Girl Power

You may not agree with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose members proclaimed in 1960 that “Pillow Talk” represented “the best writing, story and screenplay written directly for the screen” far better than the other obscure titles nominated that year: “The 400 Blows,” “North by Northwest,” “Wild Strawberries” and “Operation Petticoat.” But the film, which also represented the unlikely return to Hollywood of the blacklisted director Michael Gordon (“Another Part of the Forest”) has become some sort of a classic — at least enough so for Universal to pop for a major restoration of the faded Eastman Color negative, and release it as a bright and shiny Blu-ray in the studio’s centennial collection. It’s far from being one of the great romantic comedies, but there has proved to be enough in it to keep gender studies classes fired up for decades, and even justify a few hundred words on a sleepy Sunday in May in the New York Times.

The glimmerings of female desire that appeared in “Pillow Talk” — after 25 years of repression under the Production Code — had did not take long to explode into the camp excess of late 60s films like “The Girl on a Motorcycle,” which Kino has released this week as part of their burgeoning Eurotrash line. It’s not easy to recognize the Jack Cardiff who shot “The Red Shoes” in the gauzy soft-core porn of this 1968 British production, which stars Marianne Faithfull more or less fresh from her hit recording of “As Tears Go By” and Alain Delon, as the pipe-smoking, Hefneresque professor of philosophy who introduces her to the joys of easy riding as practiced in Old Heidelberg. I’ve got a few words on that one as well.

64 comments to Girl Power

  • Barry Putterman

    Why, the very notion of questioning the judgment of the Motion Picture Academy….!

    All cinephiles in the general New York area, and all those contemplating a visit to our fair Apple should be aware that as part of the the hundred years of Universal celebration there will be a four week series at Film Forum from July 13 through August 9.

    It includes a goodly number of Siodmaks, Whales and other auteurist favorites, as well as a few more off beat items such as PUZZLE OF A DOWNFALL CHILD, TWO-LANE BLACKTOP and a 1933 E.A. Dupont film called LADIES MUST LOVE.

    But it also includes some of the early Wyler films mentioned in last week’s thread, Fejos’ BROADWAY and LONESOME and Clarence Brown’s THE GOOSE WOMAN. And yes, on August 5th, PILLOW TALK!

  • Alex

    The most intertesting thread of meaning running through “Pillow Talk” seems to me to be the talent for, and influence upon, the romantic comedy of Stanley Shapiro –from Pillow Talk through Lover Come Back (1961)and that Touch of Mink to Bedtime Story. None of this rises to the standard of the score or so of Depression and Pre-WWII classics celebrated in Harvey’s “Romantic Comedy,” but the Shapiro works were breezy and witty enough (despite their considerable cynicism and misogeny) to lighten one’s mood in ways more evocative of the delights of prime romatic comedies of Lubitsch, Capra, McCarey, Leisen and Sturges than anything that had appeared for a while or whould appear again.

  • Alex

    …and, for what it’s worth, anyone who likes these Stanley Shapiro seduction frolics enough not to find them being revisited, parofied and deconstructed unbearably frivolousv might find Peyton Reed’s DOWN WITH LOVE amusing. (I think it’s as unusually witty a 2000s comedy as THANK YOU FOR SMOKING –though Reitman’s wit has more to bite into.)

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Barry, I wished Universal made the Fejos films available on DVD instead of keeping them for fortunate New Yorkers. I first saw “Lonesome” at the early Langlois Cinematheque venue in the mid-fifties and loved it, then again at MOMA in the seventies, and that’s it. Same for “Broadway”. And I have been writing about both films in the past few days but definitely won’t publish the stuff unless I can watch the films again.

    We “auteurists” all despised “Pillow Talk” and similar other sixties coy comedies with Doris Day even when we didn’t even bother to watch them, but I for one have been enjoying most of them for longer than I dare admit. They’re definitely better than most of the trash that passes itself as comedies these days.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jean-Pierre, the Film Forum schedule tells us that BROADWAY is coming to us from The Library of Congress and LONESOME from Eastman House. I also haven’t seen these films since the long ago Universal series at MoMA, and they probably got their prints from the same places. But good gravy, couldn’t somebody, anybody put these films out on DVD? Criterion. Kino. Sam’s Schlocko Discs. ANYBODY!

    When I was a teenager, there seemingly was at least one of these 60s Universal comedies on NBC’s prime time movie nights every month, and I found them very annoying at the time. They seemed so tiresomely smug, mechanical and retrograde in comparison to my favorite TV sitcoms. Now that they represent the past rather than the present, they might look more interesting.

    But first things first. Let’s have BROADWAY and LONESOME on DVD. And then, later, a lot later, maybe you can send me some flowers.

  • Mark Mayerson

    According to this thread (http://www.nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=8578), Criterion is supposed to be releasing Lonesome, Broadway and The Last Performance.

  • Barry Putterman

    Mark, what I saw was that Nitrateville takes you to Criterion Forum and (1.) nobody on either site seems to be sure whether this is anything more than a rumor and (b.) everybody on film discussion sites has made up names and avatars except us.

