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The Screwball Comedy


Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert star in Frank Capra's, It Happened One Night (1934).

The screwball comedy was another genre that boomed with the advent of sound. A form pivoting on wit, breakneck speed and a madcap battle between the sexes, the screwball comedy, to many, is epitomized in two films released in 1934: Twentieth Century and It Happened One Night.


Unlike earlier romantic-oriented comedies that focused on the foibles of the filthy rich (again, a soothing fantasy to Depression-era audiences), these screwball comedy films united romantic partners from different social types. Their initial antagonism, that yields to eventual union, symbolized an ideal of social integration. As with the musical, the screwball comedy is a genre of reconciliation, insisting that class differences can be resolved, especially in romance.


Deploying sarcasm, repartee and cleverness, the screwball comedy offered some of the strongest, most complex female characters to date. Other famed hits from this genre include the following: My Man Godfrey (1936), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Bachelor Mother (1939) and The Philadelphia Story (1940).

In this screwball comedy, heiress Susan is determined to catch a stuffy paleontologist and uses her pet leopard, Baby, to help get his attention. The elements of this farce include a yappy terrier whom steals and buries an irreplaceable fossilized bone, a pompous big game hunter, a rich old aunt, a jealous fiancée, and a case of mistaken identity involving a second, and vicious, leopard.

My Man Godfrey balances satire, romance, and social commentary. The Bullocks are a well-heeled, harebrained Manhattan family genetically engineered for screwball collisions. When Irene wins a society scavenger hunt (and atypically trumps her scheming sister) by producing a "lost man," a seeming tramp named Godfrey (William Powell), all their lives are transformed.

It Happened One Night is a 1934 American romantic comedy film with elements of screwball comedy directed by Frank Capra, in which a pampered socialite (Claudette Colbert) tries to get out from under her father's thumb, and falls in love with a roguish reporter (Clark Gable).

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