In addition to making us laugh, comedy movies make us think about our lives and the world around us in new ways. My choices of films here are an eclectic mix ranging over a variety of comedy sub-genres, including parody, screwball, and dark comedy. This is my personal, idiosyncratic list of favorites, and it doesn't necessarily reflect the popular wisdom on comedy movies. For the sake of focus, I've limited my choices to English-language talkies.
Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot
is arguably the greatest comedy ever made. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play jazz musicians who dress in drag and join an all-girl band, where they meet the sexy singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). I loved the hilarious Cary Grant impression by Curtis as his character Joe tries to win Sugar's heart by impersonating a suave, debonair millionaire.
In Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove
, psychotic U.S. Air Force General Jack D. Ripper sends B-52s to attack the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons. U.S. President Muffley assembles his advisors, including Dr. Strangelove, in the Pentagon's War Room. I think Dr. Strangelove
is probably the greatest political satire in film history, in addition to being one of the best black comedies ever made. Peter Sellers plays three roles, and I find him hilarious in all of them.
Woody Allen must have been channeling Freud and Marx (Groucho, that is) when he made Annie Hall
, and I consider it one of the great romantic comedies of all time. Alvy Singer (Allen) is a neurotic New York Jewish comedian who tells about his romance with the insecure Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), a WASP originally from Wisconsin. But Annie matured a bit, and the romance came to a bittersweet end. Alvy's advice to Annie: "Don't take any course where they make you read Beowulf
In Frank Capra's It Happened One Night
, a runaway heiress (Claudette Colbert) and a newspaper reporter (Clark Gable) are forced by circumstances to take a long road trip together. Whenever they stay in a motel, he puts up a clothesline between their twin beds, then hangs a blanket over it and refers to the divider as the Walls of Jericho
. I love the ending of this film: A blast from a toy trumpet sounds, a blanket is shown dropping from a rope to the floor, and the screen goes black.
I consider Howard Hawks' Bringing Up Baby
to be the quintessential screwball comedy, and I know of no other movie where the funny sequences are so nearly nonstop throughout. The madcap film stars the undisputed king of screwball comedy, Cary Grant, and he is paired with Katharine Hepburn, who is brilliant here. Grant portrays a nerdy paleontologist who gets involved with a ditsy heiress played by Hepburn, and her dog runs off with one of his rare bones. The titular Baby is a pet leopard.
Singin' in the Rain
has long been one of my favorites. It's arguably the greatest screen musical of all-time, and it's also one of the best comedies ever. In addition to Gene Kelly's iconic rendition of the title tune, I always enjoy Donald O'Connor's energetic "Make 'Em Laugh," as well as those two male performers teaming up with Debbie Reynolds for the cheerful "Good Morning." I think Jean Hagen is hilarious as the actress with the unpleasant nasal speaking voice.
My favorite Marx Brothers' movie is Duck Soup
, in which Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is the dictator of a country called Freedonia. In the films most famous sequence, Chico and Harpo impersonate Firefly by donning nightshirts and nightcaps, completing the ensemble with mustaches, eyeglasses, bushy eyebrows, and cigars. On another occasion, Chico and Harpo get into a hilarious hassle with a lemonade seller. And remember: "If you run out of gas, get ethyl. If Ethel runs out, get Mabel."
In Mike Nichols' The Graduate
, Ben (Dustin Hoffman) is a young man who can't decide what to do with the rest of his life. He falls for Elaine (Katharine Ross), but gets into a sexual relationship with her mother Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Just after Elaine weds another, she and Ben rush out of the church and board a municipal bus together. I'm always intrigued by the film's enigmatic ending, where Ben and Elaine stare silently ahead as the bus takes them toward an uncertain future.
I rate Airplane!
, which spoofs disaster movies, as the funniest of all parody films. When the pilots of a jam-packed commercial jetliner come down with food poisoning, it's up to a shell-shocked, discredited aviator (Robert Hays) and a plucky stewardess (Julie Hagerty) to land the plane. In flashbacks, we get a meet-cute parody of "Saturday Night Fever" and a romantic scene spoofing "From Here to Eternity." Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Robert Stack, and Leslie Nielsen all play key roles.
Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles
is one of the most hilarious movies I've ever seen. What passes for narrative is driven by the premise that an African American man becomes the sheriff in a racially prejudiced town in the Old West. This serves as a situation in which Brooks strings together a series of comedy sketches parodying Western movies. Among the most memorable of the sketches are cowboys eating beans and breaking wind and Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn) performing "I'm Tired."