HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell. Dir. Howard Hawks
"You've got an old-fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever, 'til death do us part.' Why divorce doesn't meant anything nowadays, Hildy, just a few words mumbled over you by a judge." - Walter Burns
Ever heard of the “screwball” comedy? Well, if not, here’s a prime example of one. Get ready to be thrown in and FAST. When they say, “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” this is the kind of move they’re literally talking about. No one makes screwball anymore, and in fact they stopped doing so past the 1940’s. Maybe the plots are too absurd, or the dialogue too insanely fast to sound natural, or maybe they just forgot how to write them, simple as that. Director Howard Hawks was a master of the genre, directing both this and Bringing Up Baby (1938), maybe the two most famous screwball comedies of all time. Of the two, I prefer this one, so start with this and then work your way across. Cary Grant is the nuttiest newspaper editor ever seen on film, and Rosalind Russell is his ex wife who works for him as the star reporter. He’s scheming to get her back as she gets sucked into the fast breaking “biggest news story of the century” and wacky hijinks ensue from there. And boy, do things get wacky. Quite possibly the most rapid fire dialogue ever put to screen, you’ll find yourself in awe of how Grant and Russell can spout an entire conversation, quip after quip, all in one take without feeling forced (How are they not out of breath by the end of the scene?). The chemistry between them is amazing, and the action moves just as fast as the words. Things spiral out of control and you have to keep up with every minute of it, making it an exercise in viewer attention spans on top of everything else. Don’t go for this one if you like it mindless, it challenges you to keep up with the plot twists and the jokes. But don’t worry, if you miss a few punchlines, go back and run through it again, it’s just as fun the second time around.
Original 1940 Trailer:
A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988) Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese. Dir. Charles Crichton and John Cleese
"Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not 'every man for himself.' And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up!" - Wanda
A good bit of the Monty Python gang got together for this one, and though I’m decidedly NOT the biggest Monty Python fan, I have to say this movie is hilarious all the way through. Jaime Lee Curtis and Oscar winner Kevin Kline are jewel thieves out to pull off a job in England, but when it all goes wrong, their British collaborator gets thrown in jail and they seek to scam him out of his share. John Cleese is the attorney who gets cuckolded by Curtis and pulled into their plan, and Michael Palin is the hilarious, stuttering fellow thief who can’t seem to do anything right. This is one of those perfect scripts where every twist is followed through, every character meets their match, and every joke hits just the right note. Special mention for Kevin Kline though; it’s hard to steal the show with a cast this amazing, and where EVERYONE is pretty equally funny, but he somehow pulls it off anyway, just by a hair. As the “don’t call me stupid” but really dumb as rocks American ex-CIA agent, he lights up the screen with energy and pitch perfect delivery. You’d have no idea he wasn’t a primary comedic actor the way he dominates the scene every time he shows up (as indeed, I didn’t back when I first saw it). The Oscar he picked up for this one was well deserved, and in fact one of the very few ever won for a comedic performance. Check this one out to see why. You won't dispute it : it was a tour de force of comic mastery.
SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon. Dir. Billy Wilder
"Will you look at that! Look how she moves! It's like Jell-O on springs." - Jerry
I go back and forth over whether it’s this or The Apartment (1960) for Billy Wilder’s crowning achievement. It’s really a tie, I guess, but this was funnier, widely regarded by pretty much everyone as one of the funniest (and best) movies ever made. And it is, no argument here. I’ve seen it many, many times now and it never fails to make me laugh, even when I know all the dialogue by heart. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are musicians on the run, hiding out in an all girls band to escape the mob after witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Lemmon and Curtis are at their best in drag, Lemmon especially as he steals almost every scene with perfect zest, timing and delivery. Marilyn Monroe is the girl they both fall for, but who Tony Curtis gets to seduce, and what’s there to say about Marilyn, really? If you’ve never seen her in anything, this is really all you need to see, the legend is here in full force. Made just three years before she died, she was already an icon and knew it. Here she does what she does best: sings (and speaks) in that wispy, baby talk voice of hers, plays dumb to the antics of the boys falling all over themselves, and willingly, even cheerfully, gets taken in by the ruse played on her from beginning to end by that likeable cad Curtis (with his savage Cary Grant impersonation a knowing wink to audiences). There’s a hint of sadness to her as well—you suspect Billy Wilder’s dialogue was molded for real life Marilyn, as she bemoans (but in a carefree, playful way) her terrible taste in men, her desire for material riches, and her lack of smarts in well, any general area. Did I mention this is where she sings “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” and “I’m Through With Love,” yes, both in the same movie. Like I said, this is all you need to see the complete trajectory of the Marilyn Monroe myth on screen. The last line, one of the most famous in movie history, lifts the whole film decades beyond its time with the final message, but I wouldn’t be cruel enough to spoil it for you here. See it for yourself. It’s worth every minute.
