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23/02/2013 § Leave a comment
The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Editor’s Note: I’m very excited to introduce today’s guest speaker! Please meet Michele, the brilliant writer behind the blog Tales of a Madcap Heiress, a witty compendium of silver screen stars, arty pursuits, and her experiences living in New York City. I’m sure as soon as you lay eyes on Michele’s blog you’ll understand how pleased I was to discover it. While I like to think that my classic film smarts are pretty good, I am constantly bowled over (and educated!) by this lady’s encyclopedic film knowledge and I couldn’t have been happier when she suggested today’s topic…and then she topped herself by sending me the picture you see above! If you are not yet familiar with Michele or Tales of a Madcap Heiress, it is my pleasure to introduce you.
Without any further ado, Michele’s tip for a charmed life.
Day 13: Watch Screwball Comedies
I’ve often said that if life were a movie, I would want to live in a screwball comedy. The reason? In a screwball comedy you can be a madcap heiress who gets to wear lovely clothes, live in a huge Art Deco apartment, have a group of glamorous friends with whom you drink loads of cocktails and frequent nightclubs, and have crazy adventures with the likes of Cary Grant who ends up falling in love with you. Who wouldn’t want to live in that movie?
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the genre, there are a few general rules you should know to help differentiate a screwball comedy from other films:
- Though there have been attempts to label some modern films a screwball comedy, the term really refers to a genre of films made during the 1930s and early 40s.
- The film’s setting is urban (usually New York or Paris if it’s in Europe) with the closest thing to the countryside being a weekend home in Connecticut. If any scenes take place at the office it’s either a Wall Street firm/bank if you’re wealthy or a newsroom if you’re not (a lot of characters are journalists in these films).
- The story usually revolves around a courtship of sorts that begins with either a one-sided infatuation (My Man Godfrey) or a mutual loathing (The Awful Truth). There’s lots of yelling and even physical fights, which the women always win (Twentieth Century). In fact, the women in screwball comedies tend to always have the upper hand in the relationships (The Lady Eve). Yet, like in most films, love prevails in the end.
- The plots will include at least one of the following: a case of mistaken identity (Easy Living), the search for a missing person or thing (a leopard in the case of Bringing Up Baby), or somebody on the run (It Happened One Night). All of these serve as an excuse for the leads to go off on a crazy adventure during which they get into all sorts of trouble.
- The dialogue, besides being hilarious, is fast paced and clever (His Girl Friday is the gold standard by which all other films are judged). In fact, screwball comedy directors often relied on their smart scripts to help skirt around the rigid rules of the production code (case in point: screwball comedies that openly talk about divorce).
- Class plays a big part in screwball comedies with the upper class usually shown to be inferior to the working class (My Man Godfrey). If the storyline involves an heiress (there are quite a few in these films) she will often reject her privileged background (It Happened One Night). As for the servants and staff who populate the stories, they are routinely shown to be wiser than their employers.
It should be noted that within the screwball genre there is a sub-genre that can be called the screwball mystery (The Thin Man, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford). These are just as funny as your standard screwball comedy but with murder thrown in. Basically, there’s something for everyone!
Screwball comedies also give you a chance to see some of the greatest stars of the silver screen acting silly and showing off their comic timing. The list includes Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, Joel McCrea, William Powell, Jean Arthur (my favourite screwball leading lady), Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, and Carole Lombard. And then there is Cary Grant who probably portrayed the screwball leading man better than anyone. And supporting all of them were some of the best character actors of the day including the great Franklin Pangborn, Edward Everett Horton, and Robert Greig.
Now that you know about screwball comedies, which ones should you watch? Below is a list of my personal top ten, all of which are available on DVD and are a good representation of the best of the genre.
- The Awful Truth (1937)
- Ball of Fire (1941)
- Bringing Up Baby (1938)
- Easy Living (1937)
- His Girl Friday (1940)
- It Happened One Night (1934)
- Midnight (1939)
- My Favorite Wife (1940)
- My Man Godfrey (1936)
- The Thin Man (1934)
So mix up some martinis, fire up the DVD player, and prepare to laugh yourself silly. And don’t be surprised if afterwards you too want to live in a screwball comedy.
21/02/2013 § 1 Comment
When Martha Howson, a wallflower at the Rovina Finishing School for Girls in New York, wins a competition to become “Miss Complexion 1934” she also receives a grand tour of the Warner Brothers lot in Hollywood. In a lovely little promotional short that is one part movie trailer and one part 1930s Entertainment Tonight, Marsha’s tour guide Lyle Talbot shows her around the production of the musical “Dames” (which I mentioned previously), introduces her to the director and choreographer Busby Berkeley, and makes himself scarce so she can request 5,000 kisses from actor Dick Powell — on behalf of the girls at finishing school, of course!
02/02/2013 § 2 Comments
Speaking of addresses and letters, I happened upon this lovely silent film produced by the US Postal Service that I wanted to share with you. Produced circa 1925, it describes the benefits of Air Mail and shows the progress of a letter mailed in New York and its journey to San Francisco — a journey that normally took 90 hours by train, but by air in a Dehavilland DH-4 it was only 30!
This clip is part one of two, and you can find the second part here. Please note: here is a very loud clicking noise on the second portion, so it is best watched on mute. It is a silent film, after all.
Film via the archives of the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
11/10/2012 § 2 Comments
“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be;
and if all else remained, and he were annihilated,
the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.”
Tonight — Andrea Arnold’s innovative retelling of Emily Brontё’s tragic tale of Heathcliff and Cathy. Doesn’t it look amazing?
BTW – that hauntingly beautiful song is “The Enemy” by Mumford & Sons.
04/10/2012 § 1 Comment
23/08/2012 § Leave a comment
“New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town,
The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down,
The people ride in a hole in the ground,
New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town!”
In honor of Gene Kelly’s 100th birthday today!
Sailors Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin sing and dance their
way through a 24-hour shore leave in New York City in On The Town (1949).
16/07/2012 § Leave a comment
The quote above is from a lovely friend of mine who referred me to the new trailer for Gangster Squad — and who obviously knows me quite well.
Los Angeles. The 1940s. Film noir. A glamorous femme fatale. Sartorial splendor. More Art Deco than you can shake a stick at. Ryan Gosling. (Okay, maybe that last one is a bit more universal…)
In any event, excited to see this dramatization of clashes between the LAPD and real-life LA gangster Mickey Cohen by director Ruben Fleischer. This is the second film of Fleischer’s, following the success of Zombieland in 2009 — not sure if zombies translate well to crime dramas, but I’m curious enough to find out. I’m especially excited by the scenes filmed in Union Station, one of my absolute favorite places in Los Angeles (see more of the gorgeous train station here and here).
Gangster Squad opens September 7, 2012.
05/07/2012 § Leave a comment
Mr. Greenleaf (Pre-Fall 2012 Men)
Mrs. Highsmith (Pre-Fall 2012 Women)
I was already completely excited about the first stateside Massimo Dutti opening later this year on Fifth Avenue, but when they decide to pay homage to Patricia Highsmith’s beloved psychological thriller via their Pre-Fall 2012 campaign?
A girl might just lose her head…