The 1930s were the golden age of a genre that came to be known as "screwball comedies." For a nation trudging through the Great Depression, these films provided a much-needed escape from grim reality. Combining zany plots, biting wit and a touch of romance, screwball comedies are as entertaining today as they were some 75 years ago. Here are the top ten best screwball comedies of the 1930s.
10. 'Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
Small-town "nice girl" Theodora Lynn (Irene Dunne) publishes a torrid novel under a pseudonym, and installments of the book appear in the local newspaper. Anxious, Theodora travels to New York to meet with her publisher. She meets the illustrator of her novel, Michael Grant, played by Melvyn Douglas. Michael travels to Theodora's hometown, blackmails her and coaxes her out of her dull lifestyle. Their aspiring romance is complicated by politics and the fact that Michael is already married. "Theodora" was directed by Richard Boleslawski and released in 1936.
9. 'Topper' (1937)
Cary Grant and Constance Bennett share leading roles in this 1937 film that portrays them as an elegant pair of ghosts. When affluent and fun-loving bank shareholders George and Marion Kerby are killed in an auto accident, they arrive in limbo. They can only go to their eternal reward after they have performed a good deed, which is to inject a little joy into the life of stuffy bank president Cosmo Topper (Roland Young). Directed by Norman Z. McLeod, Topper spawned two sequels.
8. 'Ninotchka' (1939)
Famous as the film in which "Garbo laughs," this 1939 Ernst Lubitsch gem was written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Melvyn Douglas plays Count Leon, a playboy whose mission is to thwart the sale of Imperial Russian jewels. When it appears he has succeeded, he meets the icy Nina Ivanovna (Greta Garbo), who attempts to complete the sale.
7. 'Midnight' (1939)
Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote this sparkling tale of American showgirl Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert) and taxi driver Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche) in Paris. Down on her luck, Eve decides to pose as a Hungarian aristocrat, and gains the attention of millionaire Georges Flammarion. Eve ends up with a luxurious lifestyle. However, Tibor has fallen in love with Eve, and will go to any lengths to find her. Mitchell Leisen directed this 1939 classic.
6. 'The Awful Truth'(1990)
Cary Grant and Irene Dunne star as Jerry and Lucy Warriner, a divorcing couple intent upon foiling any subsequent romances each may have. Between Lucy's entanglement with her smarmy music instructor and Jerry's engagement to an heiress, the Warriners keep running into each other. Director Leo McCarey won an Academy Award for this 1937 film.
5. 'Nothing Sacred'(1937)
A scathingly funny satire of the newspaper business, Nothing Sacred stars Fredric March as Wally Cook, a reporter who has been demoted for creating a hoax for a story. He learns about Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a beautiful young woman dying of radium poisoning. Although Hazel learns she is perfectly healthy, she accepts Wally's invitation to visit New York City for one last fling. William Wellman directed the 1937 film, and Ben Hecht wrote the snappy screenplay.
4. 'The Thin Man' (1934)
Based upon a Dashiell Hammett novel, this 1934 classic pairs William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, a glamorous young couple whose lives revolve around cocktails and Asta, their wire-haired fox terrier. Nick, a onetime detective who relinquished his career after marrying wealthy Nora, is dragged into a murder investigation. Six Thin Man movies followed the original, which was directed by W. S. Van Dyke.
3. 'Bringing up Baby' (1938)
Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant singing "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" is just one of the highlights of this 1938 Howard Hawks film. Hepburn stars as Susan Vance, a flighty woman who sets her cap for prim paleontologist Dr. David Huxley (Grant). As Huxley awaits the arrival of a prized fossilized bone to complete a museum exhibit, he finds himself enmeshed with Susan, her pesky terrier and a savage leopard.
2. 'My Man Godfrey' (1936)
Carole Lombard plays a dizzy society girl to William Powell's straight man in this classic 1936 romp and satire about the dim-witted rich. On a scavenger hunt, Irene Bullock (Lombard) must find a "forgotten man," that is, a hobo. She discovers Godfrey (Powell), and impulsively hires him as a butler for her eccentric family. Irene falls in love with her protege. However, Godfrey is not the man he seems to be, and becomes more valuable to the Bullock family than anyone could imagine. Directed by Gregory LaCava.
1. 'It Happened One Night' (1934)
Starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and directed by Frank Capra, this 1935 film opens with the wedding of heiress Ellie Andrews (Colbert) to a gold-digger. When Ellie's father has the wedding annulled, Ellie escapes her father's clutches, but finds herself in an unlikely alliance with unemployed reporter Peter Warne (Gable). Her road trip with Warne, as well as her transformation from a spoiled rich girl to a worldly woman makes for a great news story. The film won five Academy Awards.