Love. Thank you!

    • Welcome Vishy, I love your enthusiasm and I hope you like One Fine Day and Addicted to Love. They may not attain the timeless charm of Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story, but the chemistry between Clooney and Pfeiffer is wonderful, and Michelle’s is the kind of performance that should have modern rom-com ladies taking notes.

      • Vishy

        You know I haven’t seen a Michelle Pfeiffer rom-com yet. So I can’t wait to watch this!

        • Michelle really hits it out of the park here. The movie is hers from the get-go and it shows. She’s funny, sexy, awkward, enchanting, tough and fragile. The queen of the screwball comedy!

  10. I am also a huge screwball fan with “Libelled Lady” being my absolute favourite. I hadn’t heard of One Fine Day, it is now on my radar.

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