Saturday, September 10, 2016

My favorite comedy screenplays

Someone asked me to list my top ten favorite comedy screenplays. Fine, as long as I don’t have to do it in order and don’t have to limit myself to ten. These are my favorites, which means these are the movies I wish I had written.

ALL ABOUT EVE – Joseph Mankiewicz. Sharpest dialogue I’ve ever heard. The film is 60 years old and still crackles. Saw it again recently. What a pleasure to watch, especially now during the dumbing down of America.

SOME LIKE IT HOT – Billy Wilder & IAL Diamond. Disproves its classic last lane. Somebody IS perfect.

HEARTBREAK KID – Neil Simon (although the hand of director Elaine May is clearly evident). Jewish men generally love this movie, Jewish women hate it. A young Charles Grodin gives the comic performance of his career. And Eddie Albert (yes, Eddie Albert) will make you laugh out loud. Ignore the remake.

THE LADY EVE – Preston Sturgess, story by Monckton Hoffe & Preston Sturgess. Screwball comedy at its funniest and most sophisticated. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda – not who you naturally think of as a comedy team but they pull it off with ease.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY – Screenplay by Charles Lederer, based on the play by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur. Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell trade quips at a pace that makes THE NEWSROOM seem slow. And every word out of their mouths is a gem.

ARTHUR -- Steve Gordon's masterpiece. For more info on Steve and scenes that were cut from his original draft, check out my archives.

TOOTSIE – Larry Gelbart (although fifteen other writers also had a hand in it). If there seems to be a pattern in the comedies I like its men posing as women or “Eve” in the title.

TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN – Woody Allen. This movie was a revelation, especially when you consider that at the time (late 60’s) most “comedies” were lame Doris Day type films.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN – Mel Brooks & Gene Wilder. “Putting on the Ritz” scene alone puts this in my top ten.

ANNIE HALL -- Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman. For my money the perfect romantic comedy. (How could the same guy write HOLLYWOOD ENDING?)

MOONSTRUCK – John Patrick Shanley. Okay, so there are two perfect romantic comedies.

CHASING AMY – Kevin Smith. Funny, real, pitch perfect.  One perk of doing his podcast earlier this year was being able to tell him that.  

AMERICAN GRAFFITI – George Lucas and Gloria Katz & Willard Huyck. A consistently funny movie that doesn’t even try to be a comedy. And what a soundtrack!

DR. STRANGELOVE – Stanley Kubrick and Peter George and Terry Southern. The perfect black comedy. And there are no other perfect black comedies.

THE PRODUCERS – Mel Brooks. The movie not the movie of the musical based on the movie. That was dreadful.

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES – Jean Poiret, Francis Veber, Edouard Molinaro, Marcello Damon. Even the subtitles were funny.

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL -- Richard Curtis. Even Andie McDowell couldn't kill this English confection. But boy did she try.


SHOWGIRLS – Joe Eszterhas. So unspeakably terrible on every level that you can’t help but laugh throughout. (Okay, so that’s one I’m glad I didn’t write). It's a tribute to Elizabeth Berkley's talent that after starring in this movie she still has a career.

Everyone is invited to list your favorites. Including VOLUNTEERS is not mandatory.

58 comments:

Gene F. said...

My list would include The Odd Couple, State and Main, and Diner.

Stephen Marks said...

Volunteers. OMG finally, FINALLY, someone with some cred points out how horrible Andie McDowell's performance was in 4W's. I thought I was in the minority and kept my mouth shut for years. Roddy McDowall in an ape mask would have been a better love interest for Hugh. Thank you Ken, I can sleep well tonight. I like Richard Curtis movies but, like Judd Appetite, he leaves nothing on the cutting room floor except discarded Twinkie wrappers and Norman Hollyn's The Film Editing Room Handbook.

B.A. said...

I'd say there are other perfect black comedies besides STRANGELOVE (BRAZIL, THE LOVED ONE etc) but I appreciate your SHOWGIRLS mention.
OH GOD was on TCM last night and I'm sad this was't a news item. It used to be on every other month and now it's forgotten in place of non-1970s Morgan Freeman CGI comedies.

Honeycutt Powell said...

My votes go to SIDEWAYS and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY.

brian t said...

In The Loop was great for being genuinely trans-Atlantic and topical, for bringing Anna Chlumsky in to comedy. Armando Ianucci's work (The Thick Of It, Veep) can confuse people in to thinking it's improvised, but the way he works the script comes first and is shot first, and only after that is improv encouraged on 2nd and subsequent takes. So even though the movie does have some improvised lines, they ride on the back of a strong script.