  • Robert Regan

    Barry, Can you, or anyone, explain why discussion sites are so filled with pseudonyms and clever avatars?

  • Johan Andreasson

    PILLOW TALK should be of interest not only to people involved in gender studies, but to anyone with an eye for design – the Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies look smashing! I’m guessing that producer Ross Hunter played an important role here – many of his movies have a similar look.

    Since we talked about Mitchell Leisen not to long ago, some of his romantic comedies, like LADY IN THE DARK with Ginger Rogers as a romantically deprived career woman surrounded by stunning and imaginatively designed sets, comes to mind.

  • I’ve heard strong rumors — in fact, actual confirmations from the folks involved — that at least one other major distributor of classic films on video has been struggling to put out the Eastman House restoration of “Lonesome” (which is magnificent), but that Universal is demanding such a high licensing fee that it is simply impractical. Of course, said distributor could take advantage of the provision in the copyright law that I wrote about in a guest editorial in Film Comment this month, and issue “Lonesome” (and “Broadway,” which is in dicier shape) without Universal’s consent. According to section 108(h) of the Millennium Copyright Act, “archives and libraries” have the right to “reproduce, distribute, display or perform” films in the last 20 years of their copyright protection that are not being made available “at a reasonable price” by their owners as long as they can show that monies generated go back to preservation,
    scholarship or research.

    Alas, no one seems willing to step forward and actually test that provision in court, which I can certainly understand. What indie distributor would have the financial resources to go up against Comcast/NBCUniversal? Still, the provision was put there for a reason — to counteract the otherwise outrageous corporate giveaway that the copyright act represents — and it’s a shame that one has taken advantage of it.

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, I expect that the pseudonyms and avatars are there to help create a more festive and friendly atmosphere. They provide opportunites for fun self-expression while also building a buffer that the person can use to free oneself from inhibitions and have a shield to deflect wounds when he or she is disagreed with. I can’t argue with the intentions or the effects, but I still prefer the way things are done over here.

    Johan, I’ve been reading Mark Harris’ “Pictures at a Revolution,” a book which Gregg Rickman discussed at length some time ago here. Ross Hunter appears in it as a bastion of “old Hollywood;” a producer who is more interested in production design than story values. Apparently Mike Nichols was in negotiation to do a project at Universal which eventually became the Carol Reed film THE PUBLIC EYE (aka FOLLOW ME!). Harris describes Nichols meeting with Hunter during which they screened SEND ME NO FLOWERS, which Hunter did not produce. At the end of the film, Hunter said to Nichols that his reaction as a producer was that he wanted to eliminate all of the bows from Doris Day’s wardrobe, and Nichols realized that he could never work for such a person.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Barry, that’s a funny story! I remember it from the book. No matter what you think about “new” versus “old” Hollywood, you can’t beat “old” when it comes to production values.

    What did you think of the book? I quite liked it – much less gossipy than Biskind’s “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” which dealt with roughly the same era.

  • Barry Putterman

    Johan, I’m only half way through (can’t wait to see how it turns out!!). There is a lot of good information here. And if ANYBODY is still under the illusion that directors (or producers or writers or actors), no matter how powerful within the industry, simply decide which films that they want to make and then go ahead and make them, please read this book and others like it.

    I don’t know that I share Mr. Harris’ aesthetic values, but he seems to be telling a well researched story rather compellingly.

  • Speak of the devil (or Fejos), but Criterion just announced that they’ll be releasing LONESOME on DVD/Blu-Ray on August 28th:

    http://www.criterion.com/films/28212-lonesome

  • THE LAST PERFORMANCE and BROADWAY are included on there as well. Great news…

  • That is good news, Rob. But I guess we won’t be testing 108(h) this time.

  • Rick K.

    Dave K … hey, that Copyright Millennium Act (which I had never heard of before) sounds like a potentially invaluable provision for both film buffs and archives alike. For archives, it’s an opportunity to make use of material which exists in their collections and potentially generate revenue needed for preservation initiatives, and for film buffs, to finally access some of that elusive material. So would that mean that under the existing guidelines, that properties older than 82 years (thats 27 + 75, minus the 20 yr. grace period) are eligible? Which would mean that, as of 2012, archives could go back to 1930, and as long as titles in question are not being marketed elsewhere by copyright holders, could conceivably create an an outreach program offering MOD DVD-Rs, or even occasional blu-rays for particularly notable items (like Criterion is doing with that amazing Fejos release this summer).

    It would also mean that, within a few years, a WEALTH of material from the early sound period is going to fall into this region of flexibility, so am wondering if any of the archives are really exploring the possibilities (especially UCLA). I’ve heard that the Universal MOD branch will be expanding this summer as a part of their 100th anniversary plans, but tend to doubt if they will bother much with their early sound Paramount/Universal titles which, of course, includes unreleased Wyler, Whale, DeMille, Cukor, Ford’s missing AIR MAIL, certainly of significant interest.

