Saturday, August 04, 2007

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 56 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. There's a remake coming soon. I shudder to think.

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.

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, 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.

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.


ajm said...

RE: The Heartbreak Kid... Neil Simon said in a PLAYBOY interview that he originally wrote that screenplay with Diane Keaton in mind -- for the Jeanne Berlin character. It was Elaine May who turned the film into a Jewish vs. WASP story. Simon saw HEARTBREAK KID as about Grodin's character being so terminally shallow that he instantly dumps one wife for a carbon copy who he only thinks is 180 degrees different.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Can we post some of our own favorites in comments? No? I'll do it anyway:

- Trouble in Paradise, screenplay by Samson Raphaelson, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Every line, even every action is funny and precisely calculated to fit the story, with some of the most perfect running gags ever ("tonsils!").

- Lover Come Back, a Doris Day comedy written by Stanley Shapiro and the great Paul Henning (Burns & Allen, Love That Bob, Beverly Hillbillies). It looks like another lame Day/Hudson comedy but it's actually a great satire of the early '60s advertising world, sort of like "Mad Men" with jokes. ("Now, honey, now! We just passin' over Pittsburgh!")

- Singin' In the Rain by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (maybe not the best musical ever, but certainly the funniest)

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to go into my favorites, but I found Transformers hillarious. Actually, the comedy was better and more frequent than it's action, and the action was pretty kickarse.

Ernest said...

Can't argue with any on your list. Those I'd add are mostly early-mid '80s comedies, when I was in college and learned funny, but they don't supersede Ken's.

Raising Arizona, by Joel and Ethan Coen. As many have observed, it's a human Roadrunner cartoon. Along with The (original) Producers, reinforced the notion you can laugh at anything, even kidnapping a baby.

A Fish Called Wanda, by John Cleese. Conceived to tell a story where the climax depends on a stuttering man who needs to deliver the key information. It's the tightest madcap romp since Lady Eve.

Tin Men, by Barry Levinson. What an elegiac, gentle comedy about such flawed, flawed men. Wonderful.

Broadcast News, by James Brooks. I just love it, it's like a worn old coat, slip it on and you're in its embrace.

Lost in America, by Albert Brooks. Painfully funny.

You went earlier to augment Annie Hall -- I'd also look later, to Manhattan, Broadway Danny Rose, Stardust Memories, Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Zelig, Radio Days, Crimes and Misdemeanors ... it's a (not unbroken) run of endlessly watchable comedies unequalled in cinema history. OK, maybe Billy Wilder. Maybe. But in the modern era, no one has so consistently written brilliant comedy year after year the way Allen did in the '70s and '80s.

Sideways, by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. The most humane of recent comedies. Lush with authentic emotion.

Christina said...

Our lists overlap...

Some Like It Hot. When I saw this for the first time (last year), I finally understood why Marilyn Monroe was so popular. She's delightful, and so are the fake girls. Tootsie lifted a lot from this one!

Tootsie. Probably my all time favorite because it's funny to many ages at the same time. An 8-year-old can watch it with an 80-year-old (and every age in between) and everyone will be laughing.

Young Frankenstein. I was like 5 or 6 when I saw this in the theater. I still remember my father getting yelled at by my mother for taking us. We loved the knockers joke.

I also love The Producers (the one with Zero Mostel), Annie Hall, all early Woody Allen, The Birdcage (the remake worked well - Elaine May at work), Moonstruck... all on my list.

Ones that are on my list that you don't have:

This is Spinal Tap. OHMY. So funny. Maybe this might beat Tootsie in my book. They're one and two, depending on the day.

Sixteen Candles. I was 16 when this came out and it was pitch perfect. John Hughes got the folly that was being a teenager in the mid-80s.

9-to-5. What it's like to be a woman in a male-dominated corporate environment. There are only two thing dated about this movie - the hairstyles and the outfits.

And I'm partial to French slapstick, my favorite being the Tall Blonde with a Black Shoe -- Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire. The remake? Not so funny. But I own the original and watch it once a year...

Anonymous said...

I have not seen this movie in many years, but I remember really liking Under the Yum Yum Tree. Jack Lemon was a fine actor anyway, but he had lots of good lines in that movie.

Stan from Tacoma

Anonymous said...

Okay, here are couple that are funny in a scatological way. And isn't scatology always funny?

1. Slap Shot -- Consistently filthy. Always hilarious. It also has a great plot and flat spectacular dialog. And it was written by a woman -- Nancy Dowd.

2. Used Cars -- Forget all his other movies, this one is -- by far -- Robert Zemeckis' funniest film. I know I'm the only one on Earth who believes that, but this is a cruelly overlooked masterpiece. As a screenplay, it's oh so beautifully cynical about everything from politics to high school and television. Written by Zemeckis' and his then-partner Bob Gale who would go on to create the Back To The Future films together.

Anonymous said...

I've always felt that Philip Barry's "Holiday," written for Katharine Hepburn and starring her and Cary Grant, was far superior to the better-known "Philadelphia Story," by the same playwright.

Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's "One, Two,Three" remains a wonder of pacing. James Cagney's machine-gun performance doesn't hint at what a pain in the ass he evidently was to work with in his waning years.

And the original "Bedazzled," written by and starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, is another favorite. Stanley Donen is generally passed over in lists of the great directors: he's near the top of mine.

Anonymous said...

Okay, first off, there ARE other perfect black comedies: KIND HEARTS & CORONETS for one. I would also list Vincent Price's THEATER OF BLOOD as a perfect black comedy. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE OLD DARK HOUSE (James Whale's version, not the ghastly remake) are perfect black comedies. And MONSIEUR VERDOUX is pretty great, but certainly not perfect. It falls apart at the end.

Your list includes six from mine.

I would list THE LADY EVE as the greatest romantic comedy ever. And I would add THE PALM BEACH STORY behind it, but RIGHT behind it, dangerously tailgating. Oh, who am I kidding? THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK and HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO have to be included too.

Much as I love THIS IS SPINAL TAP, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, BEST IN SHOW, and A MIGHTY WIND, the dialogue is mostly improvised, so I don't see how one can include them in a "Best Comedy Screenplay" list.

But DUCK SOUP for anarchy fans, and A NIGHT AT THE OPERA for plot structure fans. For me, they're a dead tie.

No dialogue, but CITY LIGHTS is untoppable.

No dialogue, but is there a better comedy than THE GENERAL?

SONS OF THE DESERT is sublime. And it has great dialogue. Stan Laurel says: "Life isn't short enough."

MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN is certainly a movie I would be proud to have written.

THE PINK PANTHER, the first one, not the one where Steve Martin at 60 tries to play Peter Sellers BEFORE the first movie. (Pass for 25 at 60? Steve, get a mirror.)

WC Fields wrote part or all of a whole list of supremely great movies: THE OLD FASHIONED WAY, THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE, THE BANK DICK, IT'S A GIFT. This list goes on.

Oh, and there was this little movie 37 years ago, you've probably never heard of it. It was called M*A*S*H. Or was it's dialogue improvised?

VP81955 said...

TE said...
I've always felt that Philip Barry's "Holiday," written for Katharine Hepburn and starring her and Cary Grant, was far superior to the better-known "Philadelphia Story," by the same playwright.

Actually, "Holiday" originated as a stage play, and Hepburn didn't have the first film version; that came in 1930 with Ann Harding (a fine pre-Code actress), and is well worth trying to find.

One of my favorite comedy screenplays airs next Thursday on TCM as part of a Myrna Loy marathon -- "Libeled Lady." A very clever romantic comedy, with a literal four-star cast: Loy, William Powell, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy. Powell's fishing scene (which Howard Hawks borrowed many years later for Rock Hudson in "Man's Favorite Sport?") never fails to break me up. (And the lady in my avatar reminds me to play up another fine script from a 1936 Powell film -- "My Man Godfrey.")