Original 1959 Trailer:
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell. Dir. Harold Ramis
"Well what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today." - Phil
As many times as I’ve seen it, I only caught on to the fact that it was an “existential” comedy as I got older, which is a good sign that the movie works on both levels: a rip roaring delight and showcase for Bill Murray’s dry and detached persona, and a deeper philosophical lesson about a jerk who’s forced to change after spending an eternity in a hell of his own making. I’m not sure if it’s this or Ghostbusters that best gives you Bill Murray’s star qualities, but you really can’t go wrong with either. One of my favorite comic actors of all time, he took off in the 80s, with Caddyshack, Meatballs, Stripes, and Ghostbusters all showing off his low key, laid back and ironic wit. Many times it feels like he’s so in on the joke, he’s constantly winking at the audience with his offhand, under the breath remarks on the absurdity of whatever situation he’s facing, thoroughly removed from it, always bemused by it, and all to the viewer’s delight. Here he’s an asshole weatherman who can’t stand making the trip up to Punxatawny, PA for the annual Groundhog Day festivities, and as some sort of cosmic comeuppance for his dickishness, is then forced to spend what eventually adds up to at least ten years (by my count) reliving the same day over and over (and over) again. Of course, he’s the only one who knows it. Murray rocks every scene, first with his baffled, then devilishly gleeful, then resigned, and finally mercenary attitude, as he becomes a better person devoted to good deeds in order to win the heart of the impossibly saintly Andie MacDowell. A philosophical comedy? Definitely, but also just funny as all get out and a tribute to the comedic genius of the star, who was maybe the only person who could have pulled this role off.
THE THIN MAN (1934) William Powell, Myrna Loy. Dir. W.S. Van Dyke
"I read you were shot five times in the tabloids." - Nora
"It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids." - Nick
One of my top ten favorite movies of all time, the movie I would most recommend to anyone who’s never seen a classic film and wants to start. I just couldn’t imagine somebody not liking it. Nick and Nora Charles are the world’s most perfect couple: he solves mysteries for fun, she’s a carefree heiress, and they joke, laugh, banter and make it a point to stay drunk all day. The movie is ostensibly about Nick solving a murder plot, but who cares about that when what you really love is watching Nick and Nora lounge around, trade witty one liners and stride through life as careless as can be. William Powell and Myrna Loy were one of the great pairings in movie history, the chemistry just oozes off the screen at every instance. Even when the scene is about something else, you catch them eying each other in the background playfully- you’d never guess they weren’t married in real life. Audiences thought the same thing at the time, as Loy and Powell made 14 films together, including five more Thin Man movies. The screenplay was witty and laugh out loud funny, the barbs came fast and furious, and one of the novelties of the movie at the time was the way Nick and Nora were a married couple who actually LIKED each other and seemed to be friends. Like the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies in the thirties, the Thin Man series appealed to the public because it was a distraction from their current woes: Nick and Nora were filthy rich and lovin' it, and the excessive drinking was a celebration of the public euphoria at the repeal of Prohibition. The Thin Man is a joy to watch and a completely appealing entertainment from start to finish- like I said before, I PROMISE you your money back of you don’t like this movie, it’s not dated in the slightest.
Original 1934 Trailer:
WITHNAIL AND I (1987) Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann. Dir. Bruce Robinson
"Don't threaten me with a dead fish!" - Withnail
This low budget independent British film became a massive cult favorite in England, now known over there on the level of a Spinal Tap or Office Space here.. It’s a very witty, very dry, very British movie, but for those with an appreciation for the dark flippant English humor (that is decidedly NOT Pythonesque), it’s an incredibly sly, clever, and somewhat deep little film. Grant and McGann are two struggling, burned out artists (actor and writer) at the tail end of the 60’s, who are sort of in existential crisis mode as they figure out what to do with their lives. You might think they live in a sort of squalor and dampness, but it’s a very English attitude to make light of dark circumstances and mock their own misery, and you find yourself laughing at their resigned state of angst and pathetic-ness. The friends go on a vacation to the country house of an uncle, where they are harassed by a gay neighbor, and forced to hunt for their own food, turning a relaxing weekend into a drugged out state of hell. Grant especially is high for almost the entire movie, being the one who cares less about his ultimate fate, while McGann is the one harboring some doubts about his rootless existence. A subtle meditation on the end of the 1960’s, with the two pal’s dilemma serving as a metaphor for an entire generation coming to terms with the less than revolutionary future on the horizon. The screenplay has a million endlessly quotable lines, and the characters remain likeable in an ordinary sort of way- you sympathize with their plight, and their ability to laugh at themselves allows you to laugh with them and not at them.
