This Recording


In Which A Comedy Of Equals Beats A Bromance Every Time by Molly Lambert
April 24, 2008, 1:10 pm
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Screwball Comedies And Great Female Characters

by Molly Lambert

Since we’ve been lamenting the current state of the romantic comedy a lot lately, I thought I’d take it back to see if we can figure out just how things got so bad. I hope Zach Galifianakis got paid in bricks of gold hash for classing up the horrendous What Happens In Vegas, and it’s equally sad to see the fabulous Michelle Monaghan relegated to playing the Dermot Mulroney role in My Best Friend’s Maid Of Honor after her indelible turn as a fast-talking dame in Shane Black’s awesome Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Joan Blondell, Sex Object With A Smart Mouth


It’s important to remember well written smart and sexy female characters have been known to exist in film, and that a battle between comedic equals is ten times more interesting (and hotter!) than a bromance. How much better could Wedding Crashers have been had they given Rachel McAdams something to do besides stand still and look pretty? Anyone who’s seen Mean Girls knows what a fierce comic actress she is.

James Cagney & Joan Blondell

The Screwball Comedies of the thirties and forties really were a Golden Age of well-matched onscreen couples. Film critics like A.O. Scott and Anthony Lane, and David Denby are not just whistling Dixie when they claim that it was better back then. I have no idea why movies like Leatherheads and Intolerable Cruelty fall flat. I mean, I have SOME idea but that’s another post.

Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday

The best battles in the gender wars these days are being waged offscreen. i.e. Tina Fey and Judd Apatow, Hillary and Obama, Diablo Cody and Joe Francis. Hopefully Tina and Diablo’s successes will open some doors in the Old Boys Club (yes it still exists, especially in Hollywood).

Myrna Loy in The Thin Man

Masculine Women! Feminine Men!” – Harry Reser & His Six Jumping Jacks

Women remain a much underserved audience and we deserve much better than How To Lose A Guy Wearing 27 Dresses. I’m just thankful the discussions have finally been opened back up. There are many millions of different modes for being male and female in the modern age. Maybe someday soon we’ll get to see some romantic comedies that geniunely reflect that. Lord knows Woody Allen’s not gonna make them.

Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey

She’s A Woman” – The Beatles

Screwball Comedy on Green Cine

The Lubitsch Touch At Film Forum

Claudette Colbert (has our birthday!) in It Happened One Night

Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him” – John Lennon

Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby

On the set of Bringing Up Baby the costume department stole Katherine Hepburn’s slacks from her dressing room after the studio brass ordered that she wear a dress or skirt onscreen. She walked around the studio in her underwear and refused to put anything else on until they were returned.

Kate and Cary: Two Bisexuals I’d Go Polyamorous For

Parachute Woman” – The Rolling Stones

Hepburn and Grant with the titular Baby

Nowadays A Woman’s Got To Hit A Man” – Captain Beefheart

Barbara Stanwyck holds the cards in The Lady Eve

Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I Got)” – The Four Tops

Kate Hepburn takes the wheel from Spencer Tracy in Adam’s Rib

Hard Headed Woman” – Wanda Jackson

Barbara Stanwyck gets her man (Henry Fonda) in The Lady Eve

Mountain Woman” – The Kinks

The literary critic Stanley Cavell has noted that many classic screwball comedies turn on an interlude in the state of Connecticut (Bringing Up Baby, The Lady Eve, The Awful Truth).

Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night

William Powell and Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey

Honky Tonk Woman” – Prince

Hepburn takes Tracy to court in Adam’s Rib

My Favorite Screwball Comedy Directors:

Ernst Lubitsch

Preston Sturges

Frank Capra

Howard Hawks

Gregory La Cava

George Cukor

Spencer Tracy, William Powell, Jean Harlow & Myrna Loy make it a foursome in Libeled Lady

Living, Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)” – Led Zeppelin

I just saw Libeled Lady and it was remarkably good. Based on the title I assumed it’d be a pre-code fallen woman film, but it’s definitely a screwball comedy with a great cast and a tight script.

Kay Francis and Miriam Hopkins in Trouble In Paradise

Billy Wilder wrote seminal Screwball Ninotchka but didn’t direct it. The Apartment is not technically a Screwball Comedy (having been made in 1960) but it has a lot of classic Screwball elements (ditto Some Like It Hot).

Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall get the Lubitsch Touch

The Screwball (baseball pitch) was invented in 1934.

Joel McCrea & Veronica Lake in Sullivan’s Travels: “Who’s Lubitsch?”

He Knows A Lot Of Good Women” – Arthur Lee

William Powell and Myrna Loy as The Thin Man’s Nick and Nora Charles (The Hays Code = separate beds, even for spouses)

Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife

Miriam Hopkins between two fags in the toned-down movie version of Noel Coward’s considerably gayer play Design For Living

Carole Lombard kicks John Barrymore’s ass in Twentieth Century

Modern Woman” – Richard Thompson

Molly Lambert is the hilarious answer to who wears the pants at This Recording. Her Man Friday is Alex Carnevale.

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING:

No Cunnilingus For Oil Men

Woody Allen Sequels

Selma Diamond, Tallulah Bankhead, & Mary Tyler Moore

THIS RECORDING IS THE ALE AND QUAIL CLUB

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12 Comments so far
Leave a comment

That’s Henry Fonda not Gary Cooper that Ms. Stanwyck is screwballing in that shot.

My geek moment is now complete.

Comment by tommy wilhelm

If you scroll down quickly between these two posts, you get pretty much the entire history of comedy.

Comment by Joseph

oh man when I start mislabeling Henry Fonda that’s how I know I’ve been blogging for too many consecutive hours

Comment by Molly Lambert

See:
Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage by Stanley Cavell

Comment by Daniel Darland

Ain’t nothing like a good screwball comedy. Great post.

His Girl Friday FTW

Comment by Chad

Drinking game for Barbara Stanwyck movies: drink every time there is a conspicuous leg shot

Comment by Molly Young

…if you do this for The Lady Eve you can get wasted in 9 minutes

Comment by Molly Young

never be afraid of molly’s ferocity, she likes to walk around with no pants on just like katherine hepburn

Comment by maya

[...] Screwball Comedies and the Ladies Who Love Them [...]

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Hay Code?
I always wondered why my parents had separate beds.

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