Finally, today is the actual 106th anniversary of Louis Armstrong's birth. Celebrate through 3 a.m. (PT) Sunday with a marathon on WKCR-FM in New York,

By Ken Levine said...

So far I'm agreeing with all of your choices. Some interesting choices I wouldn't have thought of. USED CARS. SIXTEEN CANDLES. SLAP SHOT. SONS OF THE DESERT. DUCK SOUP. BANK DICK.

ONE TWO THREE should have been on my list. It's one of my favorites. Cagney was superb as was Arlene Francis.

Keep 'em coming.

Gail Renard said...

Okay someone mentioned one Ealing Comedy (KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS) but now I must pay tribute to some others and their incredible writer, T.E.B. Clarke gave us PASSPORT TO PIMPLICO and THE LAVENDER HILL MOB. Expertly and lovingly written and shot on the smallest of budgets, it perfectly reflects the life, spirit and humour of wartime and post-war austerity Britain. I still hug myself with glee when watching PASSPORT and wish I wrote it! Respect.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that "One, Two, Three" is getting lots over support over here. It's every bit as perfect as "Some Like It Hot". And anything by Lubitsch deserves a mention. Look at the opening of Ninotchka, which has me laughing before anyone says a word.

But my favourite comedies are the series that Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni made together in the fifties and sixties. Every single one a gem. Those alone are worth learning Italian for.

Anonymous said...

Sullivan´s Travels: I believe you guys forgot the best Preston Sturgess.

The Philadelphia Story: now, that´s high class.

Renoir´s Rules of the Game. Is that a comedy? If it is, It should be on the list.

Divorce Italian Style: Pietro Germi´s astonishing masterpiece. Decadent Baron Ceffalu played by immortal Mastroianni is one of my favorite characters of all time.

The Apartment: best movie ever written.

The Party: Blake Edwards trying to be Tati or the theorem of visual comedy.

Airplane!: “This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.”
“A hospital? What is it, Doctor?”
”A big building with patients, but that's not important right now.”

The man with two brains: it made me discover Steve Martin. Enough said.

Groundhog day: an instant classic. “Why would anybody want to steal a groundhog?”
“I can think of a couple of reasons... the pervert.”

Rushmore: The movie that I would have wanted to write.

El Verdugo: Best comedy, probably best movie ever made in Spain. We´re still trying to figure out how it made his way through Franco´s censorship. And it´s hardly known arround the world. The tittle could be translated as “The Hangman”. I don´t even know if there´s on dvd out there, bot you GOT TO SEE IT.

Anonymous said...

For romantic comedy, I do love "French Kiss." Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline, beautiful settings, and the happy ending. All the wacky characters had believable motivations for their situations and behavior. It never fails to make me smile.

Also, "The Bad News Bears" with Walter Matthau. Profane and pitch-perfect throughout, and I love the end, which pulls the rug out from under the viewer. How strange I can't bring myself to spoil a 30 year old movie.

ajm said...

Some of my faves not already listed...

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE (Doug Kenney, Chris Miller, Harold Ramis)

REPO MAN (Alex Cox)

GHOST WORLD (Daniel Clowes & Terry Zwigoff)

HEAD (Bob Rafaelson and Jack Nicholson)(yes, THAT Jack Nicholson)


BEING THERE (Jerzy Kosinski)

BULL DURHAM (Ron Shelton)

TOPSY-TURVY (Mike Leigh)

Anonymous said...


Rays profile said...

Oh, definitely Bull Durham - in my sportswriting days I used to cover the minor leagues and this hit it wonderfully, although the groupies looked more like Kevin Costner than Susan Sarandon...

Brian Scully said...

"Blazing Saddles"... besides the obvious great jokes that Mel Brooks and the other writers came up with, if you read the script, you notice that almost every joke, while being really funny, also advances the story. Very rare.

And as for my all-time favorite comedy that most people have never seen, I would choose "Funny Bones". Not so much for the script, although it's wonderful, but for the amazing performance of British actor/comedian Lee Evans... and Oliver Platt has never been better. Even Jerry Lewis is good in it, and how often can you say that? Netflix it if you want a very nice surprise of a little film.

Steely Dan said...

"Roxanne." The most underrated film of the 1980s.

Anonymous said...

"Trouble In Paradise"
"Love Me Tonight"
"Duck Soup"
"It's A Gift"
"Sullavin's Travels"
"Palm Beach Story"
"The Lady Eve"
"All About Eve"
"Some Like It Hot"
"Young Frankenstien"

Max Clarke said...

- Love and Death, Woody Allen
- My Favorite Year, Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo
- House Calls, Max Shulman and Julius Epstein

From Ken's list, Annie Hall. It was innovative and widely imitated. I've read the original title was Anhedonia or so, that it had the elements of a murder mystery, but that was removed.

Max Clarke said...

CADDYSHACK! Like the screenplay for Airplane!, you can say its setup lines to people, and you both laugh.

GROUNDHOG DAY. I have the audio to the movie on my ipod Nano. A very wise movie.

Anonymous said...

RE: The Heartbreak Kid. Jewish Guy here. HATED it. Sorry. I agree with the rest of the list, though.

RE: Slapshot, written by Nancy Dowd. Her husband, at the time was Ned Dowd who played three years of professional hockey. A lot of the movie is taken from his real experiences. He later became a producer and then head of production at Caravan. Don't know what he's up to now.

RE: Elizabeth Berkeley. Ditto. She's great.


Anonymous said...

Another very fine black comedy: Miss Tatlock's Millions, written by Charles Brackett & Richard Breen.
It is a shame this very funny movie has never had a VHS or DVD release.

Graham Powell said...

No love for DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS? That movie was absolutely hysterical.

And I'll second RAISING ARIZONA.

Todd Mueller said...

Nobody has mentioned the flawed-but-tasty sources of the following lines:

"Would you say I have a plethora of pinatas?"


"You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"

I happen to have a soft spot for both. I'm giggling just thinking of them.

Anonymous said...

When I think of all the film schools out there, I think that anyone who wants to study film need only go to the DVD shelf and rent NINOTCHA, SUNSET BLVD, STALAG 17, WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, SOME LIKE IT HOT, ACE IN THE HOLE and any other film from the brilliant mind of Billy Wilder. Watch them over and over and over. Read the screenplays. All superb examples of writing and filmamking. A deep bow to Billy Wilder.

LouOCNY said...

OK..heres mine:

I might be a little strange, but I like MONKEY BUSINESS a bit more than DUCK SOUP - Yes, I can recite the dialogue DS verbatim, and it does have Margaret Dumont, and the mirror scene is a classic...but..I sure love the bulling and cooing of Groucho and Thelma Todd..the whole gangster business...the opening scene alone, with apparently all FOUR Marx Brothers singing Sweet Adeline from their herring barrels, is as audacious as anything. I actually LIKE the piano and harp scenes in the Marx movies, and those scenes in MB are pure gold -Harpo and his 'hand' as well an excuted a gag EVER.

I was 19 when ANIMAL HOUSE came out, so it is an ever beloved classic.

BULL DURHAM I love, if only for the fact it is as close to getting a BALL FOUR movie as we ever get. Shelton could have made the manager more of a Joe Schultz, lets-pound-that-Budweiser, type, and there should have been a scene where roomies Crash and Nuke sit up in their flea bag motel room all night,drinking beer, discussing life.

I love just about all of Fields, but ITS A GIFT ( "thats LaFong - Big L, small a, Big F"...) is hysterical..

BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, of course...SADDLES especially - all the 'serious' critics could not see that Mel was making points at just about every step of the way -about Hollywood westerns, Hollywood itself, race relations....what was the story? Supposedly Mel showed John Wayne the script, and Wayne said, "You KNOW I really cannot be IN this movie...but I'll be the first in line to see it!" It took Hollywood 20 years before they could do serious westerns again!