OFFICE SPACE (1999) Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston. Dir. Mike Judge
"So I was sitting in my cubicle today and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life." - Peter Gibbons
Speaking of cult favorites this was another one, the precursor to The Office (the UK and the US versions), and filled with America’s side of straitlaced sardonic wit and biting satire, although the reason it became such a cult hit was due to the all too real way people related to it. It did strike a chord, as there are way too many of us who spend our days cooped up in office cubicles, doing monotonous work we don’t really understand the purpose of, hating our bosses and coworkers, and counting down the minutes until the clock strikes five. Ron Livingston is the deadened office bot, who experiences an epiphany of epic proportions when a hypnotist has a heart attack and dies right in front of him. From that point on he lives the way he wants, skating through the work day with an “I don’t care” attitude, living the dream of millions of office workers the world over. The movie strikes the perfect low key, laconic pace of a mild office rebellion, and the supporting cast is excellent, with the smallest roles filled with subtle, tonally perfect performances. People who wander in and out of the screen somehow get off a biting one liner before their scene’s up, every person reminding you of someone you know or have seen before. Gary Cole nearly steals the movie as Livingston’s boss, deliciously sneering his lines in that perfect, condescending and smug attitude of every higher up who’s ever reveled in his own superior douchebaggery. So why not come home, take a load off, and have pity on the working man, ok? He’s got a rough slog.
TOOTSIE (1982) Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange. Dir. Sydney Pollack
"I'd like to make her a little more attractive. How far can you pull back?" - Rita
"How do you feel about Cleveland?" - Cameraman
In all honesty, this is another one that goes on my list of favorite MOVIES of all time, not just comedies. I could never tire of it, no matter how many times I pop it in. Dustin Hoffman is one of the greats for me, period, as his roll in the 60’s and 70’s churned out some of my all time favorite movies, including The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, All the President’s Men, Kramer vs. Kramer, and yes this one. He really could do no wrong for quite a while there. Tootsie is a sharp satire on gender politics, his own offscreen personality, the ridiculousness of soap operas, and a genuinely tender love story between a woman, and a man who’s better with her as a woman than he ever was with a woman as a man. Got that? You will. As Michael Dorsey AND Dorothy Michaels, Hoffman gives one of his greatest performances (which is really saying something when you look at the aforementioned resume) as a temperamental and perfectionist actor whom no one in Hollywood or New York wants to work with. So what does he do ? Well, he puts on a dress, inverts his name and lands a part as a woman. Despite looking like a drag queen, (s)he of course becomes the most popular soap star in the country as a champion for women’s rights of all things, but what’s the problem? It’s only for a season right? Well, things get complicated when Michael falls for his beautiful and fragile costar Jessica Lange, who won an Oscar as the emotionally damaged woman who comes to depend on Dorothy, and things get even MORE complicated when Lange’s father falls for Dorothy, and Michael himself gets tangled up in another one sided affair with his OTHER emotionally damaged friend Teri Garr (also nominated). All the mix ups and false fronts get handled in a perfectly paced set up of final reveals, where Jessica Lange too reveals the importance of her presence as the only “straight man” in the movie- it pushes the final scene into one of genuinely moving pathos. Sydney Pollack and Bill Murray are terrific in support here, and it’s another one of those perfect scripts in my mind. Not a single moment feels wrong, too sentimental or over the top.
