As I watched “Some Like it Hot” on TCM last night, I started to reflect on my favourite comedies. I’m not a particular fan of the comedy genre, I suppose because so many are trite and too fluffy for my taste. I rarely watch modern comedies, as so often I find that they rely on vulgarity, obvious physical comedy, cliches, and a overall lack of wit. Nonetheless, there are some comedies that I admire greatly. In no particular order, they are:
Bringing up Baby: This 1938 pairing of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, directed by Howard Hawks, actually caused me to fall out of my chair with laughter the first time I saw it. I quite literally had tears running down my eyes; it’s hard to pick the funniest scenes of the film, since there are so many of them. Seeing Cary Grant dressed in too-short jodhpurs, riding shoes, and flip-flops running after George the dog is worth the price of admission.
His Girl Friday: This 1940 Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell pairing, directed by Howard Hawks, leaves me almost breathless every time I see it. I can’t imagine how the actors managed spit out the dialogue in that machine-gun pace while still enunciate clearly. The dialogue is sublimely witty and poignant, and poor Ralph Bellamy is completely outclassed (as intended) by the elegant and wicked Grant.
My Man Godfrey: This 1936 LaCava film features the elegant, urbane, and witty William Powell, posing as a butler in the wonderfully-insane family under leadership of the long suffering Eugene Pallette. The dialogue is intelligent, very witty, and sophisticated.
Some Like it Hot: The American Film Institute has chosen this 1959 Billy Wilder film as the funniest American comedy ever made; it’s easy to understand why. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as Daphne and Josephine are a perfect duo; Lemmon is the obvious comic relief, while Curtis manages to be graceful even in stilettos. Curtis’ impression of Cary Grant is the best I’ve ever heard, and Marilyn Monroe has never been better or more beautiful. Joe E. Brown nearly steals the show with the best closing line of any film.
Duck Soup: I love the Marx Brothers; I didn’t appreciate them when I first saw them, but that’s probably because I was too young to appreciate the subversive nature of their chaotic humour. Fortunately, I have since seen the light. This 1933 offering is probably the best of the series with many memorable screwball scenes (especially the mirror) and the always put-upon Margaret Dumont.
It Happened One Night: I often find Frank Capra to be too sentimental for my liking, but he hit the jackpot with this classic 1934 comedy starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. The film was quite daring for its time, given the shared bedroom scenes (who can forget the walls of Jericho?). Gable, as usual, imbues charm, machismo, and pragmatism into his performance. Colbert holds her own, which is no easy feat, given Gable’s powerful presence.
The Philadelphia Story: Yet another Cary Grant-Katherine Hepburn pairing, this time directed by George Cukor in 1934. It’s hard to believe that Hepburn was box-office poison at the time. Cary Grant’s wit and urbanity completely outclass James Stewart; I must admit to bias here, since I’ve never been a big fan of James Stewart, and I find his Connor character to be self righteous and a dreadful bore. The supporting characters of Ruth Hussey, Virginia Weidler, and Roland Young nearly steal the show so many times.
The Awful Truth: Leo McCarey’s 1937 comedy features Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a soon-to-be-divorced couple who go out of their way to sabotage each others’ romances. The ending is a foregone conclusion, of course. The dialogue crackles with wit, sarcasm, and sophistication.
Arsenic and Old Lace: This 1944 Frank Capra vehicle is completely nutty; Cary Grant is possibly the only sane character in the film, other than his new bride. The acting is often over the top, but the farcical nature of this film allows for this. The deliciously-evil Raymond Chandler (Oh Canada) as the Boris Karloff knockoff, and the drunken Peter Lorre are superb.
The General: This 1926 Buster Keaton film is simply extraordinary. Keaton manages to take a seemingly simple plot of one train chasing another and turn it into a comedic tour de force. I’ve loved Buster Keaton since I was very young; I was always captivated by the contrast between that stone face, and the outrageous situations he finds himself in.
As you can tell, I’m a bit partial to Cary Grant ….