4 posts categorized "Screwball Comedy"

March 22, 2018


Colesmithey.comPeter Bogdanovich’s underseen romantic comedy is an unabashed love letter to 1980 Manhattan. Storyline and plot take a welcome backseat to an attractive if iconic cast portraying characters digging each other and the summer midtown New York vibe they inhabit.

Frank Sinatra’s songs of the era (“New York, New York”) contrast against country music tunes to give the movie a surprisingly effective musical lilt.

It is a picture about love and joy that celebrates its own purpose for being. Knowing nods between characters acknowledge the film’s open secret.

We’re constantly watching characters admiring or spying on one other from afar.


You can’t help but stumble over yourself as an audience member watching Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara, John Ritter, Colleen Camp, Patti Hansen, Blane Novak, and former Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten goofing around as the least believable private detectives and subjects you could dream of.  


There may not be much dramatic conflict, but that’s the point. Colleen Camp’s request from a street vendor for a “very large orange juice” is rewarded with a small half-filled Styrofoam cup. New York culture is crammed into every frame.  


Bogdanovich takes inspiration from Arthur Schnitzler’s often-adapted play “La Ronde” to create this lighthearted comedy of manners that never strays from the shallow end of the screwball comedy pool. Pratfalls come with the territory but “What’s Up Doc” this is not. Still, nobody falls down funnier than John Ritter.


“They All Laughed” is as breezy as its title suggests, but there are so many tiny elements that make you want to revisit the picture. Patti Hansen’s guileless smile, scenes filmed in and around Manhattan’s legendary Algonquin Hotel, and Dorothy Stratten’s stunning charisma contribute to the film’s friendly appeal.

John Ritter

If you’ve ever wanted to take a time machine vacation back to 1980 New York where you can do no wrong, this fun-loving movie makes it possible. We’re all in the mood for love.


Rated PG. 115 mins.

3 Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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April 03, 2016



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

HailCaesarThe Coens Go A Wandering In McCarthy Era Hollywood And Get Lost

The ever-streaky Joel and Ethan Coen commit a cinematic blunder with a would-be screwball comedy that has all the laughs you can count on one hand.

Lushly composed but disconnected set pieces play out in ‘50s era Hollywood backlot intrigue involving Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix, a movie industry “fixer.”

Eddie Mannix is in charge of keeping big budget pictures on schedule and under budget. He also patches up potentially scandalous incidents involving wayward starlets before gossip columnists can get wind of their indiscretions. Mannix has the bearing of a cheesy private investigator who intentionally wears too much cologne. He marks his territory.


Brolin’s modulated performance is in keeping with the comedy’s restrained tone and the film’s lulling tempo but there’s nothing to sink your teeth into.

It says a lot about the film that its most engaging subplot involves cowboy actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). The ambitious but woefully unskilled Doyle is cast beyond his acting chops in a romantic period drama being directed by the esteemed British director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). Ehrenreich steals what there is of a movie with abominable line readings drive Ralph Fiennes’s pleasantly articulate director to distraction. Still, the subplot doesn’t pay off. Neither do any of the film’s other narrative detours.


Even Coen-regular George Clooney gets cornered into mediocrity. Clooney plays Baird Whitlock, an A-list star who gets kidnapped away from the sword-and-sandal epic he’s currently working on by a group of blacklisted [communist sympathizing] screenwriters looking to abandon America. Think the Hollywood Ten — Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Ring Lardner Jr. etc.) The nerdy movie writers keep Baird sequestered inside a plush seaside house in Malibu, where he easily falls in with his captors' anti-capitalist ideologies, at least until another script comes along. 


The Coen’s bland use of political satire here is so inept that you can’t decipher what kind of point, if any, they are attempting to make about a [mostly] brave group of blacklisted writers who were sited for contempt of Congress, and lost their once flourishing careers for refusing to answer question about their alleged involvement with the Communist Party. 

“Hail Caesar!” falls into the same dustbin as other Coen Brother cinematic splats that include “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers.” Simultaneously overworked and underdeveloped, here is an unfunny comedy that will leave audiences scratching their heads about the point of so much blind slapstick razzmatazz that goes nowhere. The movie is pretty to look at, and that's about it.

“That’s all folks.”

Rated PG-13. 106 mins. 

1 Star

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

December 06, 2015



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

ColeSmithey.comHoward Hawks’s “Bringing Up Baby” is the go-to example of screwball comedy that critics and film-lovers reference most as the definitive model of the genre. The picture exemplifies the category’s requisites of farce, innuendo, punchy dialogue, comic anticipation, and pratfalls.

The slapstick-punctuated comedy revolves around Cary Grant’s engaged-to-be-married paleontologist David Huxley, and Katherine Hepburn’s Susan Vance, a high-society tornado of trouble with romantic eyes for David.

The screenwriters emphasize David’s incompatibility with his also-bespectacled fiancée Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker) in the film's opening scenes when she makes it clear that there will be no hanky-panky even after the wedding. Alice is staking out her dominance in the relationship. Alice may be a great assistant in the lab, but she clearly isn’t wife material.

Screen Shot 2022-04-11 at 3.14.36 PM

Toss in a tame leopard named Baby, a missing Brontosarus bone (the “intercostal clavicle” to be exact), and several people connected to Mr. Peabody, a wealthy would-be donor of a million dollars to give David for his scientific research, and let the laughs fly.

Screen Shot 2022-04-11 at 3.09.33 PM

Hawks sets the script’s frequently overlapping dialogue at an unprecedentedly (at the time) quick tempo that Grant and Hepburn zip though with their distinctly idiosyncratic voices. Hepburn’s New England accent filters through her raspy, not quite obnoxious, voice in harmony with Grant’s trademark staccato delivery of unlikely octave leaps.

Bringing up baby
Romantic tension pops between Hepburn and Grant because their characters are so steadfastly at odds and yet helplessly caring for one another in spite of the waterfall of calamities that strike whenever they are together. Their funny compatibility is best revealed through the conflicts that beset them.

The couple’s introductory meeting, on a golf course, involves Susan playing one of David’s balls (she sinks the putt), before inexplicably pretending that his convertible belongs to her. David’s oversized auto suffers some severe dents before he is compelled to ride on the running board as she drives the aim of her starry-eyed intentions away from Mr. Peabody.

Screen Shot 2022-04-11 at 3.10.37 PM

Although modern audiences don’t pick up on it the way Depression Era spectators did at the time, an essential “screwball comedy” conceit lies in David’s and Susan’s upper class status. Nerdy David works for a museum, while independent Susan is a headstrong but ditzy bon vivant. Both are financially secure people who dare not look their attraction in the eye. When Susan disposes of David’s clothes after he takes an unintentional dip, he is forced to put on her oh-so-frilly nightgown. A comic zinger arrives when David is forced to explain his controversial mode of dress to Susan’s aunt Elizabeth (May Robson). David says, “Because I just went gay all of sudden!” Cary Grant leaps into the air while spilling the line as if the floor has suddenly become too hot to stand on.

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The leopard serves as a great comic randomizer for the preposterous plot to spin out of control. Susan knows that singing the 1928 standard “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” calms Baby down. Listening to Grant and Hepburn harmonize together on the song is comically painful in a delightful way. Hitting the notes isn’t as important as the screwball route they seem to take along the way.

Not Rated. 102 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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