SLAP SHOT...the entire THIN MAN series, while theoretically 'mysteries',are really nothing more than an excuse for William Powell and Myrna Loy to exchange sophisticated bon mots with each other for 80 minutes.

I think a movie like WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER is seriously underrated - I mean, we are led to believe one kiss from a movie star makes TONY RANDALL of all people an international sex symbol??

greal blog Ken!

Anonymous said...

Two films that belong on the list:

And this summer's KNOCKED UP. Great female characters and brilliant writing.

Best line from "SHOWGIRLS" is when Robert Davi, (what a nutcase he was) wistfully says to Elizabeth Berkely after she's leaving the strip club: (I'm paraphrasing)
"Must be nice having a job where people don't cum all over you."

Now THAT'S DIALOGUE. You go Joe...

Anonymous said...

A Christmas Story with Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon.

Anonymous said...

Racked my brain but can't add a title. However, I'll just throw in that one way to judge good comedy is that, like some kisses, you can remember it years later, with no intervening reinforcement. (In other words, you never kissed her again, you haven't seen the movie since, it's been a long time, but you still think about it unbidden at certain moments.) So: the other day I thought of the previously mentioned USED CARS and the scene where Jack Warden is having a stroke. If you've seen it, you know it. The film itself is not black comedy like DR. STRANGELOVE or KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, but that I'm sitting in my room, for some reason think of that scene, and I sat in my room and started laughing. I haven't seen it since it came out in 1980. That's real power. Now if we could only harness that power and use it for good...or did Aristotle prove that was impossible?

Derryl Murphy said...

Plenty of titles I wanted to add, but most were taken already. I'll throw in HOT FUZZ and SHAUN OF THE DEAD, though. Wicked send-ups, those.

Workman said...

Allow me to "Third" Raising Arizona.

Just about every word of that script is funny. It's 20 years old and I have yet to tire of it.

Warren Fleece said...

"That rug really held the room together"
This film gets better with age IMO.

"Good. Bad. I'm the guy with the gun."
I'd kill to watch that again for the first time.

"Afghanistan banana stand!"
William Goldman adapts Donald E. Westlake

Anonymous said...

Steve Martin's Roxanne: Should have won a Academy Award for Screenwriting. Great reworking of the Cyrano story. Best line: It's not like she is a rocket scientist!
Well, actually she is.

Preston Sturges Sullivan's Travels:
Great screenplay about the Hollywood system that is still relevant today.

Anonymous said...

Well, then, let me be the first to recommend Remember the Night (1940), a Sturges screenplay directed by Mitch Leisen, starring Fred MacMurray as an urban DA and Barbara Stanwyck as the jewel thief he prosecutes. The ending's kind of a trainwreck (an alternate was shot, a story in itself) and there's a little period-typical racism (terrible to use Fren 'Snowflake' Toons that way) but there's plenty of snappy Sturges dialogue and Stanwyck is heaven all the way through.

Unknown said...

I second The Big Lewbowski. Not only does it get better with age, I hated it the first time I saw it, and love it now. That's a hell of an arc.

Also love Stand by Me, based on King's "The Body".

R.A. Porter said...

Great list, Ken. And some great additions in the comments. When I saw Will Success
Spoil Rock Hunter
mentioned, I figured it was time for my semi-annual pilgrimage to Amazon to see if it's on DVD yet. Sadly, no.

Anyway, here are some of additions that I didn't see yet:

* Ghostbusters. One of the most quoted/quotable movies of my generation.

* Stripes. Personally, I've always liked it better than Ghostbusters, but I'm odd that way.

* The remake of Bedazzled. I know it's a pale shadow of the original, but the scene where Brendan Fraser first realizes he can speak Spanish is worth the price of admission for me.

* Clueless. I thought Amy Heckerling did a great job of translating "Emma" and loved the way she both captured and skewered youth/LA culture.

* L.A. Story. I agree that Roxanne is a better screenplay and I think Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid a more masterful film, but I think this was some of Steve Martin's best work and also captured something scary and real about LA.

*When Harry Met Sally. Back when Nora Ephron still made me laugh.

Reviewing my list and others', it's a little scary how so many of the modern comedies to make the cut are at least co-written by Harold Ramis. He's still no Billy Wilder, though.

Rob said...

HOLY CRAP, my verification word is mjijbdqq. Isn't he the new head of Al Queda?

Originally saw The Heartbreak Kid in a class taught by Ray Carney, a Cassavetes lover who likes to show his classes incredibly weird pieces of film and hates common Hollywood movies. I loved it, and have never seen it since. An overlooked gem.

Ones I like.....

American Graffiti -- I saw this for the first time on HBO in the mid to early 80s. (Back when HBO wasn't even on 24 hours) I saw it about 10 times that week and about 50 or so since then. George Lucas before he completely lost his sense of humor.

Robocop -- Brilliant satire.

Casablanca -- not a comedy, but some funny moments.

Blazing Saddles -- My favorite Mel Brooks movie. Am I the only one who thinks The Producers is a snooze?

After Hours -- Martin Scorsese's overlooked gem is incredibly funny and warped.

Bull Durham -- Contains one of my favorite lines, "The world is not meant for people cursed with self-awareness". Sums up George W Bush perfectly.

Singin in the Rain -- I saw this for the first time the day of my first date with my first true love. It matched the mood I had in my heart later that night.

Real Genius -- For a geek in the 80s, the movie spoke to me. Also contains this classic exchange:

Chris Knight: So, if there's anything I can do for you, or, more to the point, to you, you just let me know.
Susan: Can you hammer a six-inch spike through a board with your penis?
Chris Knight: Not right now.
Susan: A girl's gotta have her standards.

Caddyshack, Fletch, Blues Brothers, and Animal House -- Any guy who grew up in the 80s can quote most of these chapter and verse.

ajm said...

A few more:

BREAKING AWAY (Steve Tesich)

THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (Judd Apatow & Steve Carell)

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (James L. Brooks, Matt Groening et al)

Anonymous said...

I have a few which I feel are great forgotten comedies.

1. Who's Minding the Mint? Great caper comedy with terrific comics of the early sixties. My favourite - Jack Gilford as the practically deaf safe cracker.

2. A New Leaf. Walter Matthau playing a wealthy sophisticate? But there's Elaine May too.

3. Cold Turkey. The funny movie Dick Van Dyke made.

4. McHale's Navy Joins the Airforce. What? Admittedly I like Tim Conway but this one still makes me laugh.

5. Battle of the Sexes. Peter Sellers in a 50's British adaptation of James Thurber's 'The Catbird Seat'.

6. The Ou of Towners. The Neil Simon/Jack Lemmon version naturally.

I'll probably think of more once I submit this

Mike Barer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Barer said...

My Favorites

Naked Gun
Police Academy
Blazing Saddles
Monty Python And The Holy Grail
Young Frankenstein
A Hard Day's Night
A Shot In The Dark
Being There

Adam said...

It's Love I'm After -- a gem starring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard. stumbled across it on TCM one night and was captivated. that it has not been released and is, i think, generally impossible to find is a crime.

ones i haven't seen mentioned that deserve a shout out:

The Awful Truth

His Girl Friday

ajm said...

1. Who's Minding the Mint?

Good choice -- I much prefer this all-star caper to IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD.

3. Cold Turkey. The funny movie Dick Van Dyke made.

With great appearances by Bob & Ray. Never released on VHS, let alone DVD. What gives?

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of great pictures here. I've always liked The Loved One. It's not perfect, but I think it has its moments.

Anonymous said...

I'm going out on a limb, but 'The Fisher King' was clever and unique, with a pretty amazing screenplay. What about 'The Graduate'? Does that count as a comedy?

