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The screwball comedy is a subgenre of the comedy film genre. It has proven to be one of the most popular and enduring film genres. It first gained prominence in 1934 with It Happened One Night, and although many film scholars would agree that its classic period ended sometime in the early 1940s, elements of the genre have persisted, or have been paid homage to, in contemporary film.

While there is no authoritative list of defining characteristics that comprise the screwball comedy genre, several qualities can be enumerated that tend to frequently appear in films considered to be definitive of the genre (see below). Critic Andrew Sarris called it "a sex comedy without the sex."[1]

It has close links with the theatrical genre of farce, and some comic plays are also described as screwball comedies. Many elements of the genre are apparent in Shakespeare's comedies, e.g. Much Ado About Nothing. Other genres with which screwball comedy is associated include slapstick, situation comedy, and romantic comedy.




Like farce, screwball comedies often involve mistaken identities, or other circumstances in which a character or characters try to keep some important fact a secret. Sometimes screwball comedies feature male characters cross-dressing, further contributing to the misunderstandings (Bringing Up Baby, I Was a Male War Bride). They also involve a central romantic story, usually in which the couple seem mismatched and even hostile to each other at first, and "meet cute" in some way. Often this mismatch comes about because the man is much further down the economic scale than the woman (Bringing Up Baby, Holiday).

Class issues are a strong component of screwball comedies: the upper class tend to be shown as idle and pampered, and have difficulty getting around in the real world (It Happened One Night). By contrast, when lower-class people attempt to pass themselves as upper-class, they are able to do so with relative ease (The Lady Eve, My Man Godfrey).

Another common element is fast-talking, witty repartee (You Can't Take it With You, His Girl Friday). This stylistic device did not originate in the screwballs (although it may be argued to have reached its zenith there): it can also be found in many of the old Hollywood Cycles including the gangster film, romantic comedies, and others.

Screwball comedies also tend to contain ridiculous, farcical situations, such as in Bringing Up Baby, in which a couple must take care of a pet leopard during much of the film. Slapstick elements are also frequently present (such as the numerous pratfalls Henry Fonda takes in The Lady Eve).

One subgenre of screwball is known as the comedy of remarriage, in which characters divorce and then remarry one another (The Awful Truth, The Philadelphia Story). Some scholars point to this frequent device as evidence of the shift in the American moral code, by showing freer attitudes about divorce (though the divorce always turns out to have been a mistake).

Examples of the genre from its classic period

Other films from this period in other genres incorporate elements of the screwball comedy. For example, Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 thriller The 39 Steps features the gimmick of a young couple who find themselves handcuffed together and who eventually, almost in spite of themselves, fall in love with one another, and Woody Van Dyke's 1934 detective comedy The Thin Man portrays a witty, urbane couple who trade barbs as they solve mysteries together.

Actors and actresses frequently featured in or associated with screwball comedy include:

Some notable directors of screwball comedies include:

More recent screwball comedies

Various later films are considered by some critics and fans to have revived elements of the classic era screwball comedies. A partial list might include such films as:

Elements of classic screwball comedy often found in more recent films which might otherwise simply be classified as romantic comedies include the "battle of the sexes" (Down with Love, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), witty repartee (Down with Love), and the contrast between the wealthy and the middle class (You've Got Mail, Two Weeks Notice). Modern updates on screwball comedy may also sometimes be categorized as black comedy (Intolerable Cruelty, which also features a twist on the classic screwball element of divorce and re-marriage).

Elements of screwball have also appeared in other genres altogether: the characters of Han Solo and Princess Leia in the film Star Wars have been described as "a classic screwball comedy pair".[2]

The television series Moonlighting (1985–1989), NewsRadio (1995–1999), Gilmore Girls (2000–), and Standoff (2006–) have also adapted elements of the screwball comedy genre for the small screen.


  1. ^ Citation - Sarris, Andrew. You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: The American Talking Film, History & Memory, 1927-1949, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.
  2. ^ "Star Wars", Brian Libby,, May 28, 2002

External links

posted on 2007-07-06 13:51 yuhen 阅读(333) 评论(0)  编辑 收藏 引用 所属分类: 个人文档其他文档

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