Top Movies: 14 Days of Romance Day 11, Screwball Comedies

There are film comedies that proceed with intelligence and rhythm, and others that take a loopier, less rational route to their laughs. But screwball comedies, well, they’re a different kind of animal.

Unconventional, illogical and unpredictable, screwballers are the wackiest subgenre in the comedy category, if only because they walk a dangerously thin line between the silly and the stupid, the funny and the forced. Throw in a romantic element — presenting audiences with a wacky, screwball template and then wanting them to open up their hearts to a love story that’s intertwined in the proceedings — and it might be asking too much.

Well, that’s not the case in the three Most Romantic Screwball Comedies we’ve picked for Day 11 of our 14 Days of Romance Valentine’s Day movie countdown.

What do you think? Oh, and it’s okay to laugh.

It Happened One Night movie scene3. It Happened One Night

It happens over several nights, actually. We’re speaking, of course, about It Happened One Night’s kindling of love between Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert, The Palm Beach Story), a spoiled socialite on the run from her wealthy father who resents her elopement with a fortune-hunter, and Peter Wayne (Clark Gable, Gone With the Wind), a reporter Ellie has met on a bus who promises to help her if she’ll give him an exclusive to write her tabloid-worthy story. Colbert and Gable’s chemistry is effervescent in this bubbly amalgam of screwball comedy and road trip romance, helmed by Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life) and released in 1934. The film’s famous hitch-hiking scene, in which Colbert shows Gable how it’s done by lifting her skirt and flashing her leg to stop the next car that drives past, has been parodied by everyone from Laurel and Hardy to Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. Trivia hounds take note: It Happened One Night was the first film to win all five major Academy Awards — Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay.

Available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

What's Up Doc? movie scene2. What’s Up Doc?

Take four identical plaid overnight bags — one filled with nerdy musicologist Ryan O’Neal’s (Paper Moon) melodious igneous rock collection, another stuffed with fast-talking Barbra Streisand’s (Meet the Fockers) undergarments and dictionary, a third housing a rich broad’s jewelry collection and a fourth containing a Fed’s batch of top-secret government files — mix ’em up and have them fall into the wrong owners’ hands, and the result is Peter Bogdanovich’s (The Last Picture Show) delightful 1972 romantic screwball comedy. We can see from the outset that there’s romance in store for Streisand and O’Neal (who begins the film engaged to the hysterically uptight Madeline Kahn, in her movie debut), but not before a whole lot of inspired shenanigans, including an insanely funny car chase through the streets of San Francisco. What’s Up Doc? pays homage to both the screwball comedies of yesteryear (Bringing Up Baby, in particular — more on that one later) and Warner’s classic Looney Tunes cartoons, where wackiness takes control early on, but love ultimately saves the day.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video

Bringing Up Baby movie scene1. Bringing Up Baby

The classic American screwball romantic comedy, Howard Hawks’ 1938  Bringing Up Baby stars the irrepressible team of Cary Grant (An Affair to Remember) and Katherine Hepburn (The African Queen), both firing on all cylinders as they bring Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde’s script to life. Cary’s a dweeby paleontologist look for a missing Brontosaurus bone; Kate’s a kooky heiress who doesn’t give a hoot about dinosaur remains, but sure has a thing for dweeby paleontologists! And “Baby” is the Brazilian leopard that’s being shipped to Connecticut but  somehow ends up in Kate and Cary’s hands, prompting a series of mad misadventures (on a golf course, at a posh restaurant and in a museum, amongst other locales) that can only mean romance for the two top Hollywood stars. Poorly received upon its initial release in theaters, Bringing Up Baby has since garnered the reputation of being a bona fide Hollywood classic, a legacy we wholly endorse.

Available on DVD from Turner/Warner

Check out all the 14 Days of Romance.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.