I thought the script for Sideways was excellent too - a more subtle kind of comedy. Also, I have a soft spot for Miss Congeniality, for lines such as "I haven't seen a walk like that since Jurassic Park". ;-)

Peter said...

This is very tough to narrow down but off the top of my head:

BACK TO THE FUTURE. A film that is perfection on every single level. Anyone who dislikes this has no sense of humour and no soul.

GHOSTBUSTERS. The original 1984 film of course.

TRADING PLACES. If I absolutely had to pick an all time favourite comedy, this would be it. One I genuinely never get tired of watching.

STIR CRAZY. The best of the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor films. The "we're bad" scene alone is gold.

DR. STRANGELOVE. What Ken said. Peter Sellers at his best.

DEADPOOL. A recent favourite. Hilarious from start to finish.

BEETLEJUICE. Michael Keaton is magnificent. Tim Burton at his best.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Not necessarily the funniest Woody Allen film but my personal favourite for its magical atmosphere and profound exploration of nostalgia and existential angst.

TOY STORY 3. Absolute genius.

MRS. DOUBTFIRE. Its schmaltzy ending aside, this is Robin Williams' best comedic performance.

AIRPLANE. The best parody movie. Still funny after 36 years.

Not a specific film as such but Oprah giving herself a blatant Oscar bait role in every film she produces is unintentionally hilarious. Eventually I'm sure she'll get to read out the acceptance speech she's been practising since she made Beloved.

Michael said...

Ken, the movie version of the Broadway musical version of The Producers looked like they rolled a camera into the theater and filmed it. Sad.

Brooks is there twice but needed to be there a third time. Blazing Saddles. No matter whether the Hollywood western you're watching is brilliant or below B level, you can't watch it the same way after seeing this movie. It also has the virtue of being accurate. Really! There WAS a Jewish Indian chief in New Mexico, and I bet Brooks knew it.

johnachziger said...

Arsenic and Old Lace
Monkey Business
Pauley (the talking parrot)
Dan in Real Life
I laugh all the way through these even though I've seen them multiple times.

Todd Everett said...

Glad to find another Chasing Amy fan. As to Showgirls, I'm convinced that director Paul Verhoeven saw it as a comedy, even if Eszterhas didn't.

Let me thrown in "Holiday," which (along with One, Two, Three) I usually cite as tied for my favorite comedy. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn star, with Ralph Bellamy terrific as the Hepburn character's drunken brother. Written by Philip Barry; I find this much more appealing than his Philadelphia Story, which I liked more as High Society.

And the original Bedazzled. Peter Cook as the devil, Dudley Moore as a schnook, directed by Stanley Donen.

Jay said...

PARENTHOOD. Unique in that parents are parents, and children are children. In American films, children are usually wiser and more competent than grown-ups. Children have to put up with and correct the foolishness of grown-ups. In Parenthood, it's the other way round. It's also very funny. Rick Moranis singing "Close to You." Dianne Wiest ("If memory serves") won an Oscar. Ganz and Mandel should have won too.

RyderDA said...

PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM -- Better than Annie Hall but overshadowed
THE THIN MAN -- Set the standard for romantic comedies, and did it in the 1930's
AIRPLANE -- Truly the funniest movie ever made, with utterly ridiculous but totally believable characters
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL -- Save for the ending, which they screwed up.
GOOD NEIGHBOUR SAM -- The joy of Nerdlinger milk, tied with
HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE -- A movie you could never make today, but holy cow, the courtroom scene is glorious

Anonymous said...

One of the older movies I always laugh at and enjoy every time I see it is Monkey Business with Cary Grant. It has a stupid premise but the acting is great and it is funny!

gottacook said...

Ken, you've mentioned previously that you're a Bruce Jay Friedman fan - so I'll note that the basis for Neil Simon's The Heartbreak Kid was Friedman's (very short) short story "A Change of Plan." (Unlike the movie, the story has what could be said to be a punchline, in the last few lines of dialogue.)

In retrospect, my favorite Friedman stories lately tend to be the fantastical ones, such as "The Big Six" and "A Foot in the Door."

Steve Lanzi (aka qdpsteve) said...

Hello again Ken (may I call you Ken?), and here's some favorite comedies of mine off the top of my head to add to your list, although I'm also in agreement with all of your films. I admit I grew up in the 1980s so most of my choices revolve around that era.

- THE KING OF COMEDY - Not only a favorite comedy, my all-time favorite Scorsese movie (yes, even more so than Taxi Driver or GoodFellas). An IMHO prescient look at how a loser, obsessed with being famous, gets his dream in the worst way: on the back of a genuinely famous comedian. It's great to see DeNiro ham it up (unlike other comedies he's been in, he seemed to know what he was doing here) and Jerry Lewis as a snarling bad guy.

- HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE - Robert Townsend's 1980s "I made it with my credit cards" masterwork. A bit preachy at times but I think it still holds up.

- JUMPIN' JACK FLASH - Whoopi Goldberg best flick outside of The Color Purple. Didn't get very good reviews but it's a brilliant Bond parody and it could even be said it has one of the earliest internet-based plots (Whoopi meets Jack via a DOS-based chat room, in 1986).

- POLTERGEIST - It wasn't meant to be a comedy but there's so much to laugh at, I consider it one. So much Spielberg 1980s-era outlandishness it's barely believable, yet it still all works.

- A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN - I admit I'm one of the world's biggest Peanuts/Charles Schulz fans, so I'm hugely biased. But not only is it funny, it also has a lot of heart, touching in some spots and is far more deep and mature than 99% of today's computer animated family features; yes, even adults can enjoy this one IMHO.

- BREAKING AWAY - a great 1979 coming-of-age comedy-drama, and perfect for me because I was a very awkward 13 when it came out. Everyone's incredible, especially Paul Dooley as the put-upon Indiana dad worried about his leg-shaving, Italian-opera-singing-and-speaking son. Yes, dated like most everything else I've listed, but still an all-time favorite of mine. "Refund?! REFUND?!?!?"

- PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES - John Hughes proving he could work well with someone besides teenagers or Molly Ringwald. I only recently discovered this 1987 gem after decades of wanting to see it and am glad I did.

I'm sure that 10 seconds after I hit the 'send' button I'll think of dozens more to list, but for now I hope everyone finds these good (or at least interesting) additions to Ken's list.

Matt said...

The Princess Bride
When Harrt Met Sally
Get Shorty
The Life of Brian
Blazing Saddles, might as well make it a Mel Brooks trilogy

Anonymous said...

First half of Used Cars.
Multiplicity (underrated).
and no one mentioned Caddyshack?

I think Annie Hall is one of those movies that no longer travels well.

Kirk said...

Bringing Up Baby--My favorite 1930s screwball comedy

Ball of Fire--Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Some of the slang might date it some, but that's kind of the whole point of the screenplay.

Bananas--Just as funny as Take the Money and Run, especially when J. Edgar Hoover goes undercover.

MASH--Ring Lardner Jr. Later became a very good TV series.

Monty Python's Life of Brian--"For he's a jolly good fellow..."

The Sons of the Desert
The Music Box
Blockheads--Laurel and Hardy could be laugh-out-loud funny with even the most lackluster of screenplays, but the scripts for these three films were equal to the duo's talents

The Man on the Flying Trapeze
The Bank Dick
It's a Gift--What I said about Laurel and Hardy also applies to W.C. Fields

Horse Feathers
Monkey Business
Animal Crackers
Duck Soup
Night at the Opera--and the Marx Brothers

The Nutty Professor--Jerry Lewis' version

The Ritz--"As strange as it may seem, no one is going to attack you." "Somebody already had" "Beginner's luck"

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid--"I can't swim!"" Ha!The fall will probably kill us!"

Georgy Girl--"You're old enough to be my...managing director!"

Modern Times
Safety Last
Steamboat Bill Jr--Lest we forget the silents (well, the first is ALMOST silent)

And some non-traditional comedies...

The Apartment--More of a comedy-drama, but that's how it crumbles, cookiewise.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf--not considered a comedy at all, but some of George and Martha's comments are pretty funny, and not unintentionally so, either.

Citizen Kane-Also not considered a comedy, but it's loaded with jokes, even sight gags (such as the stagehands reaction to Kane's girlfriend's singing)

Various screenplays based on the works of Tennessee Williams--yes, he was poetic, and his worldview was essentially tragic, but he slipped jokes in. I swear he did.

The Wizard of Oz--thought of more as a musical or children's fantasy, but the diploma in lieu of a brain, medal in lieu of courage, and testimonial (the watch) in lieu of a heart, and the Wizards rationalizations thereof ("and they don't have anymore brains/courage/heart than you do") is pure satiric genius. Lyricist Yip Harburg is said to have done the screenplay's final draft, though he was only credited onscreen for his brilliant lyrics.

Earl Boebert said...

Blues Brothers

Airplane

And in first place, Larry Gelbart's sadly forgotten masterpiece:

The Wrong Box

"I was not always as you see me now."

Andrew said...

I'll only add ones no one else has mentioned:
GROUNDHOG DAY (Andie couldn't kill that one either)
THE PRINCESS BRIDE
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN
LIFE OF BRIAN
A dozen Pixar movies
THIS IS SPINAL TAP

YEKIMI said...

