One of the surest cures for the winter blues is to settle down, pour yourself a drink and slip a screwball comedy into your DVD player. These are films that, by definition, are designed to brighten your day. Watching Bringing up Baby, His Girl Friday and Monkey Business recently, I’ve come to realise that if you want to see a good part for a woman, you’re better off with a random Howard Hawks movie than any current chick flick.
While he often used women to appease and sexualise the tough guys in films such as Red River, Scarface and Hatari!, they were the dominant force in his screwball comedies. Hawks liked to cast some of Hollywood’s most unusual and attractive ladies in the role of the Hawksian Woman; Katherine Hepburn was a Hawksian Woman and so was Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century.
Though few modern films qualify as out-and-out screwball, some memorable ones are kindred spirits. As Pfeiffer’s haughty, harassed Melanie Parker flits from phone call to phone call in One Fine Day, she recalls His Girl Friday’s Rosalind Russell and the greatest Hawksian woman of all Lauren Bacall.Michelle begets the line of Hawksian leading ladies– a true screwball heroine. Meg Ryan was nothing less in Addicted to Love. A venomous Hawksian hustler, streetwise photographer Maggie is a “marvellous girl, crazy as a bedbug.” Watching her is akin to laughing so hard champagne shoots out of your nose.
It makes you wonder what kind of career Ryan might have had if she’d been around in the 1930s. With her supernatural flair for this kind of comedy would she have riffed through the Richter scale with Cary Grant and Clark Gable? Vied with Hepburn and Lombard for box-office supremacy? It’s just a thought – and one that brings me a little joy in a world that is all too serious.