40+ screwballs later… some final thoughts and recommendations:
Top Ten Essential Screwballs
It Happened One Night (1934)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
The Awful Truth (1937)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
You Can’t Take It with You (1938)
His Girl Friday (1940)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Lady Eve (1941)
Ball of Fire (1941)
The Palm Beach Story (1942)
If you have read this complete series, you know that this is not my personal top ten, but rather a list to provide someone new to screwball comedies a good sampling of the best actors, stories, and styles to be found in the genre. In addition, these should be readily available at your library or via Netflix.
If you have seen and enjoyed many of the works above and want to take it to the next level, you should seek out these lesser-known films, most of which could easily be on anyone’s personal top ten list:
Six Screwballs to Seek Out
Libeled Lady (1936)
Easy Living (1937)
My Favorite Wife (1940)
Love Crazy (1941)
The More the Merrier (1943)
I would also highly recommend the following films even though they do not have a purely screwball pedigree:
Six Screwball-Adjacent Masterpieces
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Design for Living (1933)
The Thin Man (1934)
Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
And now the awards!
Most Overrated Film: Bringing Up Baby
Most Underrated Film: Easy Living
Favorite Discovery: Ball of Fire
Slight rosiness?!? It’s as red as The Daily Worker and just as sore!
—Sugarpuss O’Shea on the state of her throat in Ball of Fire
The Time-I-Can’t-Get-Back Award: I Met Him in Paris
Favorite Plots: Easy Living, If You Could Only Cook, The More the Merrier
Most Convoluted Plot: Theodora Goes Wild
Best Dialogue: His Girl Friday
Most Screwy: Bringing Up Baby
Most Romantic: It Happened One Night
Favorite Underrated Director: Mitchell Leisen (Easy Living, Midnight). Now I wish I had managed to see Hands Across the Table with Carole Lombard.
Cary Grant Films: 7 (Favorite Character: C.K. Dexter Haven in The Philadelphia Story; Best Performance: Arsenic and Old Lace)
William Powell Films: 6 (Favorite Character: Godfrey in My Man Godfrey; Best Performance: Love Crazy)
Jean Arthur Films: 6 (Favorite Character: Babe Bennett in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; Best Performance: The More the Merrier)
Carole Lombard Films: 5 (Favorite Character: Maria Tura in To Be or Not to Be; Best Performance: My Man Godfrey)
Myrna Loy Films: 5 (Favorite Character: Nora Charles in The Thin Man; Best Performance: The Thin Man)
Claudette Colbert Films: 5 (Favorite Character: Nicole de Loiselle in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife; Best Performance: It Happened One Night)
Best Overall Performance: William Powell (who transitions from loving husband, to acting crazy and “setting the hats free” at a society party, to going drag as his own sister) in Love Crazy
Favorite Supporting Actor: William Demarest (Easy Living, The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek)
Favorite Supporting Actress: Spring Byington (Theodora Goes Wild, You Can’t Take It with You, Rings on Her Fingers)
Best Ensemble: The Bullock Family in My Man Godfrey
All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people.
—Alexander Bullock in My Man Godfrey
Favorite Ensemble: The seven dwarfs professors in Ball of Fire
Favorite Mobster: Leo Carrillo as bootlegger (and gourmet) Mike Rossini in If You Could Only Cook
Favorite Cameo: Carl Switzer (aka “Alfalfa” from The Little Rascals) as a boy scout in I Love You Again
The Mulder & Scully Sexual Tension Award (tie): The whistle-off/sing-off between Melvyn Douglas and Irene Dunne in Theodora Goes Wild; the “whippoorwill” scene in It Happened One Night
—By the way, what’s your name?
—Who are you?
—Who me?… I’m the whippoorwill that cries in the night. I’m the soft morning breeze that caresses your lovely face.
—You’ve got a name, haven’t you?
—Yeah, I got a name. Peter Warne.
—Peter Warne. I don’t like it.
—Don’t let it bother you. You’re giving it back to me in the morning.
