Tag Archives: Screwball Comedy

Maggie’s a Hawksian Woman

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.
hatariWhile 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.
hoagie-serenades-laurenThough 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.hawksian-ancestorMichelle 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.
hot-dog-maggieIt 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.

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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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