ARTHUR: The line alone where his butler says "I supposed you want me to wash your dick for you to" made me laugh for a solid 10 minutes.

A CHRISTMAS STORY: My childhood come to life only it wasn't a Red Ryder BB gun that I wanted.

BLAZING SADDLES: The bean scene around the campfire had me on the floor.

10: Dudley Moore...say no more.

AIRPLANE: Was severely depressed due to the fact that another radio job came crashing down in flames because of a format change and was wondering if I was EVER going to get a radio job that would last [answer...no]. Friends said let's go see this movie and although I wasn't in the mood by the time it was over I was out of my funk because I ended up laughing my balls off.

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL: As far as the ending goes, I had heard somewhere that they ended it that way because they had run out of money and needed to wrap things up ASAP and that's the fastest, cheapest ending they could come up with.

MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN
DEADPOOL

THE BIRDCAGE: Never saw the original it was based on but Gene Hackman in drag alone was worth the price of admission.

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY
DUMB & DUMBER

HAROLD & MAUDE: Hell, I'd watch anything with Ruth Gordon in it.

THE PINK PANTHER
AS GOOD AS IT GETS
BANANAS*
EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX* (*BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK)
A FISH CALLED WANDA
TOY STORY
THE ODD COUPLE
RAISING ARIZONA
AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY
THE PRODUCERS: In my opinion, Kenneth Mars just about stole the show.
THE BLUES BROTHERS
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS
THE JERK
BRIDESMAIDS
DUCK SOUP
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES: Those. Aren't. PILLOWS! Another line that put me on the floor.

THE NAKED GUN
ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY
THIS IS SPINAL TAP

I'm sure there are others that I'm forgetting about.


Buttermilk Sky said...

THE WRONG BOX (Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove)

MY MAN GODFREY (Morrie Ryskind and Eric Hatch)

SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (Preston Sturges)

MILLION DOLLAR LEGS (1932) (Henry Myers and Herman J. Mankiewicz)

NINOTCHKA (Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett)

I'M ALL RIGHT, JACK (John Boulting and Frank Haney)

MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN (the guys)

VP81955 said...

"Hands Across the Table" (Norman Krasna, a master of '30s and '40s romantic comedy who's largely forgotten today, alas). Made in 1935, so it's post-Code, but the lady in my avatar and Fred MacMurray generate plenty of erotic tension via subtext.

"Sleeper" (Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman). The film that immortalized Albert Shanker.

"Libeled Lady" (George Oppenheimer, Howard Emmett Rogers, Wallace Sullivan, Maurine Dallas Watkins). MGM was a stars' studio, not a writers' studio, but these four writers gave these four stars (William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow) plenty of wonderfully funny lines ("She may be his wife, but she's engaged to me!"). And Powell's fishing scene is sheer genius.

BTW, don't expect Julie Newmar's character from "My Living Doll" to post comments at this site. After all, Rhoda is programmed to always tell the truth, and when she sees "I'm not a robot," she stops right then and there.

Anonymous said...

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN but not BLAZING SADDLES? Say what?

-30-

Andrew said...

@Yekimi,
Off the subject, but since you love Ruth Gordon, did you know there's an episode of Columbo with her as the villain? Definitely worth checking out. The interplay between her and Peter Falk is amazing.

H Johnson said...

Great list Ken. I'd add...

No Time For Sergeants
Defending Your Life
Animal House
Blazing Saddles
Major League
American Graffiti
Midnight Run
Snatch
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Mash
My Cousin Vinnie
The Freshman
My Favorite Year
Mad Mad Mad World
Roxanne
The Princess Bride
Harlem Nights (Okay not the whole movie, but Red Foxx and Della Reese are hilarious)

Aloha

DBenson said...

THE WRONG BOX is a little wobbly today, due to pacing and some self-conscious wackiness. But the script is solid.

THE LADY EVE is full of great stuff, but one of my all-time favorite movie scenes is Henry Fonda in the ship's dining room, realizing he's being eyed by women ranging from primly hopeful to carnivorous. This is just warmup for Babs holding up her makeup mirror and delivering brilliant play-by-play on the women trying to get his attention. And the payoff: She casually sticks a foot out, express outrage, and owns him.

LouOCNY said...

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN but not BLAZING SADDLES? Say what?

I think that anong those 'in the know', that the ending of BS was not quite as sharp as it might be. The sudden pull back from the fight in the 'fake' Rock Ridge, then the cut to Buddy Bizarre and The French Mistake, and what happens after, seems a little tacked on. Funny as all hell, but tacked on, as if Mel, et al were looking for an ending.