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking about Cold Turkey the other day and the first time I saw Tootsie I was stomping my foot throughout.
Maybe I'm weird, but perhaps my favorite comedy was The President's Analyst with James Coburn and Godfrey Cambridge.
Theodore Flicker really created an overlooked masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

Actually, "Holiday" originated as a stage play, and Hepburn didn't have the first film version; that came in 1930 with Ann Harding (a fine pre-Code actress), and is well worth trying to find.

I'll split this one with you, with you getting most -- like 90% -- of the credit. Hepburn understudied the lead role in the original Broadway production.

And, according to a note in IMDB (for what it's worth), she used a scene from the play in her first Hollywood audition.

And she was, I believe, responsible for the remake, directed of course by George Cukor.

But no, it wasn't written for her, and hers wasn't the first film version. It remains one of the funniest and best-cast (Edward Everett Horton! Lew Ayres!) comedies of all time, however.

Anonymous said...

3. Cold Turkey. The funny movie Dick Van Dyke made.

Actually, I think you'll find a lot of respect for "The Comic." But lotsa luck finding it.

OK, I'll go away now.

R.A. Porter said...

A couple others I'd forgotten earlier:

* Better Off Dead. The first and best of Savage Steve Holland's work until he sold his soul to the Disney Channel. "Gee Ricky, I'm sorry your mom blew up."

* The King of Comedy. DeNiro funny. Lewis angry. Scorsese brilliant as always with a screenplay by Paul D. Zimmerman who has a shockingly and sadly short resume.

Dave said...

I can't contribute many that aren't on these lists, but let me take a crack at it.

"It's a Gift" - Hands down, the funniest picture I've ever seen. Not a bum scene in the whole movie. (And Carl LaFong is spelled "Captial L, small a, Capital F . . .)

"I'll Show You the Town" - a silent feature starring Reginald Denny that screened at the Stanford in Palo Alto a few years ago (and is showing again this year). I've never heard an auidence erupt in such laughter throughout.

"The Palm Beach Story" - I think the Weenie King is the greatest scene ever committed to celluloid. Breathtaking.

"Seven Chances" - an underrated Keaton, but probably my favorite.

"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" - sorry, but I think it still works brilliantly. I saw it at the Cinerama Dome around Christmas 1963. The other highlight of the evening was spilling a glass of milk all over my sister at the diner across the street.

"The In-Laws" and "The Freshman" - I only wish Andrew Bergman were writing more screenplays. Both of these are perfect.

"Christmas in July" - probably not Sturges's greatest picture, but I just love it -- especially watching Dick Powell get a chance to do something other than croon.

"Animal Cracker" - my favorite Marx Brothers movie, though I love them all.

"Murder by Death" - maybe not the best picture, but I think it's very, very funny and really well structured. "The Cheap Detective" is close and holds up much better than I remembered.

"Remember the Night" - I'm torn on this one. I love it so (how can you beat the vastly underrated Fred MacMurray and Stanwyck), but don't want people to know about it. I want it to remain my own little secret.

"Dr. Strangelove" - pretty much the only Kubrick picture I like.

"A Christmas Story" - I was one of the few who saw it in the theatre and feel about it kinda like I feel about "Remember the Night." I kinda resent the Johnny-Come-Latelies.

"Hannah and her Sisters" - I'm ka-razy for Chekhov and this comes damn close to getting what Chekhov is all about.

"Radio Days" - I think it's Allen's best film, with the perfect blend of nonsense and sanity.

"To Be or Not to Be" - I used to run hot and cold on this one, but in recent years, I've fallen in love with Benny's performance as "that great, great Polish actor, Joseph Tura."

"The Fortune" - I haven't seen in in years, but Beatty's intentionally awful Gable impression cracks me up.

"Sons of the Desert" - any list like this without Laurel and Hardy is incomplete. I love The Boys.

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" - just a perfect movie. Grant was never better.

"The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer" - well, maybe he was better here. Rudy Vallee was certainly never better, even in The Palm Beach Story.

"Mon Oncle" - I didn't get Tati for years, and then suddenly did while watching this.

"My Favorite Year" - O'Toole was never better than here.

"The Hudsucker Proxy" - I think it's the Coen's best.

"The Awful Truth" and "It Happened One Night" - for me, both are the apotheosis of the Romantic Comedy.

"The Bellboy" - "The Nutty Professor" is probably a better picture, but I love this one just to watch Jer make it up as he goes along.

"The Odd Couple" - dated, but that first scene is as perfect as it comes.

"The Producers" - the musical one. I know this was a flop, but it had me in hysterics on Broadway and at the movies, so on it goes.

"The Thin Man" - perfect in every regard. Shot in 17 days!

Is that enough? I know I'm leaving out at least a dozen . . .

LouOCNY said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LouOCNY said...

r.a. porter:

WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER IS on DVD - do the Amazon search for 'Jane Mansfield' - it is part of a Mansfield box set, which includes THE GIRL CAN'T HELP, if you know someone with DIRECTV, Fox Movie Channel shows it at LEAST once a month in letterbox...not that I would encourage anyone to record it digitally or anything...nudge, nudge, wink, wink, knowwhatImean?

Anonymous said...

Kevin Smith???

...oh Ken...

Anonymous said...

I'd like to recommend a forgotten 1939 masterpiece, a forgotten little piece of froth called MIDNIGHT. Some Paramount hack (I forget who right now) directed from a Billy Wilder-Charles Brackett script about a woman (Claudette Colbert) who meets taxi driver Don Ameche at the Paris train station, rebuffs his innocent advances ("You can sleep at my place, but clear out by 8, that's when I get back. I'll be driving all night.") and winds up at a party with John Barrymore, Barrymore's wife Mary Astor and Astor's lover Francis Lederer. (Very Continental, all this.) inside 20 minutes the whole thing turns into a hilarious comedy of mistaken identities that ticks along like a Swiss watch for 90 minutes.

Not on DVD, but there are VHS copies around. Like most pre-WWII Paramount movies, Universal owns it and has no idea what they've got there.


R.A. Porter said...

nylouoc: Thank you, thank you! I hadn't seen that it was included in that Mansfield box set. I'll be ordering that post haste!

VP81955 said...

Tod Hunter said...
I'd like to recommend a forgotten 1939 masterpiece, a forgotten little piece of froth called MIDNIGHT. Some Paramount hack (I forget who right now) directed from a Billy Wilder-Charles Brackett script about a woman (Claudette Colbert) who meets taxi driver Don Ameche at the Paris train station, rebuffs his innocent advances ("You can sleep at my place, but clear out by 8, that's when I get back. I'll be driving all night.") and winds up at a party with John Barrymore, Barrymore's wife Mary Astor and Astor's lover Francis Lederer. (Very Continental, all this.) inside 20 minutes the whole thing turns into a hilarious comedy of mistaken identities that ticks along like a Swiss watch for 90 minutes.

The lady in my avatar saw your "hack" comment about Mitchell Leisen, director of "Midnight," and is furious. In between some of her famed inventive invective and a few choice four-letter words, she screamed: "Mitch was a damned good director -- he did two of my films with Fred MacMurray, 'Hands Across The Table' and 'Swing High, Swing Low,' as well as 'Death Takes A Holiday,' 'Easy Living' and that 'Remember The Night' you folks have deservedly been praising. Tell that *#&$%@ he should be grateful I'm just an avatar -- otherwise I'd reach out and strangle him!"

ravaj said...

thank you dave ... i was nearly at the end of the comments thinking yaaay i have one to add, but you mentioned it in your long list. my all-time favourite movie ever is 'to be or not to be' with jack benny and carole lombard. even with the maudlin poor old poland inserts, it never fails to make me laugh and raise my spirits.

my mother turned me on to preston sturges saturday afternoons on bbc2 when the only alternatives were horse racing and wrestling. i would therefore like to add 'i married a witch' to the list.

basically, i am of the lubitsch, wilder, ninotchka, one two three (itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini), holy grail and carry on screaming/don't lose your head group.

