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Staff Pick: Meakin Armstrong

September 2, 2009


meakin_armstrong-small.jpg With genres such as film noir and screwball comedy, the great films of the golden age have much about them worth loving. And while many of the old ways of telling stories still work—film noir has been revived in Body Heat and The Grifters—surprisingly, screwball comedy has not, despite Sandra Bullock’s yeomen efforts.

So what are the ingredients of screwball? Romance (but it’s more than a romantic comedy; that’s a hybrid, vanilla genre). Farcical situations. Pratfalls, many pratfalls. Fast, very fast-moving dialogue. Class differences as part of the comedy. The looming Great Depression. Often a remarriage to a former husband. Strangely, many of these films are also set in Connecticut, and if not there, then in New England (no one knows why).

Columbia Pictures (where the genre as more or less invented) has reissued the lesser-known screwball comedies, the ones other than the genre’s stalwarts, My Man Godfrey , His Girl Friday , or It Happened One Night . Columbia’s latest collection, Icons of Screwball Comedy, Vol. 2 (Theodora Goes Wild / Together Again / A Night to Remember / The Doctor Takes a Wife) aren’t the genre’s greatest films, but are still well worth a look. Take a look at Together Again and try to figure out the love affair between Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer—for a moment, Dunne is engaged to her daughter’s boyfriend, and her daughter to Charles Boyer who had been dating Dunne. Just imagine the awkward moments around the dining room table when the cameras were off’—reality TV has nothing on this film. If you’re unfamiliar with screwball, start with the heavy hitters such as My Man Godfrey (the original one that is, with William Powell not the despicable Godfrey remake filmed in the 1950’s, and starring David Niven).

Bio: Meakin Armstrong is Guernica’s fiction editor. Read his Guernica blog entries “here”:http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/. Read his last recommendation “here”:http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1227/staff_pick_meaking_armstrong/.

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