Mrs. Vera Peterson said...

ARTHUR... YES, 'such a gem. However, only Dudley Moore and John Gielgud do it justice... Arthur Bach is to Dudley Moore as Inspector Clouseau is to Peter Sellers. The part just can't be filled with anyone else (y'hear, Russell Brand?).

"Do you have today's Pravda? I like to keep up with Russia..."
"It's a very small country... They recently had it carpeted; we're talking SMALL..."
"It's my father's birthday. What should I wear?" "Steal something casual."
"Do you know what I consider my most prized possession? My daughter! I protect what's mine, and I do it in an UGLY WAY..."
"It's not a perfect crime, but it's a GOOD crime!" "Yes, if she murdered the tie, it'd be the perfect crime."
"It's thrilling to meet you, Gloria.... You obviously have a wonderful economy with words. I look forward to your next syllable with great eagerness."

GROUNDHOG DAY (Andie M. couldn't kill this one, either!)
SIXTEEN CANDLES
MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY
A FISH CALLED WANDA
THE MONEY PIT
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY
BETSY'S WEDDING
ROMANCING THE STONE
THE MONEY PIT

Daniel said...

Ken: When choosing these films are you basing it on the film itself or having read the screenplay? Similarly, when the Oscars decides which screenplays to nominate are they basing it on having read the actual scripts? I'm only asking because I'm guessing that some films can be significantly reconstructed in the editing room (my understanding is that this is what happened with "Annie Hall").

Anyway, my choices would be (in no particular order):

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Roxanne (1987, maybe the most underrated film ever)
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Deathtrap (1982)
Tootsie (1982)
High Fidelity (2000)
Mr. Jealousy (1997)
Sideways (2004)
Metropolitan (1990)
The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)
Bad Manners (1998)

Charles H. Bryan said...

LOST IN AMERICA, and other Albert Brooks classics.

Off topic: The Paste Magazine website has a nice oral history of THE WONDER YEARS, which has a boxed set coming out soon.

Parnell said...

Groundhog Day has to be listed repeatedly, doesn't it? Local Hero is my favorite comedy and for a black comedy there are none better than Art Carney and Lily Tomlin in The Late Show.

Also Radio Days and seconds for Princess Bride and Breaking Away which I don't find at all dated.

Tom said...

I would like to add "The In-Laws" (1979 - written by Andrew Bergman) and "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" (1944 - written by Preston Sturges).

Todd Everett said...

With regard to Kirk's comment about Virginia Woolf:

I saw a production in London some years ago starring Diana Rigg and David Suchet, and directed by Albee as a comedy. It worked swell. I mean, the warring couple are named George and Martha -- isn't that a clue?

flurb said...

Great things in your list and in here in the comments! Some other favorites at our house:
THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943). Not famous enough. Several hands on the screenplay, I gather, but this features director George Stevens before the war made him leave funny behind. With the effortlessly funny Charles Coburn, Joel McCrea, and the terrific Jean Arthur.
THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940). Samson Raphaelson is a kind of a god - he and Ernst Lubitsch do amazing things with the story, based on an only recently translated play, and though it's been ripped off and remade numerous times, this version is the best cinematic moonshine ever; excellent at Christmastime. And Frank Morgan is heartbreakingly good.
WHAT'S UP, DOC? (1972). Seems like Buck Henry and co. gave every actor in this picture fun stuff to do - from Barbra to Madeline Kahn to John Hillerman all the way down to Mabel Albertson ("My jewels! My jewels!") And Liam Dunn's courtroom scene is just priceless.
CHARADE (1963). Peter Stone worked some kind of miracle with that screenplay - hilarious in places but also really scary in others. And a shout out to the late great Henry Mancini: those awesomely suspenseful low sustained strings in the rooftop fight - yikes, what a great and original idea!
BACHELOR MOTHER (1939). Norman Krasna wrote, Garson Kanin directed. Completely fun.
THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942). Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond, with Ginger Rogers having a field day. And Robert Benchley's in there, too.
THE GOOD FAIRY (1935). Preston Sturges adapted Molnar, and William Wyler directed. Charming as can be, with Frank Morgan doing a spectacular pratfall over a phone wire that's worth backing up and watching several times.

Thanks for the excuse to remember these!

Dimitris Sakaridis said...

As I was going through the list and heading towards the end of, I was slowly developing a big smile on my face for seeing almost all my favorites there, combined with an underlying anger for the absence of Four Weddings And A Funeral. Thankfully, right before the Showgirls "punchline", the mistake was rectified!

Great list, Ken!

The only one missing from my theoretical personal list is probably Blazing Shadles.

(And Volunteers, natch!)

