Screwball Comedy Season

Published on 12 March 2013

Screwball Comedy Season

As part of our upcoming event with the ​Lighthouse Cinema, we thought it only necessary to find out more about our screening ‘His Girl Friday’ from Dublin based Comedian, Joe Burke.

A ‘screwball’ was a baseball pitch that did the opposite of what you thought it would, dropping and twisting away before you had a chance to hit it. And it was this name that was given to a series of breakneck comedies that came bursting out of Hollywood in the late 30s and early 40s.

In screwball, comedy is battle – battle of the classes, battle of the sexes and, most importantly, battle of the wits, where the quickest wins the day. It’s this wit and pace that was the forerunner of most modern comedy, with the baton having being passed to the great sitcoms of today. These movies would be the parents (or drunken, bickering absentee parents more likely) of everything from 30 Rock to Arrested Development, Seinfeld to Friends. Rich people being mean to each other never goes out of fashion.

A product of the Great Depression when, like today, audiences were faced with economic hardship and social uncertainty, they were a woozy mix of acidic satire and romantic escapism about the dizzy rich and noble workingman (and vice versa), a sort of cultural safety valve that let audiences both laugh at their supposed betters and gaze wonderingly at the shimmering lifestyles those betters so effortlessly inhabited. With the very wealthy being the celebrities of their age, they were a sort of highbrow, hilarious gossip (Heat) magazine.

His Girl Friday

“I intended to be with you on our honeymoon, Hildy, honest I did.”

Walter Burns (Cary Grant) is a hard-boiled editor for The Morning Post who learns his ex-wife and former star reporter, Hildegard “Hildy” Johnson (Rosalind Russell), is about to marry bland insurance man Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) and settle down to a quiet life as a wife and mother in Albany, New York. Walter determines to sabotage these plans, enticing the reluctant Hildy to cover one last story, the upcoming execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen). Maybe the only romantic comedy to centre around a potential hanging. A remake of ‘The Front Page’ where one of the leads was changed to a woman giving the whole plot an extra level and dimension of tension and potency, it’s gone down in history as the fastest talking comedy of all time. Trivia: The dialogue was so dense and fast the director Howard Hawks used to run a metronome on set so that the actors would keep and even pace and rhythm.

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 97%