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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
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
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:
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
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
Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife
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:
THIS RECORDING IS THE ALE AND QUAIL CLUB
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