Anonymous said...

Lots of overlap between my list and those previously posted as well ... I guess we all have excellent (and compatible) taste!

Mine include, in no particular order:

TOOTSIE - Dustin Hoffman in a dress, and Charles Durning as his thwarted love interest. Dabney Coleman usually irritates me, but the writing was so stellar and the characters so spot on that I even liked him here.

WHAT'S UP, DOC?: Barbara Streisand, Ryan O'Neil, and Madelyn Kahn in a screwball comedy with crackling dialogue - a killer-funny chase scene is its climax.

BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN: Mel Brooks makes it look easy. He's the zany uncle that we all love even though he is truly nuts. And I'll add to those two classics his remake of "TO BE OR NOT TO BE" with Anne Bancroft (even though I've heard that the Jack Benny version is the definitive one, I really enjoyed Brooks' go-round).

AIRPLANE: "And please don't call me Shirley!"

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY: I'm in my mid-40s, Jewish, female ... NOT to love this film would be tantamount to treason. I've probably seen it ten times, and enjoy it every time, even with the unlikely Crystal/Ryan pairing. (Sorry to the poster who hates Nora Ephron, but I also really like YOU'VE GOT MAIL, with its Hanks/Ryan pairing ... no small feat since the real life Ms. Ryan leaves me cold.)

FATHER OF THE BRIDE: The original, with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. Another film that I can watch a dozen times and still enjoy. It's a real tribute to the caliber of writing and acting that this film is not more annoyingly-dated or less enjoyable all these years later.

GROUNDHOG DAY: Thought I'd hate it. Didn't. Find myself watching it every year. Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell shouldn't work but somehow do.

THE BREAKFAST CLUB: I'm not sure if this John Hughes '80s relic should really be included in a post about "best comedy screenplay" since I've read that much of the dialogue was improv'd. But the dynamics between the various characters were incredibly well-fleshed out, the dialogue rang true, and I *still* root for Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald.

I have to conclude with SOMETHING from the Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn oevre ... I guess I'll pick ADAM'S RIB; though I *adore* GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, it's a stretch to really call that a comedy.

Sheesh, how'd a Neil Simon or Woody Allen film not make my list? I'm sure there's one from each in there. At least.


wcdixon said...

Late to the party and apologies if these have already been mentioned, but I'd also list "Bottle Rocket", "Rushmore", "Election",
"Dodgeball", "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle", and "Old School".

R.A. Porter said...

Harold and Kumar was a huge surprise to me when I watched it. Expected stupid stoner jokes and got them, but something much more as well. An underrated modern classic. Plus, NPH rocks.

For the Tracy/Hepburn choice, I think I've got to go with Desk Set...which imdb now informs me was written by Nora Ephron's mother, Phoebe. That shows me for dissing on Nora's later work.

Desk Set *still* feels up-to-date to me, and I'm a software engineer. Oh wait, maybe it's because I know computers are kaka that it feels contemporary!

Anonymous said...

First, I second teh Carole Lombard Avatar's Mitch Leisen smack-down. Just because you can't remember who directed a movie, and can't take 30 seconds to check the IMDb and find out who it was, doesn't make one of the great comedy directors a hack. That said, I've seen MIDNIGHT, and it didn't win me over very much. It's no PALM BEACH STORY. (Kudos to The Weenie King: "Don't eat 'em. You'll live longer.")

Oh Ravaj, you have so much more courage than I. You mentioned CARRY ON SCREAMING. 12 CARRY ON movies sit on my DVD shelves, includng SCREAMING (God, how I LOVE it's silly title song: "Carry on Screaming! AAAAAAAH! Carry on Screaming! Aaaaaaah! 'Cause when you're screaming, I know that you're dreaming of me." There's a lyricist with no self-esteem.) I love the Carry Ons, but they are such an indefensible guilty pleasure. Kenneth Williams sneering at everything and everyone. Wonderful Charles Hawtry saying, "Have at thee, varlet!" during bayonet practice in CARRY ON SERGEANT (Where the titular sergeant is the first Doctor Who, William Hartnell.) Barbara Windsor always sticking her ginormous boobs in everyones's faces with utter innocence. Great screenplays? No. But I love them for their wonderful repertory company, and their unpretentious fun.

An Ealing comedy not yet mentioned that is a gem of a screenplay: THE LADYKILLERS. Ignore the horrible remake and savor the great original.

I left out SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS from my Sturgis list intentionally. I don't care for it. Too depressing. TOO preachy. Not very funny.

45 is ..., if you like WHAT'S UP DOC, check out the real motherlode it imitates, BRINGING UP BABY. Nothing with Madeline Kahn can be terrible, but DOC is a pale reflection of Howard Hawks's great original.

Jack Benny, whom I revere, was never in a movie as good as he was.

I notice no Mae West movies on anyone's lists. I have a fondness for I'M NO ANGEL, GOIN' TO TOWN, GO WEST YOUNG MAN, and MY LITTLE CHICKADEE, but none really constitues a great screenplay, though each contains great scenes and moments.
Judge: Are you trying to show contempt for this court?
Tara (Mae): No. I'm doing my best to conceal it.

Similarly, I included no Jacques Tati, though I love him, because none seems to strike me as a great sceenplay. I can't imagine reading MON ONCLE or PLAYTIME.

I must add SITTING PRETTY. Clifton Webb was the REAL Mr. Belvedere. Another Clifton Webb movie I love, which few have heard of, is DREAMBOAT, with Webb, Ginger Rogers, Elsa Lanchester (She nearly steals the movie), Anne Francis, and Jeff Hunter. Webb plays the college professor you DON'T want to get, "Old Ironheart," whose secret past as a silent screen swashbuckling romantic star ala Valentino, comes to light when his old movies hit TV. Of course, like so many Webb movies, it has him playing a father, this time of Anne Francis. Was there ever a more overtly gay movie star back then? CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN is so extremely silly, because it presents Clifton Webb as the father of 12. On what planet?

Several people mentioned SINGING IN THE RAIN. I am embarassed to have omitted it. Funniest ... musical ... ever.

Perhaps not a screenplay on the level of Sturgis and Wilder, but CHAMPAGNE FOR CAESAR with Ronald Coleman is another one I love, mostly for the hilarious performance of Vincent Price. But how can you not love the only movie in existence which casts Art Linkletter in a romantic role?

DARE I say that ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is the best written of their films?

Oh, we could all discuss this topic for days! And may.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Darlings, there's too much emphasis on writers and screenplays in this thread. What can you expect from a flog by a writer? I adore Little Kent, but we all know that it is STARS who make movies funny.

For just one example: some years ago I appeared on radio as Desdemona opposite Paul Robeson (My GOD, he was GREAT! And he was very good in the play too!) in a silly old stage farce called OTHELLO. This overwritten piece of tripe was spat out by some old English hack who never heard of editing. Frankly, the language was so convoluted that it was impossible to tell what anyone was talking about. Since we were broadcasting live, I took it upon myself to improve the play tremendously by parphrasing his inpenetrable syntax into something comprehensible, cutting pages, whole scenes, and most all of act IV.

My most important improvement came at the end, when I improvised my waking up again after Othello had thought he'd killed me, forgiving the big lug, and mounting my pasionate African black stallion for a happy ending. The critics all agreed that, thanks solely to ME, that was THE funniest production of OTHELLO of all-time. Without my efforts, that farce would have been a TRAGEDY!

Screenplays being important! Feh! Only a writer could write something so silly.

Cheers darlings.

Anonymous said...

