Romantic comedy comes in so many forms but the screwball comedy is a particular subgenre that came to prominence during the United States economic depression of the 1930s and ‘40s. Screwball comedy is characterized by making light of the love plots it contains and usually stars a dominating woman in the heterosexual relationship. These films are also sometimes referred to as “the battle of the sexes.” Fast, witty dialogue, farce, mistaken identity, physical comedy, and class clashes are also often found in screwball comedies. Listed here are ten screwball films that we hope you’ll enjoy. Let the hijinks ensue!
It Happened One Night (1934)
Starring: Claudette Colbert Clark Gable
It Happened One Night is not the first screwball comedy of the depression era but it is one of the earliest and is often looked to as the defining example. In their first film together, Claudette Colbert stars as an heiress on the run from her lavish life who meets down-on-his-luck Clark Gable. Gable is in actuality a reporter, on the hunt for the next big story and it has just fallen in his lap.
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Starring: Carole Lombard, William Powell
Class conflict is brought to the forefront in this screwball comedy. Carole Lombard, the second daughter of a wealthy New York family, finds Godfrey (William Powell) at the city dump during a scavenger hunt. Godfrey is a scruffy, rough man living in a shanty town and finds himself hired by the flighty socialite as the family butler.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant
Stodgy paleontologist, David Huxley (Cary Grant), is mostly concerned with the completion of a brontosaurus skeleton at his museum. But when a scatterbrained socialite (this time played by Katharine Hepburn) crosses his path and causes him frustration, he finds that he cannot escape her notice and a series of absurd run-ins begins.
His Girl Friday (1940)
Starring: Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant
Star-reporter Hildy Johnson (Russell) has just returned to The Morning Post after a prolonged absence to acquire a Reno divorce. Her ex-husband, Walter (Grant), also happens to be her boss at the Post and, on learning that she is leaving her job to get remarried, Walter begins a campaign to keep his best reporter and his best girl.
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart
Socialite (are you tired of that word yet?) Tracy Lord is in the headlines (again) with her second wedding drawing close. But Tracy has her hands full when the day before her nuptials brings to her doorstep her ex-husband Dex (Cary Grant), two rag reporters, and her estranged father.
High Society (1956)
Starring: Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, Frank SInatra
This film is almost an exact copy of The Philadelphia Story with slight adjustments to allow for the singing talents of Crosby and Sinatra.
My Favorite Wife (1940)
Starring: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant
Having lost his wife in a tragic shipwreck seven years ago, Nick Arden (Grant) has finally had his wife declared dead and remarried. But when the former Mrs. Arden (Irene Dunne) suddenly reappears, Nick finds himself in a pickle.
Move Over, Darling (1963)
Starring: Doris Day, James Garner
This film is almost an exact copy of My Favorite Wife with slight adjustments to allow for the singing talents of Doris Day. ^.^
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon
Musicians Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon) are on the run after having witnessed a mob hit in Prohibition Chicago. To escape the city, Joe & Jerry disguise themselves as women, Josephine & Daphne, and blend in with an all-female band headed for Florida.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Bucky Hackett, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman
Starring almost every notable comedian of 1960s Hollywood and including countless other cameos, this movie is loud and madcap from start to finish. A group of motorists are witness to the fatal car crash of a criminal. Before he kicks the bucket this elderly man shares with them the location of a hidden stash. From there it’s every car for themselves to get to the loot first!
The Great Race (1965)
Starring: Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are a classic comedy pairing that don’t get quite enough credit. In The Great Race they are turn of the century daredevils, rivals for the glory of being the first! The Great Leslie (Curtis) always dashing in pure white and Professor Fate (Lemmon) in black are the two main competitors in an epic automobile race from New York to Paris. But neither has counted on the intrepid feminist reporter, Maggie Dubois (Wood).
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
Starring: Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, Madeline Kahn
Dr. Howard Bannister (O’Neal) has arrived in San Francisco in hopes of winning a research grant. With Bannister are his fiance (Kahn) and his plaid overnight bag. Three more identical bags arrived at the same time and as one mix-up leads to another, Bannister finds himself dragged into a series of incomprehensible situations. At the center of this mayhem is a strange young woman (Streisand) who seems determined to throw herself in Bannister’s way.
As usual, these films are products of their time. Especially in the earlier films, the inclusion of people of color is limited or stereotyped. We acknowledge the failings of these films, at no time was it excusable, and want to be sure that our readers are aware of these issues before watching them.
We hope these films give you a chuckle! Share with us on Twitter or Discord if you find a new favorite!