A movie-list of comedies, most of which date from the first half of the 20th century and all of which I really enjoy.
Before I change the header image this month I wanted to add a quick list of movies I watch if I just want to chill and have some easy laughs. Most of these movies date from the first-half of the 20th century and the vast majority of them are from the US. There is nothing taxing or intense about them; they’re easy watching for some easy giggles when you just don’t want to think about anything and you’d like to escape to somewhere that bit simpler.
I’ve been meaning to do this for a while but it was only when I remembered that I needed to change the header image I thought – oh I don’t want to take down Tais-Toi without doing that list.
- Trouble in Paradise (1932)
OK, if you don’t watch lots of old movies you might not enjoy this one. Personally I love all of the Ernst Lubitsch films I’ve seen and I watch loads of old movies so the clunky feel they sometimes have doesn’t bother me. I was really delighted by this when I found it a few years ago (this and Design for Living especially). I love the pick-pocketing at dinner scene.
What’s it about? Herbert Marshall plays a gentleman thief who has met his match in Miriam Hopkin’s pick-pocket. Kay Francis plays a rich widow who cares much more about people and having a pleasant time than she does about tracking her finances. Marshall steals her, very pretty, handbag and, when she offers a reward, decides to return it and pick up the reward. Then he learns just how easy going the merry widow is about her money and how much cash she has in her personal safe…
Here’s a taster.
- My Man Godfrey (1936)
I love this movie, everyone in it is great – I particularly like the housekeeper Molly, played by Jean Dixon, and Carlo, played by Mischa Auer. I love that every character seems to have a full character, but of course it’s the charm and chemistry of William Powell and Carole Lombard that makes this feel as soft and cozy as a comforter.
What’s it about? The Bullocks are a rich (and dotty) family in depression-era New York. Godfrey (Powell) is a homeless man who encounters the Bullock sisters while they are off on a scavenger hunt, seeking a forgotten man. Godfrey’s lack of fear or admiration (and a general contempt) for the well-heeled-idle-rich impresses Irene Bullock (Lombard) so much that she offers him a job as their new butler. You might think this has some great social commentary – no, it’s just loveable fun – but you might need to like old movies to love this one.
This film is widely available to watch for free online – as it should be it’s nearly 80 years old for goodness sakes. Here is one link on youtube – not sure what the quality is like but if it’s not good just try a different link.
- Midnight (1939)
I only discovered this movie by chance online last year. It is great. Even people who don’t like old movies like this movie. It’s very funny, got a great ensemble cast and Claudette Colbert’s character is a modern, likeable, believable gold-digger – and if that doesn’t make you want to watch this I don’t know what will. And Billy Wilder co-wrote it.
What’s it about? Eve Peabody (Colbert) arrives in Paris, penniless and baggage-less with only the beautiful evening gown she’s wearing to her name. She persuades taxi-driver Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche) to drive her around Paris while she looks for some work. When he offers that she stay at his Eve decides it’s time to bail – she’s after a millionaire after all. She sneaks into a swanky party and catches the eye of rich playboy who is having an affair with a married woman. When the husband sees this he decides to set up Eve so that she wins the playboy and he’ll get his wife back.
This used to be freely available online then NBC, who apparently own the rights, seemed to decide it was time to assert those rights. Yes, why not stop people from watching a 76 year old movie that you never seem to show on TV and that is really adorable. And is anyone who was involved in the making of that movie getting any money from NBC when they do air it? (Um, is anyone who was involved with it still alive?) I don’t mean to be rude but really don’t you think it’s wrong that proprietary rights to this sort of stuff work in this way?
So the best I can do is this trailer…
- His Girl Friday (1940)
This film is a remake of The Front Page (1931) – it’s actually originally a play that has been remade many times and I like every single version of it. The very end of the 1931 version is possibly the best ending but I think the 1940’s version is that bit more entertaining because they made Hildy (the reporter) a woman and Rosalind Russell is brilliant in it. Also I love how Cary Grant looks like he’s just having a great time making the film – there’s this air of exuberant fun to the whole thing which is – well it’s a real mood lifter. This movie also has a great ensemble cast (actually I think all the movies listed here do).
What’s it about? Hildy, a seasoned reporter, is leaving the newspaper business to settle down and have a “normal” life with aw-gosh-nice-guy Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). Cary Grant plays Walter Burns, the newspaper’s managing editor (or owner) and Hildy’s ex-husband. He’s not prepared to let Hildy go, particularly not when she’s the best reporter he’s got and there’s the looming execution of Earl Williams, for whom the paper has been campaigning for a reprieve. Again you might be expecting some social commentary here but it’s too madcap for that – the 1931 version isn’t though – in fact if that’s what you’re looking for you should check out that version.
