Screwball comedy film

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The screwball comedy has proven to be one of the most elusive of the film genres. Very little consensus among students of film has been gathered on the film genre conventions that comprise the screwball comedy genre. As a result, the description "screwball comedy" has continued to be used even when a better descriptor would be slapstick film or situation comedy film.

One proposed definition, is "to paraphrase Andrew Sarris, the screwball comedy can be described as a sex comedy without the sex." [1] (

However, some have suggested the genre has several characteristics:

  • Comedies produced by the American Hollywood Studio system between 1933 and 1939 that contain certain story or stylistic elements (mentioned below). Most acknowledge that the screwball comedy had stragglers through the 1940s and 1950s, but the onset of World War II and the end of the Depression undermined some of the thematic codes that acted as a spine to the genre.
  • Reverse class snobbery. The implied or explicit belief that common folk were superior to the wealthy. Associated with this was the belief that even the wealthy had the potential to exhibit the nobility of ordinary folk.
  • Romantic element. The screwball comedies always depicted a couple who were destined to complete each other but had a difficult time getting together.
  • The stories almost always revolved around the idle rich and often came into conflict with the guy who has to work for a living.
  • Divorce and Remarriage. Some scholars point to this frequent device as evidence of the shift in the American moral code. There was a move toward freer divorces but with the reassurance that marriage is ultimately a superior way of life.
  • Fast-talking, witty repartee. This stylistic device did not originate in the screwballs, but can be found in many of the old Hollywood Cycles including the gangster, journalism, romantic comedies, and others.
  • Ridiculous, farcical situations.

Some characteristic examples:

Some actors most common to the screwball comedies:

More recent screwball comedies

Various later films are considered by some critics to have revived elements of the classic era screwball comedies. These include:

The television series Moonlighting, which aired from 1985 to 1989, adapted elements of the screwball comedy genre for television.

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