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert. Dir. Frank Capra
"I want to see what love looks like when it's triumphant. I haven't had a good laugh in a week." - Peter Warne
One of the best road comedies is still the first, and an early screwball to boot. Sweeping the Oscars that year for Picture, Director, Actor and Actress, It Happened One Night is a joy to behold, just as funny as it ever was. Clark Gable is at once macho, witty and sly as the newspaper reporter who follows a famous runaway bride without telling her who he is, and Claudette Colbert is the spoiled heiress who turns out to be utterly helpless without him. Not a bad one for comic timing herself (check out her other great comedies, Midnight and The Palm Beach Story), she and Gable are a perfect match, bickering and bantering their way back to the city while being chased by her father’s hired hands. Each thinks they can’t stand the other, but of course they’re really crazy about each other, the set up for nearly every romantic comedy ever made. A different kind of film for Frank Capra than the ones he would go on to be known for (patriotic and social message movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, even It’s A Wonderful Life), but he started out in madcap comedy and proved to be a pro at pacing and tone. The script is a delight and the stars bring sparkling energy to the proceedings, you’ll want nothing more than to be swept off your feet by that megastar of manly men Gable. The famous hitchhiking scene will leave you in tears of laughter. (Fun fact: Gable’s role in this movie was the inspiration for the sly and smart ass persona of that famous icon Bugs Bunny. See if you catch the resemblance).
Original 1934 Trailer:
GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd. Dir. Ivan Reitman
"Generally, you don't see that kind of behavior in a major appliance." - Peter Venkman about a posessed refrigerator
Talk about knowing the dialogue to an entire movie, I can’t remember a time when I HADN’T seen this film. I literally cannot remember the first time I ever saw it, that’s how burned into my brain this one is. From a premise by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, it’s the writing that made the movie so popular, and of course turned Bill Murray into a superstar (though it’s fairly well known that he ad libbed most of his own dialogue). A totally goofy story about paranormal scientists who become the ghostbusters, taking down New York’s spooks, Murray sort of elevated it all with his knowing wink to the audience, every line a mocking jab at the whole situation and all the characters around him. He’s a sarcastic delight and lifts the film into a knowing parody of the supernatural. And he’s not the only funny one here, Ramis and Aykroyd are the cheerfully over the top and eager ghost believers, Annie Potts the deadpan, stonefaced secretary, and Rick Moranis almost steals the movie from Bill Murray as the patheticly geeky neighbor who gets sucked into a devil god’s body. Everything is played for laughs with a lighthearted, satirical tone, in my opinion paving the way for later tounge-in-cheek horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead, or even the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The effects at the time were considered big budget, state of the art stuff, but let’s be honest, special effects from the 80’s are some of the most dated, looking back on it today. Still, the giant Stay Puft marshmallow man remains pretty awesome. Ghostbusters will never get old, and always has a special place in my heart for being so amazingly etched in my memory. It’s like I’ve always known it, somehow.
A SECOND OPINION
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975) Graham Chapman, John Cleese. Dir. Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
"I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in you general direction. You mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries." - French soldier
Given that the author of this site is sorely lacking in respect for the genius that is Monty Python, I find the responsibility placed on my shoulders to explain why Monty Python and the Holy Grail is deserving of a spot on this list. This is the Monty Python boys’ first film in which they had complete control (the first being And Now For Something Completely Different, which was a collection of their sketches). Directed by Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, The Holy Grail tells the story of King Arthur and his knights of the round table in their famous quest. Starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin (all as dozens of characters), it contains everything one would hope for in a Monty Python film: outrageous and silly humor, featuring everything you could imagine from musical numbers to an abundance of men in women’s clothing, Terry Gilliam’s surreal cartoons, drawn out debates about the presence of coconuts in Medieval Britain and the complete shattering of the fourth wall. In fact, it’s hardly shattered; they destroy that wall with a bulldozer. After the opening credits, the setting is established and we are introduced to King Arthur himself. The sounds of his noble steed are echoing throughout the countryside, which is desolate and shroud in fog. Suddenly he appears, but is not riding a horse. Instead, he is gallantly skipping towards the camera, followed by his trusty companion “Patsy”, who is banging two halves of coconuts together. This is one of the most quotable and referenced movies in history; chances are you’ve already been exposed to some of the jokes somewhere, regardless of whether you “got” it or not. Despite all the silliness, a lot of time was spent making the sets look authentic and detailed. Everything used in the film is carefully chosen to represent the correct historical period. The “Bring out your Dead” scene, despite how morbidly hilarious it is, is a fairly accurate representation of a town during the plague. There is no end to the amount of humor to be found here, and each time I see it, I find something new to laugh at. It’s a work of comedic genius and the only film that presents one of the most famous legends in history lobbing a grenade at a bunny. - Guest Writer Ian D
Original 1974 Trailer: