My Favorite Screwball Comedies

The Palm Beach Story (1942, directed by Preston Sturges)

From my review: This is the ur-text of screwball comedies, every core element boiled down to its purest essence. There are pratfalls galore, windows getting smashed, and people confusing each other for others. It exists as both an ode to the comedies of mixed-up identities from Shakespeare and commentary on the late stages of the Great Depression. This film will inspire future pictures like Some Like It Hot and Intolerable Cruelty, but it doesn’t put on airs of being profound or world-changing. This is a pure character-centered comedy that understands how important it is to have a diverse variety of roles.

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Movie Review – Unfaithfully Yours

Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
Written & Directed by Preston Sturges

At one point in his career, Preston Sturges was the third highest-paid man in America. He knew his value by 1944 at Paramount and began making more demands, throwing his weight around. After some poor business investments in Los Angeles, he started borrowing more money from family and friends. His good friend Howard Hughes even bankrolled Sturges’ venture as an independent filmmaker with California Pictures, a pay cut but also a higher level of control that made others in Hollywood envious. With all this success and prominence came a decline in quality and consistency. Sturges worked best when he has a force to butt heads with, but given complete artistic freedom, he began producing subpar work. After a series of flops, Sturges was no longer a creator people sought out, and he would have one more moderate hit before everything came crashing down.

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Movie Review – The Miracle at Morgan’s Creek

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)
Written & Directed by Preston Sturges

In 1922, Hollywood was an incredibly sleazy town. How little things change. The studios were dealing with backlash from some risque films and the even more troubling private lives of their stars leaking into the tabloids. To deal with this problem, they enlisted the U.S. Postmaster General William Hays to write up a code of conduct that would get politicians and angry citizens off their backs. Thus, the Hays Code, the first piece of American film censorship, was born. The Code dictated that profanity, sex, or drugs be prohibited from films. Notice no significant rule on violence.

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Movie Review – Hail the Conquering Hero

Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
Written & Directed by Preston Sturges

Preston Sturges did something delightfully subversive in this film, choosing to make another movie that appears on the surface level to be about patriotism and supporting “our boys” in the war effort. What he did was make a satire upending military hero worship and some of the core ideologies of bourgeoise America. During my viewing, I sat there stunned at how much he was getting away with, convinced that the censors at the time were dumber than I thought. This is a criminally underrated, wholly American movie that most definitely could not be made with today’s sterile corporate Hollywood environment.

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Movie Review – The Palm Beach Story

The Palm Beach Story (1942)
Written by Preston Sturges & Ernest Laemmle
Directed by Preston Sturges

This is the ur-text of screwball comedies, every core element boiled down to its purest essence. There are pratfalls galore, windows getting smashed, and people confusing each other for others. It exists as both an ode to the comedies of mixed-up identities from Shakespeare and commentary on the late stages of the Great Depression. This film will inspire future pictures like Some Like It Hot and Intolerable Cruelty, but it doesn’t put on airs of being profound or world-changing. This is a pure character-centered comedy that understands how important it is to have a diverse variety of roles.

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Movie Reviews – Sullivan’s Travels

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
Written & Directed by Preston Sturges

Sullivan’s Travels is a masterpiece in my book. It’s a metacommentary on movies that never loses sight that it’s also a slapstick comedy. The film is a reflection of the struggles of the working class, particularly during the Great Depression, but it’s a genuinely endearing love story. Preston Sturges managed to create a film that captures so much about his point in time yet speaks universally to the struggles & victories of our lives today. Yet Sturges made a movie preaching about the annoyance of preaching in film. It’s a beautiful paradox the produced a picture that is one of the best American films ever made.

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Movie Review – The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve (1941)
Written & Directed by Preston Sturges

Preston Sturges may not be a name you know, but the influence of his work is still felt in movies to this day. He began his career as a screenwriter and successfully transitioned into directing, he’s considered the first person to do this. His characters show a sharp wit yet also execute a pratfall in the same scene, Sturges found humor in seeing bright people “hoisted by their own petard.” While the screwball comedy came about in the 1930s, it was Sturges who formed and refined the key tropes that made it up. The Coen Brothers are one obvious continuation of Sturges’s work, but even Pixar has cited the writer-director as someone they look to when developing their films.

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Movie Review – The Lost Weekend

The Lost Weekend (1945)
Written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder
Directed by Billy Wilder

After working with Raymond Chandler on Double Indemnity, Billy Wilder felt drawn to develop the novel The Lost Weekend for film. Chandler was a notorious alcoholic, and his addiction greatly affected the production of that film. Wilder admired the craft and art that Chandler brought to his writing but was struck with how awful he became when craving drink. Wilder decided to dive into making this movie as a way to better understand what was going on in Chandler’s mind.

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Movie Review – Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity (1944)
Written by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler
Directed by Billy Wilder

Damn, that was a good movie. You will, of course, feel like you’ve seen and heard this before, which speaks more to the profound influence this entry into the film noir genre has had on the culture. It’s said to be the movie that set the standard for all film noir to come after. A few months ago, I watched the pilot episode of Columbo and was reminded of how similar the murder plans are. You may recall The Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple or The Man Who Wasn’t There, both obvious nods to this masterwork. I can’t express how satisfying it is to finally see a film held up as a significant part of the canon and see that it truly lives up to the hype.

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Charlie Chaplin Month – The Great Dictator



The Great Dictator (1940)
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Reginald Gardiner

The comparison was all because of the toothbrush mustache. That little flourish is what linked Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler at the time. Chaplin was disgusted by Hitler, and the way the American and British governments tried to keep him happy or ignore what he was doing at the time. It was also noted that Hitler was jealous of Chaplin’s popularity during a Berlin visit the actor made. To further rub it in, Chaplin wrote, directed and produced The Great Dictator, a send up of the Nazi actions in the build up to World War II.

The Little Tramp is now a Jew living in the fictional nation of Tomainia, fighting against the Americans in World War I. He’s clunked on the head and ends up in a military hospital unaware that on the outside dictator Adenoid Hynkel has come to power and is blaming the Jews of his nation for the post-War depression. The Tramp is eventually released from the hospital and is disheartend by the world he discovers on the outside. He eventually falls in love with fellow resident of the ghetto, Hannah and is spared execution by a Tomainian whose life he saved in the War. All along the way the film bounces back and forth with the Hitler parody of Hynkel, leading up to a Prince and the Pauper-esque role reversal.

This was probably the least funny of all Chaplin’s films I have seen, and most definitely the longest, hitting the two hour mark. I can see the challenge Chaplin would have making this picture, because he wants to make a comedy but he also wants to skewer Hitler and convey some sense of the pain being inflicted on the Jewish people. Later Chaplin admitted if he had known the extent of the treatment of the Jews and in particular the Holocaust he would have never made this film. Interestingly, the Jewish community was very welcoming to the film and its portrayal of their people despite Chaplin’s injection of comedy into the proceedings. The jokes in the film never create the sense of hilarity of early works because they typically involve the Little Tramp being brutalized by Tomainan storm troopers.

The film has a lot of heart and that hurts its comedy in comparison to the earlier films. The chief redeeming moment is one where Chaplin is playing the Tramp and completely drops the persona and it is Chaplin speaking. He conveys his concerns with the direction of humanity and reaffirms his belief that we are capable of so much more. While definitely harmful to the picture as a film, it is a very strong and well thought out political statement.