RE: my Jack Benny comment above; I do have a lignering fondness for the hilariously idiotic BICK BENNY RIDES AGAIN, if only for Rodchester's rendition of "I'm An Old Cowhand", and his joyous tapdance.

Anonymous said...

That would be BUCK BENNY RIDES AGAIN, no offence to Bick, whom I enjoy flicking. And my fondness for it is lingering, not lignering.

Anonymous said...

One person who does NOT share the general enthusiasm for Wilder's ONE TWO THREE was the late Pauline Kael. I rather enjoyed it, as I recall. (I last saw it about 30 years ago.) Anyway, here's what Ms. Kael wrote about it in her book 5001 NIGHTS AT THE MOVIES:

"Machine-gun paced topical satire of East-West relations, in which the characters shout variations of stale jokes at each other--people are described as sitting around on their assets, and we're invited to laugh at the Russians for rejecting a shipment of Swiss cheese because it is full of holes. The director, Billy Wilder, shot this example of an assembly-line approach to gags in Berlin and Munich (where a full-scale replica of the Brandenburg Gate was constructed). James Cagney expertly mugs his way through the role of an American Coca-Cola executive in Europe; he complains that the East Germans are hijacking his shipments, "and they don't even return the empties." When his wife (Arlene Francis) says that their marriage has gone flat, like a stale glass of beer, Cagney replies, "Why do you have to bring in a competing beverage?" The gags are almost all on this level, and the little sops to sentiment are even worse; the film was a huge success."

Anonymous said...

RE: the first comment above, about The Heartbreak Kid. This was based on Bruce Jay Friedman's story "A Change of Plan," which for some reason isn't often noted (in 1990 I got Leonard Maltin to mention this fact, among others, in his annually updated movie guide). Being a Friedman story, I can't believe it was ever intended to be anything but a "Jewish vs. WASP story." (Note also that the 1980s movie The Lonely Guy was adapted by Simon from a satirical nonfiction book by Friedman and co-starred Grodin.)

Anonymous said...

Great list except....

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is boring - unless you're 11.

CHASING AMY is boring - no matter what age you are.

Anonymous said...


Just a friendly correction to you post about Slap Shot. Ned Dowd is Nancy Dowd's brother and, as far as I know, they've never been married to each other. After all, this is Hollywood we're talking about, not Kentucky.

But you're right, much of Slap Shot is based on Ned Dowd's experience in minor league hockey.

Anonymous said...

"YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is boring - unless you're 11."

Thank you. You've just taken 46 years off my age - I feel so young - because in the 30 or 40 times I've watched YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, I've never tired of it. I know every word of it, yet always enjoy watching it again. I'll think I'll watch it again now, when WC Fields' THE OLD FASHIONED WAY ends, as that's what I have on at the moment.

I spent an afternoon on the set, watching them actually shoot the famous PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ scene (That scene was shot at the Mayfair Music Hall in Santa Monica) back in January, 1974, so it's an amazing thing to learn I'm still only 11.

But I'm with you on CHASING AMY. I wasn't bored by it, but the behavior exhibited in it bears no resemblence to that of any lesbian I've ever known, and as a gay man, I've known a LOT of lesbians. CHASING AMY is a prime example of what you get when straight people make films about gay people; a complete fantasy.

But Ben looked hot with the goatee.

Anonymous said...

A partial list, off the top of my head:

To Be Or Not To Be (original Lubitch version); Heaven Can Wait (also Lubitch version); His Girl Friday; The Apartment; Broadcast News; Broadway Danny Rose; Zelig; Annie Hall; The Bank Dick; It's A Gift; Duck Soup; The Producers (original); Dr. Strangelove; Miracle Of Morgan's Creek; Happiness: Tootsie; Singing In The Rain; The Band Wagon; Holiday; It Could Happen To You; Animal House; All About Eve; To Have And Have Not; It Happened One Night

Anonymous said...

Boy nothing gets the posters out like lists, eh?

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

Back when I used to post on I had started a thread asking people who they thought should have played Andie MacDowell's role in this movie.

I noticed that the character was supposed to be some kind of knowing, sexy, femme fatale type with a sense of humor, like Carole Lombard. So I tried to think of an American actress in her early 30's around that time (1994) who could have played that role. I couldn't really think of anyone with a recognizable name who would fit. Maybe Annette Bening?

Anonymous said...

I'm only 22, so I haven't seen most of the movies you listed, Ken, but my favorite comedies are (based on how much they make me laugh):

ANCHORMAN (!!!!!!)
Little Miss Sunshine
The Mask
Ace Ventura
40 Year-Old Virgin
Harold & Kumar (no, I'm not a stoner)
Austin Powers
Toy Story 1 & 2
O Brother Where Art Thou?

Unknown said...

This has gone so low brow I might as well throw in

American Pie 1-3
(I love Alyson Hannigan *sigh* go watch HIMYM - "Robin Sparkles" RIGHT NOW!!11ONEONEELEVEN!)

(David Duchovny)

Oh and the episodes of "The Larry Sanders Show" with David also kick major butt :-)

Anonymous said...

How could anyone miss The Ritz (1976) by Terrance McNally. The cast was brilliant and it was screamingly funny. The only time I actually had to sit on the floor and hold my sides because I hurt from laughing out loud.

Anonymous said...

"Paul Atkinson said...
I'm only 22, so I haven't seen most of the movies you listed,"

Being 22 is no excuse for not havng seen classic comedies, or any other classic films. By the time I was 22, I had seen the whole canon of the Marx Brothers enough times to know the first 6 by heart, most every film with WC Fields, Laurel & Hardy, Mae West, Chaplin, Keaton (A lot of his films were lost then, but have since been found. They are the best movies ever made.), Preston Sturgis, Billy Wilder, and Howard Hawks, in addition to keeping up with the then-current movies coming out. And that was BEFORE home video. One could only see them if they were televised or playing in a revival house.

Nowadays, with nearly everything available on DVD and VHS, you just have no excuse at all.

There's only about three movies on your list that even approach the great classics.

And BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? It's an IMITATION of Preston Sturgis. Watch the real thing. Do yourself a HUGE favor, and watch some black & white classics, and discover what GOOD movies are really like, and you'll see what a paltry, pathetic bunch of not-good-enoughs The Mask Ace Ventura, (You need to abandon Jim Carrey and see some true geniuses like Fields, Groucho, Stan & Ollie, Chaplin, and Keaton.), Dogma,
Austin Powers and Toy Story 1 & 2 are.

In a way, I envy you. You have seeing the great comedies for the first time ahead of you, and since you've apparently never seen a truly great comic, your mind will be blown. You've only eaten hot dogs and popcorn. Prepare for Lobster Neuberg and Filet Mignon.

But mostly I pity the artistically impoverished 22 years you have wasted on Jim Carrey and Mike Myers.

I was 27 when ANIMAL HOUSE came out. I loved it then, but I haven't included it on any list here, despite still loving John Belushi and Douglas Kenney, because it isn't as good as just the credits of THE LADY EVE.

See some good movies, kid. "I wasn't born then" is no excuse. WC Fields died five years before I was born, but I never saw that as a reason to not see him GREAT movies!

Anonymous said...

Doug, you're not younger than you think. You're a school teacher.

Anonymous said...

As a Jewish man, let me just agree with the praise for Heartbreak Kid, and say I've never seen it with a Jewish woman, because I am afraid she might hate me afterwards.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for reminding me of Mitchell Leisen's attributes. I also remember that he did a very good "Twilight Zone" episode with Ida Lupino as a faded star who took refuge in watching old movies. Eventually, literally.

However, it was Wilder's displeasure with Leisen's handling of his script (and the at-the-time-recent success of Preston Sturges crossing the writer-director line) that led Wilder to becoming a director.

And if you ask me, the merits of "Midnight" reside in its script, not its direction.