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I love many of the movies listed above, but there's a difference between best screenplay and funniest movie. I adore the Marx Brothers, but they were so famous for improvising and making up their own lines that at a Broadway production of The Cocoanuts (which was written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind) Kaufman, who was pacing at the back of the theater during a show, is reported to have halted, stared at the stage and said, "I think I just heard one of the original lines." A NIGHT AT THE OPERA had great screenwriters working on it, including the gag writer Al Boasberg, who wrote the stateroom scene, but I hesitate to call it best comedy screenplay for that reason.

I might, however, put in LE GRAND BLOND AVEC UNE CHAUSSURE NOIR (THE TALL BLOND MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE), which was one of my favorite comedies of the 1970s. There is a long scene (I suspect THE AMERICANS of paying homage to it in its most recent season) of them searching a guy's apartment that has no dialogue and is visually hilarious.

Also:
HOPSCOTCH. There's an opening scene with a discussion about wine in which Glenda Jackson and Walter Matthau show the world how sexual tension is done.

Some less-well-known movies:
WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE?
ZERO EFFECT (not strictly just a comedy, but Ben Stiller's best movie)
BEDAZZled (1967). With Peter Cook as the devil and Dudley Moore as the hapless frycook in love who'll try anything, how can you go wrong?
S.O.B.

On another topic, and a Friday Question: Ken, when LIFE IN PIECES began ISTR that you said something about the impossibility of telling a story in the short snippets the show allows for each storylet (they fit four into a commercial half hour). My attention has just been drawn (by THE NEW YORKER) to HIGH MAINTENANCE, a web series with five-minute (ish) episodes. It centers on a courier who delivers marijuana to clients; each episode is an interaction with a single client. I think it's funny and smart, and they pack a surprising amount of character and story into those short times. I'd be interested to read what you think of it.

wg


VP81955 said...

Anyone who only knows Frank Morgan as the Wizard isn't doing him justice. He's brilliantly multi-dimensional as the shopowner in "The Shop Around the Corner," and I'll have to check out "The Good Fairy" based on the earlier recommendation. He and Walter Connolly are probably my favorite character actors.

Oh, and I'm glad someone mentioned "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek." Wonderfully subversive for 1944, and still effective today; thank you, Preston Sturges. Eddie Bracken is delightful, and this is the Betty Hutton movie for people who don't like Betty Hutton.

SharoneRosen said...

Yep, right up there with your list and, yes, I hate Heartbreak Kid.

I am not, particularly, a Cher fan. I really don't care for Nick Cage. And yet, Moonstruck is one of my favorite movies.

Just recently watched Some Like it Hot again... perfection

I would add-
Radio Days- another Woody Allen gem
My Favorite Year- you could drive a truck through the holes in the story, still, I love it!
The Frisco Kid- Gene + Harrison = hilarity + pathos
What's Up Doc?- terrific screwball comedy that introduced us to the amazing Madeline Kahn (What are you doing with Howard Bannister's rocks?)

and, for all the wrong reasons, one of my favorite laugh out loud movies is
On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. Jack Nicholson in an early film roll as Streisand's hippy step brother is a crack up. And, when she hears the poodle singing "Come Back to Me," I simply plotz!

Johnny Walker said...

A great list and I'm glad to see Chasing Amy getting some love. It's always been my favourite Kevin Smith film, and I've been waiting for many years for him to do something that followed suit. (The best thing he's ever done, however, remains An Evening With Kevin Smith - well worth watching.)

Personally I would add This is Spinal Tap (talk about pitch perfect - it remains probably the best mockumentary ever made, and pin sharp), and maybe The Big Lebowski (but is that really a comedy?), and definitely Blazing Saddles (I much prefer it to Young Frankenstein).

Pat Reeder said...

Most of the ones I'd include have been mentioned, especially in Kirk's post listing all the older films. My choices of the greatest of those would be "Duck Soup," "The Bank Dick," "The General" and "Sons of the Desert." Newer films would have to include "Groundhog Day," "Airplane" and the first "Naked Gun." The funniest and most cohesive of Woody Allen's early funny films (and one that's often sadly overlooked) is "Love and Death." Mel Brooks' golden trio of "The Producers," "Blazing Saddles" and especially "Young Frankenstein" have to be on the list. A few great screenplays that deserve more recognition include "Outrageous Fortune," "Ruthless People" and "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." The best Richard Curtis movie ever remains "The Tall Guy" (take "Love, Actually," please). But I've never been a big fan of "Tootsie;" about the only thing that made me laugh were Bill Murray's ad libs.

Rashad Khan said...