—Ellie Andrews and Peter Warne in It Happened One Night
Least Appealing Love Interests: Gene Anders (Robert Young) and George Potter (Melvyn Douglas) in I Met Him in Paris
Least Favorite Heroine: Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) in Bringing Up Baby
Least Favorite Hero: Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) in Libeled Lady
Strongest Female Character: Joan Hawthorne (Jean Arthur) in If You Could Only Cook
Biggest Sap (tie): Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) in The Lady Eve; John Wheeler (Henry Fonda) in Rings on Her Fingers
Favorite Cynical Brunette: Emmy Kockenlocker (Diana Lynn) in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Favorite Dr. Eggelhoffer (tie): Dr. Emil Eggelhoffer from Nothing Sacred; Dr. Max J. Eggelhoffer from His Girl Friday. Cliché much? I sincerely hope this is some Hollywood hat tip I’m not aware of. I was half expecting the team of doctors in Love Crazy to all be named Eggelhoffer (although I would have also been happy with Dr. Emil Schaffhausen).
Most Catty: Miss Bragg (Kathleen Howard) in Ball of Fire
If I were the cream for that woman’s coffee, I’d curdle.
—Miss Bragg about Sugarpuss O’Shea in Ball of Fire
Favorite Scene: John Barrymore on the telephone in Midnight
Best Title Sequence: The mock silent film, freeze-frame set-up to The Palm Beach Story
Best Title Sequence (runner-up): The flipping newspaper pages in The Front Page
Most Cinematic Opening: The zoom and pan opening of Trouble in Paradise, going from the garbage collector and his gondola, to a darkened hotel room and the after effects of a robbery, to two Italian women buzzing at the room’s door, then finally panning along the outside of the hotel room windows to settle on Gaston (the “baron”) on the balcony of his room with a waiter
—What shall we start with Baron?
—Hmm? Oh, yes… That’s not so easy. Beginnings are always difficult.
—The hotel waiter to “the baron” in Trouble in Paradise
Best Visual Cue: The clocks signaling the passage of time in Trouble in Paradise
Best Wardrobe (tie): Kay Francis as Mariette Colet in Trouble in Paradise, designed by Travis Banton; Gene Tierney as Linda Worthington in Rings on Her Fingers, designed by Gwen Wakeling
Favorite Wedding Gown: Miriam Hopkins in Design for Living
Best Hair: Veronica Lake in Sullivan’s Travels
Best in Slapstick: William Powell “fishing” in Libeled Lady
Best in Meet-Cute: Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert each buying one half of a pair of pajamas in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife
Best Use of a Musical Cue: “My Man” in Too Many Husbands
Favorite Performance of a Song: The professors singing “Sweet Genevieve” in Ball of Fire
Best in Lip Sync: Betty Hutton showing off for the soldiers with “The Bell in the Bay” in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Worst in Lip Sync: Barbara Stanwyck as Sugarpuss O’Shea performing “Drum Boogie” in Ball of Fire
Most Overused Song: “Ochi chernye” (“Dark Eyes”). In addition to being the often-interrupted Russian song of Mrs. Bullock’s protégé, played by Mischa Auer, in My Man Godfrey, I noticed it in the background of the restaurant scene in You Can’t Take It With You, which also features Mischa Auer as a ballet teacher. Finally, it plays a key role in The Shop Around the Corner, as the music box theme.
Most Overused Dog: Skippy the Dog (aka Asta). In addition to a starring role in the Thin Man movies, Skippy plays a not-insignificant role as Mr. Smith, the object of a custody dispute in The Awful Truth, as well as George, the dog who hides the dinosaur bone in Bringing Up Baby.
Favorite Performance by a Goat: My Man Godfrey
Best Use of a Santa Suit: Cary Grant in My Favorite Wife
Favorite Euphemism: The typewriter being kept “in working order” in Design for Living
—You didn’t keep it oiled.
—I did for a while.
—The keys are rusty. The shift is broken.
Gilda slides the carriage, causing the typewriter to ding. They look at each other with surprise.
—But it still rings! It still rings.
—Tommy wondering about the state of his old typewriter in Design for Living
Favorite Final Shot: The crossing skis in Mr. and Mrs. Smith
And they all lived happily after…
For previous posts in the Screwball series, click below:
March Madcapness: Introduction to Screwballs
Early Screwballs and The Lubitsch Touch
1930s Screwball Classics and Forgotten Films
1940s Screwballs: Comedies of Remarriage
1940s Screwballs: The Rise of Preston Sturges