Here’s a link to the slightly more screwball-fun 1940’s one.
- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)
I liked this movie a lot as a kid. There were lots of these sorts of films on TV in the afternoons when I was young – I no longer own a TV so I don’t know if it’s still like that. (But I know that NBC mustn’t be showing Midnight or it would be more available online – there’s a logic there, trust me.) Anyway I like Danny Kaye films but when I found this a couple of years ago I was sure that I’d just enjoy it as a memory but actually this film really is funny.
What’s it about? Kaye plays a daydreamer working as a pulp fiction writer. He barely lives in his reality preferring to play the hero of some adventure he’s dreamed up. Then suddenly his reality becomes much more adventurous…
OK, I went on youtube to get a link to the trailer and instead found this review which contains the original trailer.
- Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
It’s the style with which it’s played that makes this so great. Alec Guinness plays all the rich relatives – anything with Alec Guinness is worth watching. He made so many great movies. He would play cold blooded villains as believeably as he would play the innocent chump (which made him perfect for The Scapegoat). Also check out The Man in the White Suit and The Lavender Hill Mob. Again though, everyone in this is great. Denis Price is perfect as the guy you shouldn’t be rooting for but still you will.
What’s it about? Price is a poor relative in a line of aristocrats. When he is overlooked in love because of his lack of prospects he decides to bump off his cousins till he becomes the duke.
Here is the trailer.
And here (keep it under your hat or it will disappear) is a link to the full thing.
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Do I even need to describe this? Pretty much everyone knows of it, right? I think they revived it on Broadway in recent years too. I must admit though I can’t imagine anyone doing as great a job as Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. They exude exactly the right attitude for the characters and they make a great score sound even better. I like Some Like It Hot and The Seven Year Itch a lot but I think this is Marilyn’s funniest film.
What’s it about? Oh who cares? There’s great sets, songs, dresses and humour. What’s not to love?
Howard Hawks directed this as well as His Girl Friday above. I’m beginning to feel like I should be listing full cast and crews. I’ll just add imdb links to the thumbnails…
Here’s the trailer.
- Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
This movie is great. I don’t understand why it doesn’t have a higher rating on IMDB (at time of writing it’s rated 6.8). Yes, there are lots of movies from the 80s which are great for easy giggles but I’m strictly limiting this list to 10 so this is the one I’m including – and also I don’t know how well known this is. The really great thing about this is not only is everyone great in it but you feel like the movie could follow any of the bit characters in it and be just as entertaining. It’s really well written, every character is a complete character. And it really is very funny.
What’s it about? Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) is all set for a big night except her date cancels and she ends up babysitting instead. Her friend, who is on the outs with her mum decides to run away but then changes her mind when she gets to the bus station, so she calls Chris and asks her to pick her up. Chris, with her 3 charges in tow, leaves the suburbs and drives into the city to pick up her friend. They get a blow out on the way in and so the adventure begins…
Here’s the trailer.
- Galaxy Quest (1999)
There is something so innocent about this whole thing, it’s totally daft and it gently lampoons sci-fi shows – is sci-fi the most innocent genre? kinda is, isn’t it? Anyway this is fun and funny – great for some easy giggles.
What’s it about? The cast of an old sci-fi show, which is very similar to Star Trek, are taken for the real thing by a bunch of aliens in distress. And fans of the show help the cast truly become their heroic characters. I’m maybe not describing it well. It’s funny and cute.
This is my favourite scene.
- Tais-toi! (Ruby & Quentin) 2003
A lot of French movies that play in theatres outside of France are, you know, quite, um, arty? And there are some really really great ones. But they also do loads of comedies, they do loads of stupid comedies which are very funny. Actually that’s true of any foreign language films I think – you generally only see the stuff that’s deemed to be worthy of the label “art”. Since the internet has really broken down barriers in the audio-visual fields I think this could well change. Not that I’m anti-art in any way or anti films that make you reflect on things – it’s just that this gives you a totally skewed view of different cultures. Actually, now that I think about it a lot of French comedies are quite well known… My point is this is a very funny movie.
What’s it about? Quentin (Gérard Depardieu) is a simple thug who never shuts up and always says the wrong thing. He is put in a cell with Ruby (Jean Reno) who is saying nothing, absolutely nothing. Quentin is used to being moved from cell to cell because he invariably drives his cellmate so mad that they end up coming to blows. Ruby doesn’t react at all and Quentin feels like he’s finally made a friend. A friend he’s going to stick with through thick and thin…
Here’s the trailer. The trailer doesn’t do it justice.
There are way more movies that could be added to this list but damnit I’m sticking to 10 films this time! Hopefully there’s some stuff you haven’t seen or reminders of stuff you know you enjoy.