Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My comedy faves

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 56 years old and still crackles. Saw it again just this week on AMC. 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.

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 WEST WING seem slow. And every word out of their mouths is a gem.

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, and you actually root for Ben Affleck. Now that’s good writing!

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.

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).


Anonymous said...

I'll go ahead and offer up VOLUNTEERS from my list of favorite comedies. There are lines from every character that I'll say out loud as they’re being said…and then laugh hysterically just like I did the first time I heard them.

Kudos on a penning a classic.

PS-Any funny stories from the production?

Anonymous said...

Only a straight man could think "Chasing Amy" was "Real".
Nearly every movie on your list is on mine as well.
I will name two other "Perfect black comedies":
"Kind Hearts and Coronets." Alec Guinness plays 8 characters (Including one woman, so it qualifies for your transvestite comedy requirement) and Dennis Price cheerfully kills all of them, while torn romantically between classy, virtuous Valerie Hobson and delightfully devious Joan Greenwood, she of the sexiest voice on earth.
"Theater of Blood."
Technically a horror movie, actually a hilarious black comedy with the Best Premise Ever: a disgruntled Shakespearean actor, Vincent Price in his Best Role Ever(Watch out for men named Price.), is killing off London's theater critics for giving him bad reviews, using bizarre reinterpretations of the murders in his season of Shakespeare plays. All the critics are major English actors or actresses. Dame Diana Rigg, at the height of her early-70s beauty, is his daughter and accomplice. And there's real romance; Vincent Price and Coral Browne fell in love as he electrocuted her, Vinnie left his wife for her, and they lived happily ever after. A brilliant, witty screenplay, gloriously overacted to the hilt. There's some transvestism here too, but it goes the other way, as Diana Rigg assumes male disguises.

Noah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Noah said...

There's an exchange in ALL ABOUT EVE that strikes me as especially accurate today. Marilyn Monroe's character has just had a bad audition and has been told she should pursue work in television --

Miss Claudia Caswell: Tell me this, do they have auditions for television?

Addison DeWitt: That's all television is, my dear, nothing but auditions.

See, now today that's literally true.

Dave said...

I'd trade "Chasing Amy" for the original Peter Falk and Alan Arkin version of "The In-Laws". "There's no need to shoot at me... I'm only a dentist"

Beth Ciotta said...

I wouldn't trade CHASING AMY. In fact I bought the DVD, signed by Kevin Smith, when I visited Smith's comic book store awhile back. Adore that screenplay. However, I would add the original IN-LAWS as Dave pointed out. Hilarious! Several that you named, Ken, are faves of mine. Some I have not seen and will add to my Net-Flix order. Thanks!

Joshua James said...

I think ANIMAL HOUSE still holds up after all these years - within the pranks and frat jokes there is a geniune wit and heart to the movie -

My own personal favorite is CADDYSHACK, which I can somehow watch again and again -

"So I said to the Lama, I said, 'Hey. Lama! How 'bout a little something, you know, for effort.' And he said, 'there will be no money. But when you die. On your deathbed. You will recieve total consciousness. So I got that goin' for me. Which is nice."

Rays profile said...

I'd throw MASH in there. Admittely, it was very much of its time (late-Vietnam) but it seems those times are, sadly, coming back.

Tenspeed & Brownshoe said...

Broadcast News.

Subsequently, every male character I've ever written has piece of Albert Brooks in them.

Kelly J. Crawford said...

I'm not much for comedies but I pissed myself laughing through most of Trains, Planes and Automobiles.

Anonymous said...

Some great movies mentioned, but the two funniest for me are AIRPLANE and THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

Russ said...

Great list - I'd add Sunset Blvd... Referenced so many times that even the references are now being referenced.
Nice work, Ken - I've admired your stuff for awhile, even before I knew who you were. Thanks for brightening my evenings and influencing my personality during my formative years.

Chuck said...

In the spirit of SHOWGIRLS, I'd add PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE in the so-godawful-its-pure-genius-of-some-demented-variety category.

Having heard about it for years, I finally caught it on VHS from the public library. To date, it's the only movie that I have ever slapped into the rewind machine the second it was over so I could immediately watch it again.

Ed Wood truly was Orson Welles, only made of anti-matter...

Anonymous said...

Russell, "Sunset Boulevard" is a GREAT movie, one of my all-time favorites, with a magnificent screenplay, but by no stretch of the imagination is it a comedy. Yes, there are some funny lines and some laughs, but it is a drama, very much so.

ChrisO said...

I'm a little disappointed that "Raising Arizona" wasn't on the list. Great performances from Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman and William Frosyth.

Anonymous said...

More people should speak of "The Lady Eve" with reverence.

There are so many wonderful comedies in the world that it is tough to point to the best. What I would love to see would be a list of comedies that broke the mold, the ones that changed what we thought a comedy could do and be.

Russ said...

I'm an idiot... Of course, "Sunset's" not a comedy - I guess I read everything but the word "comedy" in your post. Good thing I get paid for drawing pictures rather than writing words
I loved the Sunset reference in Wings, though, which WAS a comedy, (he said, hoping to redeem himself in some small way...)
btw, watching "The Road to Morrocco" on TCM right now - Now, THAT'S a well-written comedy. (Clearly, it's no Ishtar...)

Anonymous said...

Manhatten because it also has the perfect romantic comdey poster.

The Minstrel Boy said...

i was working vegas when SHOWGIRLS came out. the cast and crew from the big ass MGM mega show hired a theater to have a screening in the wee small hours after the second show. we howled. i was laughing to the point of pain then i realized "these idiots are playing this STRAIGHT!" and that sent me back off into the stratosphere.

VP81955 said...

Let's not forget "The Awful Truth" (1937), which was adapted from a '20s play. The dialogue and gags are great, and director Leo McCarey encouraged the actors (Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy) to improvise a good deal of the film. Holds up beautifully, nearly 70 years later. One of the legendary screwball comedies.

Tom Dougherty said...

Great list, with the exception of Chasing Amy. Nothing makes Osama Ben Affleck palatable. You could cover him in velveeta and the dog would eat around him, like a worm pill.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest MY MAN GODFREY (the Powell version, not the remake) and THE IMPOSTERS, where the setup might be a trifle long but the roller coaster is an hour long.

lisa said...

First you mention a name that blew my mind-- Lloyd Thaxton! i haven't thought about that dude in decades!
Then you go and add one of my favorite movies ever to your list of best comedies..The Heartbreak Kid.
Any aspiring filmmakers should carefully analyze the scene where Jeanne Berlin makes an egg salad sandwich speak volumes about how reality sucks.
And i'm not ashamed to say i am still crazy about "Wings."
Lisa, Long Beach, NY