The Cinematheque again caps off the year with some of the funniest and most sophisticated films ever to hit the big screen. We begin with a double feature spotlighting Cary Grant, arguably screwball comedy’s greatest star. In Howard Hawks’ classic BRINGING UP BABY, he plays a paleontologist whose efforts to complete a Brontosaurus skeleton are complicated by free-spirited Katharine Hepburn (and a leopard named Baby). Leo McCarey won a Best Director Oscar for THE AWFUL TRUTH, in which Grant and Irene Dunne play a couple whose divorce just wasn’t meant to be.
Claudette Colbert also stars in a pair of screwball favorites. As heiress-on-the-run Ellie Andrews in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, she won an Oscar (as did costar Clark Gable, director Frank Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin). In Preston Sturges’ crackling THE PALM BEACH STORY, Colbert plays a wife who runs off to Florida, meeting several eccentric millionaires along the way (including a perfectly cast Rudy Vallee).
The eccentricity of the wealthy was a theme that resonated strongly in screwball comedies, which began to hit screens in the depths of the Great Depression. Butlers who teach their upper-class masters a thing or two figure prominently in two features named to the National Film Registry. William Powell is MY MAN GODFREY, a homeless man hired by Carole Lombard as a family servant. Charles Laughton essays the title role in RUGGLES OF RED GAP as an English butler sent off to work in the American West after his employer loses him in a bet. And our screwball series comes to a riotous close with the annual New Year’s Day arrival of the Marx Brothers,with their first film for MGM, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, and MONKEY BUSINESS.
Series compiled by Grant Moninger and John Hagelston. Program notes by John Hagelston.