My apologies to any Leisen fans, including -- especially -- the vexed avatar.


By Ken Levine said...

Hopefully, one of the things people will get from this blog is exposure to some great movies and vintage TV shows they haven't seen. And now with Netflix and TCM and AMC (when they're not showing MAD MEN featurettes) you can catch up on some gems you may have missed.

I agree with Doug. Age is no excuse. Make the effort to seek out classic comedies. Chances are a few will leave you cold, not your sensibility. But along the way you'll discover some things that will shake your world.

There are a few movies people have suggested here that I haven't seen and I plan to correct that shortly.

Thanks again to all who are contributing.

VP81955 said...

Tod Hunter said...
Thank you for reminding me of Mitchell Leisen's attributes. I also remember that he did a very good "Twilight Zone" episode with Ida Lupino as a faded star who took refuge in watching old movies. Eventually, literally.

My apologies to any Leisen fans, including -- especially -- the vexed avatar.

Carole accepts your apology. She's not the kind to hold a gradge, anyway.

media sucks said...

VERY BAD THINGS--(W:Peter Berg D:Peter Berg) My absolute favorite dark comedy. So very evil. I don't know that I would want this on my resume however. I mean, I'm a fan and I still wouldn't want to be left alone in a room with Berg.

As for Showgirls. I read a fascinating article on the film that described it as satire on film. Almost all films are male fulfillment fantasies, Showgirls just doesn't pretend to be anything else. It wears this on its' sleeve in order to create dyonesian nihilism in the viewer. I donno if it's true but, I wish it were.

Anonymous said...

in response to dhppy, it might have been helen hunt.

is there anything more fun (than the obvious sex, drugs and perversity) than listing out one's fave comedies?

so many of mine listed here but i wish to add 'fargo' and 'starship troopers' to the black comedy list.

Anonymous said...

"Doug, you're not younger than you think. You're a school teacher."

Well, guilty, but only briefly. I did guest-teach a film appreciation course at Saddleback College for one semester 30 years ago. Great job. I would select favorite movies of mine, run them for the class, and then lecture on them afterwards. But other than that, all I've taught is improv.

However, I do have a book on Classic Monster Movies of the 30s, 40s, & 50s coming out September 25. The primary purpose of the book is to encourage young people who have never watched anything in black and white, and who think scary movies should be about slicing off bits of hot models in filthy warehouses, fun though that may be, to watch the great Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, Price, Cushing & Christopher Lee films, and learn to enjoy the classics. They're classics for a reason.

Gee, this HAS been fun. Thanks Ken.

Anonymous said...

No one mentioned Oscar winning "It Happened One Night"!

Dead Parrot said...

I am surprised that Ken did not include a Marx Brothers film. No list of favorite comedy screenplays seems to be complete without one. I am also a bit surprised at the choice of Tin Men over Diner from Barry Levinson. I would definitely give the nod to Diner as a better screenplay.

I admit that I have not seen the movie version of The Man Who Came to Dinner but the stage play is one of the funniest I have ever seen. Movie screenplay by Julius and Philip Epstein based on the Hart and Kauffman play.

Thanks to all the other commenters for giving me so many movies to add to my "Want to See" list.

VP81955 said...

Anonymous said...
No one mentioned Oscar winning "It Happened One Night"!

My avatar was a trifle upset when I brought up the oversight, since she dated the writer, Robert Riskin, but then noted that because of a scheduling conflict at her home studio, Paramount, she turned down "It Happened One Night" to do "Bolero," with George Raft, instead.

"Sorry I brought it up," I said nervously.

"Ah, it's the nature of the motion picture business," Carole replied. "Anyway, why should you be complaining? 'Bolero' was pre-Code -- you got to see me strip to my underwear!"

Anonymous said...

Your avatar is awfully emotional for a dead woman. In any event, "Anonymous" was mistaken in saying no one had brought up IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, as one Frank Conniff did bring it up earlier, as did "Dave", and they probably feel slighted by being called "Nobody" by someone who is themself anonymous.

I meant to mention earlier that I hartily second your mention of LIBELED LADY, a terrific movie.

I see I've leaned so far towards classics, that I've mentioned almost no more-recent films. I think ALL OF ME has a great screenplay, as does - gasp! - Jim Carrey's LIAR LIAR. I remember being pleasantly surprised when I saw LL, and thinking, "If only this starred Steve Martin instead of Jim Carrey, it would be a really good movie."

For another very obscure, forgotten comedy with a terrific screenplay (by Lou Breslow) the 1945 MURDER HE SAYS, with Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, and Marjorie Main, directed by George Marshall. I haven't seen it in YEARS, but I remember finding this bizarre black comedy, in which Fred & Helen run afoul of a family of hayseed hillbilly murderers, really funny. Sort of MA & PA KETTLE crossbred with the family from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and yes, just as weird as it sounds.

Regarding MIDNIGHT, which I felt so-so about. I checked out the redoubtable Miss Pauline Kael's write-up, and find I am definitely in the minority, as she loved it. Here's what she had to say in 5001 NIGHTS AT THE MOVIES:

"Rapturous fun. Slim-hipped, wide-eyed Claudette Colbert, stranded in Paris in an evening gown, gets involved with rich, aristocratic John Barrymore, who is trying to regain the affections of his straying wife, Mary Astor, who is hooked on dapper gigolo Francis Lederer. This romantic comedy, directed by Mitchell Leisen for Paramount, from a script by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, is one of the authentic delights of the 30s. The cast includes Hedda Hopper, Monty Woolley, Elaine Barrie, Rex O'Malley, and Don Ameche. Actually, Ameche has an important role; he isn't bad--for Ameche. Based on a story written for the screen by Edwin Justus Mayer and Franz Schulz."

Anonymous said...

Maybe this should be considered a Guilty Pleasure but my favorite screenplay is the original In-Laws.

Anonymous said...

"Dogma" is one of the funniest scripts you'll ever read. The acting in the movie (cough / Linda / cough) practically ruins it, but if you just read the script, it's laugh after laugh.

Anonymous said...

Hm. Does "Stage Door" count as a screenplay, given how much of it was improvised on the set, and how much of it was completely dependent on the delivery of the actresses involved? Lucille Ball saying "I wanna do something with my hands" is flat-out hilarious in the film but on paper would probably seem baffling.

And it's not exactly the funniest screenplay ever, but for one-line zingers that still zing, I nominate "42nd Street."

Anonymous said...

"Chasing Amy" was a good try, but it was all over the place. I couldn't stand it. I was trying to think of some movies people haven't mentioned, and I came up with these:

Fletch. Perhaps the best one-liners of any movie ever made.

The Groove Tube. This movie started what SNL made mainstream. Everything in this movie has been stolen at least a dozen times.

The Front Page. An old, lesser known Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau movie. Very funny sendup of the news media.

Kung Fu Hustle. A goofball gem, one of the few newer comedies that's stood the test of time with me.

Spaceballs. I have seen this movie roughly 10,000 times.

UHF. See above.

Honestly though, TV tends to have better comedy than movies. Some of the best weird stuff like "Mr. Show", "Stella", and "Kids in the Hall" can just never be matched.

ChrisO said...

I'm 56. I enjoy a lot of the old comedies, and count many of them among my favorites. But please, d.mcewan, could we have a little less attitude? There are plenty of funny movies in the modern era. I consider Raising Arizona to be the funniest film I've ever seen. Personally, I like some of the older screwball comedies, but the artificial speaking style and zing zing zing dialogue completely ruins any chance that I will lose myself in the film and forget that I am watching a movie. If you prefer the good old days, fine, but please spare us the lectures. For every Jim Carrey movie there's a Royal Tennenbaums, which I loved. I also liked Knocked Up and the first Austin Powers movie. You can add Rushmore to the list, as well.

