Where do I start? Or better yet, where do I even end this article because so many screwball comedies are among my favorite movies ever! Luckily for you, this genre is quite limited having been around for only two decades or so. It became popular during the Great Depression, defined the 1930s and disappeared throughout the early 1940s. But it left an enormous legacy that was felt in comedies long after the genre itself gradually faded away. It never left my radar and I can quote one too many movies on this list! My weirdness aside, let me tell you a bit about this genre before presenting you with my favorites.

Screwball Comedies
Holiday (1938)

The easiest way to explain this genre is to throw some light on its name. “Screwball” derives from a baseball term that describes an unpredictable pitch. So just picture lots of ridiculous and unbalanced scenarios with characters equally zany and erratic. These comedies quickly established themselves as a new movie genre with their unconventional scenarios filled with witty and fast-paced dialogues combined with slapstick humor, setting them apart from other movies of that era.

Screwball Comedies
His Girl Friday (1940)

Personally speaking, I fall in love with all of these movies every time I rewatch them. And I rewatch them so often I probably shouldn’t be admitting it publicly! But all the clichés are true, old movies are truly magical and I find myself pulled into worlds I wish I could live in. These movies simply warm up my heart. I always say that for newbies, screwball comedies are the best starting point. They’re funny, witty and enjoyable to watch. So if you haven’t already, I hope you give it a try by watching some of these movies!

Screwball Comedies
Palm Beach Story (1942)

Bringing up Baby (1938)

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, paired with an idiosyncratic scenario was pretty much a winning combination for a classic screwball comedy. Initially a box-office flop, today it is considered as one of the most renowned screwball comedies out there. It follows Cary Grant, a paleontologist whose path crosses with that of a free-spirited socialite played by Katharine Hepburn. As soon as he meets her, his boring world flips upside-down. She is smitten by him so by innocently twisting the truth every now and then, she gets him to follow her all the way to Connecticut. Hepburn is endlessly charming in a role different from her usual ones and Grant is utterly adorable in his attempts to avoid her (but not really). Full of slapstick humor, zany antics and misunderstandings, Bringing up Baby is a classic for a good reason!

Screwball Comedies

David Huxley: “Now it isn’t that I don’t like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I’m strangely drawn toward you, but – well, there haven’t been any quiet moments.”

Screwball Comedies

My Man Godfrey (1936)

Carole Lombard is what brings life to this movie! Playing an eccentric socialite who hires William Powell, a random vagrant as the house butler, she is simply divine. She is hilarious and over the top in her reactions and feelings, while Powell’s poise perfectly juxtaposes her whimsy. I’ve always been biased when it comes to Carole Lombard and her films so I could include a few others here (Nothing Sacred, 1937 and To Be Or Not To Be, 1940). For me, she was perfectly cast in screwball comedies!

Screwball Comedies

Godfrey: “Prosperity is just around the corner.”
Mike Flaherty: “Yeah, it’s been there a long time. I wish I knew which corner.”

Screwball Comedies

Easy Living (1937)

The perfect example of those ridiculous scenarios, Easy Living tells the story of a poor girl who accidentally becomes New York’s hottest new socialite. And the reason for it is because a sable coat gets thrown off of a penthouse and simply lands on her head. As a result, plenty of misunderstandings further drive the plot and bring lots of laugh out loud moments! Jean Arthur has her own rags-to-riches story here and she’s a thrill to watch in this movie.

Screwball Comedies

Van Buren: “Where-ever there’s smoke, there must be… somebody smoking.”

Screwball Comedies

The Awful Truth (1937)

Another thing screwball comedies brought to perfection was getting the characters into verbal sparrings filled with allusions and innuendo. The Production Code was adopted in 1930 and there was no way around it. By altering the sexual tension into a battle of sexes, the screenwriters adapted to the creative limits of the era. The Awful Truth is a perfect example of that, a movie where unfounded suspicions lead a couple to start divorce proceedings. Everything is implied and nuanced, accusations never even said out loud. Naturally, neither of them wants to divorce but both of them are too proud to admit it. It’s a hilarious comedy that nonetheless deals with its subject in a gentle way.

Screwball Comedies

Attorney: [on the phone] Now, now Lucy, don’t do anything in haste that you might regret later. Marriage is a beautiful thing. [to his wife] Please be quiet, will you?… Please shut your mouth!… Will you shut your big mouth! I’ll eat when I get good and ready and if you don’t like it, you know what you can do, so shut up!

Screwball Comedies

Libeled Lady (1936)

Myrna Loy and William Powell were one of the public’s most beloved on-screen couples and there was a good reason for it. Their most famous on-screen pairing was The Thin Man, which could also be included on this list but I’ll leave it for a mystery list later on. They were a perfect match on the big screen and the best example of that sharp, witty humor that screwball comedies were known for. Libeled Lady tells the story of Loy, a wealthy heiress suing the newspaper after it wrongly accused her of ruining another man’s marriage. Spencer Tracy, not knowing what else to do hires his old friend, William Powell to turn that accusation into truth. They do that by convincing Jean Harlow, who plays Tracy’s fiancée, to marry Powell for just a few weeks. The plot already sounds ridiculous and it only brings so many funny situations for the whole quartet. Powell goes in it for the money but ends up finding something more so go and find out what!

Screwball Comedies

Warren Haggerty: Gladys, do you want me to kill myself?
Gladys: Did you change your insurance?

Screwball Comedies

The Lady Eve (1941)

Lastly, we have The Lady Eve, a movie set on a ship where a con artist played by Barbara Stanwyck has found her next target. She works together with her father and their valet, successfully cheating people out of their money on card games. The latest victim is an explorer who happens to be a rich heir played by Henry Fonda. He’s completely innocent and Stanwyck shamelessly flirts with him but also ends up falling for him along the way, naturally.

Screwball Comedies

Charles: “You’re certainly a funny girl for anybody to meet who’s just been up the Amazon for a year.”

Screwball Comedies

Conclusion

This is probably my longest blog post and I actually omitted other great screwball comedies that you can see in the gifs! So definitely check those out too because they’re equally good. I hope you enjoyed this list and that it might inspire to give some of these movies a try. Or even better, let me know if you’ve seen any of them and if you have other favorites! And see you until the next list of my favorite classics!

Screwball Comedies
Nothing Sacred (1937)
2 Recommendations