Here, in alphabetical order, are some (but, by no means, all) of my favorite comedic screenplays:

1. Annie Hall (Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman, 1977)
2. The Apartment (I.A.L. Diamond & Billy Wilder, 1960)
3. Arthur (Steve Gordon, 1981)
4. The Bad News Bears (Bill Lancaster, 1976)
5. Broadcast News (James L. Brooks, 1987)
6. Modern Romance (Albert Brooks & Monica Johnson, 1981)
7. Network (Paddy Chayefsky, 1976)
8. Night Shift (Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, 1982)
9. The Odd Couple (Neil Simon, 1968)
10. The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1968)
11. Smile (Jerry Belson, 1975)
12. Tootsie (Larry Gelbart, et al, 1982)

D. McEwan said...

"DR. STRANGELOVE – Stanley Kubrick and Peter George and Terry Southern. The perfect black comedy. And there are no other perfect black comedies."

Excuse me? Theatre of Blood, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Kind Hearts and Coronets are all perfect black comedies along with Dr. Strangelove, though I'll grant Strangelove the higher body count. And while not perfect, A Comedy of Terrors is a pretty damn great black comedy also.

Andrew said...

Another vote for Groundhog Day.

ADmin said...

Man. It's nice that someone like you gives poor old Kevin Smith a little credit. Seems like everyone from Bruce Willis to the guy at the 7-11 are happy to kick sand in Kevin's face. Heck, even his daughter gets attacked. If you've really taken the time to pay attention to his films, one can see the quality of them.

Jahn Ghalt said...

What a fabulous top-sixteen. Few would think to include the brilliant Dr. Strangelove which features the splendid Peter

Sellers
in three roles. Strangelove gives this list some extra weight.

Sellers reminds me of his terrific Pink Panther farces (at least the early ones). It's been too long - do any of those qualify for a "writer's

comedy list" - or is it the performances that carry a workable script?

Some Like it Hot and His Girl Friday are priceless. The Cary Grant reference calls to another fine comedy - Philadephia

Story
- which revived Katharine Hepburn's career.


*******************************
A FRIDAY QUESTION
*******************************

I'm sure the writing talent is out there to write a new comedy in the style of His Girl Friday.

Ken, could you write this (or head a team to write it)?

Would such a project have a chance to attract a well-heeled producer?

Would it require "bankable" stars?

Is there an "appetite" for a smart, rapid-fire comedy in that style?

*******************************

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

A heads up for readers:

The Cinemark chain is playing this for one-night only - Wednesday, 10/5/2016.


It's a tribute to Elizabeth Berkley's talent that after starring in (Showgirls) she still has a career.

The lovely Ms. Berkley was "rewarded" with the unkindest cut in film reviewing that I've ever read (by Anthony Lane, New Yorker):

Lane stated that her "(bosom) was more expressive than her face"

I think the New Yorker itself was embarrassed by this gratititous remark. The review, while not missing from the DVD compilation, IS missing from it's index.

Now to go read others' favorites.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Jay said...
PARENTHOOD. Unique in that parents are parents, and children are children. In American films, children are usually wiser and more competent than grown-ups.

This triggers an question:

How long has it been since a sucessful television comedy portrayed a competent father?

(and what was the show?)

My son loves Family Guy. I tried watching it with him - several episodes - and found it to be 95% vulgar and stupid. I laughed a few times and Alex called me on it. I said suffering 19 bad jokes for 1 laugh is too high a price.

f318ee04-e7e3-11e3-a00e-273ddd259025 said...

Dr. Strangelove is terrific, of course, but as a great screenplay and a great Peter Sellers vehicle, I'll put Being There first.

Diane D. said...

I was so glad to see someone finally added NIGHT SHIFT----Michael Keaton's first and possibly best work, not to mention wonderful Shelley Long in the same movie!
I'd like to second Jahn Ghalt's Friday question about a new comedy in the style of HIS GIRL FRIDAY. I can't believe any age group wouldn't appreciate that kind of brilliant screwball comedy. God, I love that movie, and was so happy to see it on your list! You had several of my other favorite comedies, but you had many I hadn't seen (I intend to do a search!)

Shane L. said...

Anonymous D. McEwan said...
"DR. STRANGELOVE – Stanley Kubrick and Peter George and Terry Southern. The perfect black comedy. And there are no other perfect black comedies."

Excuse me? Theatre of Blood, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Kind Hearts and Coronets are all perfect black comedies along with Dr. Strangelove, though I'll grant Strangelove the higher body count. And while not perfect, A Comedy of Terrors is a pretty damn great black comedy also


I saw THEATER OF BLOOD just this past weekend and had forgotten how much I like that movie. One of the very few movies I've ever seen that works as a horror film while generating laughs at the same time.