Being young doesn't mean it's impossible to see older films, but what young person who isn't specifically trying to study films made before they were born is going to see most of the films you're promoting? I was fortunate to grow up listening to my parents' swing records, and still enjoy big band music. But I certainly wasn't going to ignore rock so I could immerse myself in my parents' music. You're lecturing this kid because he isn't reliving your life.

Anonymous said...

Hey, john pearley hoffman, I was born and raised in Kentucky, so I have to take issue with your implication that we marry our sisters. Outrageous! I mean, why buy the cow...? :)

d. mcewan, I thought for sure I'd be the first (and only) one to mention "Murder, He Says." I, too, saw it ages ago, and it had me in stitches. A few years ago, I found a publicity still of the cast at an antique store and grabbed it up. Would love to see it again, but I'm not holding my breath. By the way, your upcoming book sounds great. Will definitely keep an eye out for it.

A few years ago, the New Beverly theatre ran a double bill with great prints of "The Awful Truth" and "Midnight." That was one fantastic night at the movies. Great to see both mentioned here.

My favorite comedy, and probably my favorite movie, is Awful Truth director Leo McCarey's "Ruggles of Red Gap." Not sure how much the scripts of his films owe to his semi-improv technique, but the results are comedy gold.

A couple not yet mentioned:
"The Good Fairy" - William Wyler, with a script by Preston Sturges
"Shampoo" - there are dramatic, even tragic, notes in it, but it's mostly comedy, and quite an intelligent one at that.

Anonymous said...

Of course, THE FRONT PAGE is based on the same play as HIS GIRL FRIDAY, with Jack Lemmon in the Roz Russell Role. And there's a MUCH earlier version (1931), also called THE FRONT PAGE, with Adolphe Monjou and Pat O'Brian.

I didn't watch the classic films because I was studying film. I watched them because they were the funniest movies. It seems like I was born already loving Laurel & Hardy. Jim Carrey is talented, but he is not a GREAT comedian. And the current mania for Will Ferrell leaves me slack-jawed and agape as well. The best comedies being turned out these days, in my opinion, are the ones being made by Chris Guest and his repertroy company of all the best comic actors working, including some friends of mine.

And I HATED The Royal Tennebaums.

My parents listened to swing music too. I did not develop a taste for it, though I did acquire a taste for classical music and opera. And yes, still loved The Beatles and Queen. (And George Harrison produced some of the BEST comedies ever, when he created Handmade Films.) And I was lecturing the kid to encourage him to see better movies for HIS sake. When all you've eaten is oatmeal, that first mouthful of lobster is almost orgasmic. He can't relive my life. I was lucky enough to meet Groucho and Lucille Ball and Bud Abbott (And Bob Hope, though I don't file that under "Lucky"). I got to see Jack Benny work live. He can't have those experiences. He CAN see Eddie Izzard or Barry Humphries live, and is well-advised to.

And I just saw one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, with a great screenplay, in a theater last week. It is called THE SIMPSONS MOVIE. Best comedy I've seen since SOUTH PARK, BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT. There are people still making great comedies.

Among fairly recent movies, BOWFINGER is a very good film. So is ELECTION. So is DICK. (I've always loved DICK.)

Re: STAGE DOOR. My mother played the Katherine Hepburn role onstage in college, long before I was born. I'm sure she made Hepburn look like a piker. Heaven knows Mom was prettier. (Mother when young looked very like Olivia De Havilland.)

"Being young doesn't mean it's impossible to see older films, but what young person who isn't specifically trying to study films made before they were born is going to see most of the films you're promoting?"

Ones with taste. And I have met many a person under 30 who is intimately familiar with classic films and weren't film students.

I haven't seen KNOCKED UP yet, but will. I've seen all three Austin Powers movie, one film's worth of jokes stretched over three. Amusing? Yes, but not "great" films.

I second RUGGLES OF RED GAP, with it's great performance by Charles Laughton, vastly superior to the Lucille Ball/Bob Hope remake. I like to imagine Hope in other Laughton roles, like Quasimodo. Notice the total absence of any Bob Hope movie in any of my postings here, though I would recommend THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938, but only because of WC Fields and Martha Raye. A Friend of mine dubbed it THE AGONY (Hope) AND THE ECSTASY (Fields). Same with Jerry Lewis, the Jim Carrey of his day.

Anonymous said...

"Election" is a jewel of a script.

Anonymous said...

Just remembered George Steven's great "The More the Merrier," another all-time fave for me. "Stage Door" and "My Man Godfrey" director Gregory La Cava also made some lesser-known beauties such as "Affairs of Cellini" (which I saw on a La Cava double bill at LACMA with Fay Wray in attendance), and a wild Lee Tracy/Lupe Velez vehicle called "The Half Naked Truth," which happily turns up on Turner Classics occasionally.

As for more recent fare, I'm a big fan of the Judd Apatow stuff. Nice to see all those "Freaks and Geeks" alums getting their due. "Knocked Up" is one of the few recent films I've seen twice in the theatre.

LouOCNY said...

Just HAD to make the comments to this awesome thread an even 100...

Anonymous said...

i liked hollywood ending... i think it's one of the best films of woody allen late period. if you really are looking for a stinker... try The Curse of Jade Scorpion

Teddy said...

Elizabeth Berkley has a career? I heard she appearing Dustin "Screech" Diamond's Dirty Sanchez II.

Anonymous said...

Teddy: "Elizabeth Berkley has a career?"

Coincidentally enough, she's in the above-mentioned Curse of the Jade Scorpion. So, um, maybe your point is well taken. Still, in the last couple of weeks, I've seen her in reruns of L&O:Criminal Intent and CSI.

What's this thread again? Oh, favorite comedy screenplays... Mankiewicz's "A Letter to Three Wives" is pretty fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Duck Soup. The Marx brothers at their best

Brett said...

A few that I haven't seen mentioned are:

Easy Money, Back to School,(Big Rodney fan), and My Cousin Vinny.

(Writer - Reinvented, Tapout, Harsh Reality)

Here's one I wrote. I'd like to think it's pretty funny:


Richie Whalen, lead singer of the hairmetal band, Wailin', gets signed to a record deal in the early 1990's, at the same time that the Seattle grunge sound is about to take over the music world. Richie thinks he's gonna be a big rock star, but the opposite happens. The band's album tanks. The tour flops. They're dropped from the label and Richie ends up so broke that he has to move back in with his parents. After some humbling experiences living life as a "regular guy," Richie decides to take another crack at music. He writes some great songs, which reflect his new perspective on life, and cuts a demo, but labels won't touch him because of his past. So, in order get a record deal, Richie REINVENTS himself by changing his name and appearance.

Anonymous said...

Cat Ballou (despite the fact that it stars the execrable Jane Fonda).

Mark said...

Wow... 106 comments so far and no mention yet of OFFICE SPACE??

I would rank this Mike Judge film is right up there with the screwball classics we all love.

Ditto, btw, on the comments on Lubitsch and Chasing Amy/Kevin Smith. Quite underrated, the former. Waaaay overrated, the latter.

Anonymous said...

For sheer wit, I find it hard to beat Oscar Wilde's the importance of being Earnest.

But thats a play, not a screenplay you say? Suck it Levine.

Anonymous said...

The perfect comedy? "Bringing Up Baby" (1938)

Deb. Haw said...

I can't believe nobody mentioned The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother by Gene Wilder. Well, I mean, I can believe it since it's pretty obscure, but I don't understand why it's so obscure. It's absolutely hilarious. Wilder at his best, in my opinion. Stellar cast in the movie too. I've seen it hundreds of time and I'm still rolling on the floor in stitches while watching it.
As for age, my teenaged son says his favourite is Father of the Bride with Spencer Tracy, which I also find hysterically funny.
We watch a lot of TCM in our house.