Some Like it Frantic, Funny and Screwball

Whether romantic or screwball, in comedy, love invariably conquers all on the silver screen. According to author Wes D. Gehring, there is a distinct difference between screwball and romantic comedy. In screwball comedy, the emphasis is on the comedy not the romance, although there is almost always romance involved. Accordingly, the romantic comedy emphasises, what else? romance.With the sexual revolution of the 1960s, screwball comedies disappeared from our screens. I suppose in part because American films became much more sexually explicit. Bed-swapping farces like Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice and Shampoo held sway. Screwball was considered to be a relic of the past.When Bringing up Baby was loosely remade as What’s Up, Doc? in 1972, it breathed new life into a dormant genre. The gags came fast and furious as Barbra Streisand worked her magic on Ryan O’Neal’s nerdy academic. With her brash, fast-talking, personality and his stiff, bespectacled, demeanour, the pair were clearly based on Baby‘s Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.The tag line for What’s Up, Doc? read: “A screwball comedy. Remember them?” Well, whether people remembered or were simply discovering screwball comedy for the first time, the film went on to become the third highest grossing picture of the year, beaten only by The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure.Fast forward a quarter of a century and through serendipitous circumstances a pair of screwball comedies landed smack in the middle of the 1990s. Michelle Pfeiffer’s One Fine Day reversed the traditional screwball formula where the male was the repressed milquetoast and the female was the zany free spirit who loosens him up. Here Michelle’s control-freak single mother is the straight man, at odds with George Clooney’s nonchalant journalist.For all the charm of Pfeiffer’s high-class haughtiness, Meg Ryan’s wacky biker-chick in Addicted to Love wins the cigar as the decade’s most imaginative screwball. Her inspired, borderline psycho Maggie drives Matthew Broderick’s lovelorn Sam to distraction, until he decides to join her vicious quest for revenge.Pitched halfway between a screwball heroine and a cartoon character, Ryan trades in her trademark ticks and winsome glances for feral rage and clipped delivery and it suits her. For all her ferocity, I would happily drop everything to join Maggie in her screwball world and never return.In a world filled with turmoil, trouble and strife, we could all do with a good laugh. Sadly Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to make movies like these; worse still, audiences have forgotten how to watch them.

The Addicted to Screwball Blogathon. Any thoughts or ideas?




Filed under Blogathon, Retrospective

24 responses to “Some Like it Frantic, Funny and Screwball

  1. Enjoyed this post. And…what a coincidence about your last paragraph – just this afternoon I was wondering where the romantic-comedies have gone…I haven’t noticed any on circuit lately. I’m missing them. Where are they? I mean, yes, those like the ones from the good-old-days definitely aren’t coming up but I’m not seeing ANY at all. Or…have I missed the plot somewhere….?
    I’m in the need of a good fulfilling light romantic comedy. Or…just a good fulfilling light romantic movie. Hmmmm…maybe I’ll go dig through my DVDs…

    Have a lovely evening…

    • I suppose time moves on and audiences tastes change. I can’t remember the last time I watched a new release and enjoyed it unreservedly. That goes for all genres not just romantic comedy. I’m sure I bore people harping on about One Fine Day but it is a rarity, a romantic comedy for adults about adults—and more importantly—about adults behaving like adults.
      Have things changed so much in the last 20 years? It only seems 5 minutes ago I was eagerly anticipating the release of Addicted to Love. Now I’ve forsaken the cinema and am content catching up with some older films. Hopefully the blogathon will bring some “new” classic screwballs to my attention!

      Buona sera, my friend!

  2. This is such a great idea for a blogathon! I would love to write about “Libeled Lady” (1936) if at all possible! I LOVE a good screwball and romantic comedy. I just watched What’s Up, Doc? this weekend for the first time – what a hoot!!! Anyways, please let me know if that’s ok!

    • It’s more than OK, thanks, I’m delighted to have you.
      Libeled Lady is all yours and what a glorious cast. Spencer Tracey, Jean Harlow, William Powell and Myrna Loy all in the same film!
      I always enjoy watching Jean Harlow. She was so talented, it’s tragic that she was cut down in the prime of her life.

      • Thank you! I am looking forward to this blogathon 🙂 It is my favourite classic film for sure, and an amazing cast! Jean Harlow is my favourite actress. She was such a comedienne, and had so much potential.

  3. Yes, I am addicted to such movies . . . .

  4. Freshly back from New York City. Recommended!
    For the blogathan, while in NY I was reminded of a modern day screwball comedy film from 2014, I had reviewed for my blog called “She’s Funny that Way.” With a little reworking it would probably be appropriate for the blogathon, and a bit easier than trying to write something new. Although I’m due for a repeat watching of Kate and Leopold, which has some divinely screwball moments itself, while it’s on Dish TV.