Picked it up on the occasion of its being issued on Blu-Ray.

scottmc said...

I would include A THOUSAND CLOWNS. I have the DVD but went to see it twice recently on the big screen. It was a joy. An improvement on the play, Herb Gardner did a wonderful adaptation of his play. Barbara Harris was great(she was also memorable in Gardner's 'Who is Harry Kellerman...'). Jason Robards, Martin Balsam, Gene Saks, Barry Gordon and William Daniels made an unbeatable cast.

BobinVT said...

Ken: Your post got me to thinking again about the brilliance of Billy Wilder. His IMDB page shows his versatility, ranging from screwball comedy (Some Like It Hot, Ninotchka, Ball of Fire), romantic comedy (Sabrina), heavy drama (Stalag 17, Lost Weekend, Double Indemnity), biting satire (Sunset Boulevard), and even comedic drama (The Apartment). Not to mention the criminally undervalued comedy Midnight. That's a pretty strong top nine, and they were written by a man whose first language was not English. Granted he often wrote in collaboration. Kind of makes me wish I spoke German, because if he was this good in English, what must the stuff written in his native tongue be like? This brings me to a Friday question. Wilder's IMDB page credits him in different ways for the nine movies listed, such as "written by", "written for the screen by", "screenplay". Could you help explain the differences?

Andrew said...

Another vote for Groundhog Day.

Jahn Ghalt said...

@Diane D - about a new comedy in the style of HIS GIRL FRIDAY:

Let's try to remember to bring this up AFTER Ken's pressbox play GOING GOING GONE! ends its run (likely to be late in 2018).

VP81955 said...

Billy Wilder is indeed brilliant -- but let's not forget his primary stylistic influence as a writer and director, the legendary Ernst Lubitsch.

D. McEwan said...

"Shane L. said...
I saw THEATER OF BLOOD just this past weekend and had forgotten how much I like that movie. One of the very few movies I've ever seen that works as a horror film while generating laughs at the same time.

Picked it up on the occasion of its being issued on Blu-Ray."


Then you can enjoy my friend David Del Valle's commentary track on that Blu-Ray. I just acquired that Blu-Ray also (To join my two DVD copies and my ancient VHS copy. It's one of my favorite movies.) In fact, I bought it at a steep discount by buying a copy from David's personal stash, which also allowed us to sit for three hours and dish movies. Then I got home, and a few of the stories he told me in conversation in the afternoon showed up in the commentary track.

It's a wonderful movie with a superb cast and a GREAT script. It's one of those ideas that is so perfect, a crazed actor killing theater critics, that you wonder how no one came up with it before. The screenwriter, Anthony Greville-Bell, only wrote four other movies. He was a war hero with a DSO in WWII. His IMDb bio is mostly about his military exploits, as his screenwriting career was so skimpy. (Though he lived to be 84.) They say every one has a novel in them, meaning anyone can write one good book. (Disproven again and again by books by people who hadn't even one book in them.) Greville-Bell apparently had one great, perfect screenplay in him. Though I have not seen the rather obscure other movies he wrote. Maybe there's a forgotten gem hiding there, but can it be as brilliant as transforming the horrors of Titus Andronicus's bloody finale into Meredith Merridew eating his poodles on "This is Your Dish"? Can anything ever be as brilliant? Can anything ever top Peregrin Devlin's line on finding Trevor Dickman's "Pound of flesh," when he gets to say, "It has to be Lionhart. Only he would have the temerity to rewrite Shakespeare."?

And, like The Loved One (Another fine black comedy, though far from perfect), it's a movie entirely shot on location. There is not one single shot in the whole movie shot on a set in a soundstage.

D. McEwan said...

One other Theatre of Blood fun fact. You might call it The D'Ascoyne's Revenge. This type of black comedy movie, where one person kills a string of guest stars in clever, amusing ways, was almost invented by the movie Kind Hearts and Coronets, in which Dennis Price murders a string of people to get himself a title and a fortune, only they were all played by a single star, Alec Guiness. In Theatre of Blood, Dennis Price, as Hector Snype, is one of Edward Lionhart's victims.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Another fan of THEATRE OF BLOOD, and not just because I love Diana Rigg's work.

wg

D. McEwan said...

Well, Wendy, Diana Rigg is reason enough all alone to see the movie, on which, backstage, she played Cupid, fixing up Vincent Price and Coral Browne. (Diana did not know that Vinnie was still married to his second wife at the time.) On the Blu-Ray commentary track, David mentions with what glee Diana stuffed her trousers for the scenes where she's in male drag. Suddenly Mrs. Peel was well-hung.