    • I’m glad New York was everything you expected, hopefully one fine day I’ll make it there. I’ve just been over and read your review of She’s Funny that Way again, it would be perfect fit for the blogathon. Peter Bogdanovich and a talent-laden cast in a throwback to the screwball comedies of old… and who could resist Izzy Finkelstein?

  5. Great post 🙂 So much for me to comment on 🙂 In retrospect, you may be correct when you imply that by the 1970’s screwball comedies were being viewed as out of date. Even when Ealing Studios gave us those witty British comedies during the 1950’s, screwball was still considered top dollar at the time even though directorial greats like Howard Hawks and Leo McCarey were largely moving past screwball comedy by that time. What’s Up Doc? is very good Peter Bogdanovich. While it might work more as a homage rather than an original take on the sub-genre in general. But hey it is still a very good film in my opinion 🙂 The 90’s romantic comedies of One Fine Day (1996) and Addicted to Love (1997) both play out like homages. Though I sometimes wonder If the reason critics do not cite the directors we cite when discussing them is because directors Michael Hoffman of the former and Griffin Dunne of the latter do not come off as a superstar filmmaker like Bogdanovich was in the 1970’s. That and prior to his filmmaking career, Bogdanovich was a film critic and I believe film historian though he still remains current film historian. Speaking of the title What’s Up Doc?, one wonders If Bogdanovich got the title from Bugs Bunny’s catchphrase in Looney Tunes since the comedy on display there is pretty off the wall like it is in screwball comedy. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    • Thanks for another stellar comment, so much food for thought! I suppose What’s up Doc? was a watershed and it doesn’t hurt that it happens to be a really great film. Peter Bogdanovich was wise to use Howard Hawks’ Bringing up Baby as an inspiration rather than a template to give What’s Up, Doc? its own identity. As a result, it comes off more as a love letter to screwball comedies in general as well as to classic animated shorts. If I remember correctly, when Barbra Streisand’s character Judy, is first introduced to Ryan O’Neal’s Howard, she’s seen munching on a carrot a la Bugs Bunny and/or Clark Gable from It Happened One Night.
      You do make another great point about the critical reception of One Fine Day and Addicted to Love. Griffin Dunne and Michael Hoffman were relatively unknown at the time, and didn’t have the gravitas of a Bogdanovich, Demme or Scorsese. It does makes me wonder how those films would have been received if Bogdanovich had directed One Fine Day and Martin Scorsese had been at the helm of Addicted to Love.

      • Great reply 🙂 What’s Up Doc? does indeed come off as an homage to the screwball comedy and the title was no coincidence considering the connection between Bugs Bunny and the Barbara Streisand character in regards to carrots. I can see Bogdanovich directing One Fine Day and I can see Scorsese directing Addicted to Love. In fact, Scorsese has done a pure black comedy before with After Hours back in 1985. Interestingly enough, Griffin Dunne (who directed Addicted to Love) starred in After Hours as well. Jonathan Demme as you know directed Michelle Pfeiffer in Married to the Mob back in 1988 which was two years before he directed the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Once again, keep up the great work as always 🙂

        • Thanks for keeping the conversation going, your insightful comments are always a pleasure to read!
          I think it’s impossible to love movies and not admire Peter Bogdanovich. His films show a love for the art of filmmaking, and his knowledge of the history and technique of cinema is always present in his writings, commentaries and frequent championing of others’ work.
          It’s a crying shame Peter didn’t direct any films between The Thing Called Love (1993) and The Cat’s Meow (2001). As a master of screwball comedy imagine what he could have done with Meg Ryan at the peak of her powers.

  6. I love One Fine Day! I’d forgotten about that movie, it’s hilarious. George Clooney is sex on legs in that film. Sorry, George Clooney is sex on legs. Just to be clear 😉

  7. I’m liking the sound of What’s Up Doc? Thanks for bringing it to my attention Paul.

  8. Are there any good modern screwball comedies in the past few years? I can’t think of any. Glad this blogathon will introduce me to more of this genre’s gems! 🙂

    • Welcome Jade. Good modern screwball comedies are very rare. Since Addicted to Love was released 20 years ago, She’s Funny that Way is the only one I can think of. If there is a film you’d like to feature let me know. You’ll be more than welcome!

  9. Amen to this we need more good comedies!!! I have all but stopped watching the news because it’s so depressing and I choose to think more people are good than bad but watching the news – urr. Need laughter more!!

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