    Apparently TCM Archives has announced a Universal set of “1930’s rarities” to release later this summer, though some may be a bit disappointed, since they opted for the likes of SOULS AT SEA, MILLION DOLLAR LEGS ’32, Walsh’s ARTISTS AND MODELS and McCarey’s previously available BELLE OF THE NINETIES, all of which are nice to have of course, but with so MUCH to choose from, one could argue whether the selections were really discerning or not.

  • Alex

    Anyone a big fan of any non-English-language romatic comedies?

    I figure they’re rooted in Continental European farce, and so there must be some great Continelmtal ones, but none come to mind.

  • Robert Regan

    Alex, Sacha Guitry comes to mind, though I wouldn’t exactly call him “romantic”. He has too much irony for that. The recent Eclipse set is good, though the only one I really like is Quadrille. Generally, he’s a bit too “boulevard” for my taste.

  • Alex

    Robert Regan.

    Guitry are, indeed, a bit too ironic for what I have in mind (though oddly Lubiursche films like Trouble in Paradise, Design for Living and Ninoshka are not).

    Morover, Guitry film never quite catch fire for me, though I tend to enjoy (and certain do respect) them.

    I recall a Grémillon that worked a lot like a 30’s U.S. romantic comedy, though with a ghost element (as in Topper). Saw it at the Chicago Art Institute arond 1982 but can’t recall cast (Michelle Morgan?) or title.

    Quite likely Dave Kehr caught it then.

  • David Boxwell

    Gremillon trio out this summer on Criterion Eclipse, already viewable for Hulu Plus subscribers: REMORQUES (41); LE CiEL EST A VOUS (44); LUMIERE D’ETE (43): call it the Madeleine Renaud Triple Play. A less likely cine-vedette is hard to imagine.

    That skinny, posh leather biker chick grew up to croak/bawl out Kurt Weill a quarter century later, superbly so.

  • Barry Putterman

    I would imagine that every culture has a long, deep tradition of romantic comedies and that very few of the films cross international borders because, well, every culture has a long, deep tradition of romantic comedies, so why would the home audience want to look at somebody else’s?

    The Julian Duvivier series at MoMA had a rather clever early sound romantic comedy called ALLO BERLIN? ICI PARIS!. There were some nice examples in the German Weimar series as well, including a few with Billy Wilder in the writing credtis such as DAS BLAUE VON HIMMEL. And Siodmak’s MISTER FLOW has some good ideas in it.

    None of those films quite make it to Lubitsch level. But a lot of comic behavior depends on your familiarity with the local customs. And that’s another reason why not too many of the films wind up crossing international borders.

  • That’s true, Dave. I wasn’t thinking big picture. But as you said, what institution could financially sustain a long litigation process from invoking 108(h)? Have you spoken to any organizations that are thinking about invoking it?

  • Alex

    Barry Putterman,

    You mean 1932-1942 Americana — rich, young 1932-1942, Manhattan Americana in particular–doesn’t define the universal in romantic fun?

    Thanks for the Duvivier and Wilder tips, and word or a Siodmak film blanc.

  • Alex

    David Boxwell

    I’ve only seen the wonderful LE CiEL EST A VOUS so far, but it’s not the film I saw at the Chicago Art Institute in ’82– nor quite the frolic I think of as romantic comedy. Looking forward to seeing REMORQUES and LUMIERE D’ETE, but I’ve peaked ahead enough to discern that REMORQUES has more tug boats and LUMIERE less Paris than the film I’d recapture. Of it I recall key scenes in the central Parisian produce market at night, as well as in a mildly haunted castle.

  • Johan Andreasson

    I guess Stiller’s EROTIKON could be seen as one of the roots of romantic comedy movies. It’s based on a Hungarian play, it influenced Lubitsch and DeMille, and the story revolves around an entomology professor obsessed with the sexual life of bugs, which would link it to characters played by Cary Grant and Henry Fonda in romantic comedies by Hawks and Sturges.

  • Barry Putterman

    Johan, I’m still laughing at Karin Molander rehearsing in front of her mirror in THOMAS GRAALS BASTA FILM, and I haven’t seen it in at least thirty years.

  • jbryant

    I’d say there are aspects of romantic comedy in various Harold Lloyd films, or something like the Mary Pickford vehicle MY BEST GIRL (Sam Taylor, 1927). But that’s just off the top of my head; I haven’t really looked into it.

  • pat graham

    alex–maybe PATTES BLANCHES is the gremillon you’re trying to remember; it played at the film center at some point, though not, i think, as part of that formidable ’82 series

  • I loved Stiller’s EROTIKON. And am looking forward to seeing lots more Stiller.

    Hollywood made some romantic comedy films in the 1910’s. They are less familiar that the silent comedy of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd. And mainly lack slapstick or visual gags.
    Young Romance (George Melford, 1915) and Delicious Little Devil (Robert Z. Leonard, 1919) are especially good.

    I’ve never been able to warm up to Pillow Talk or the other Doris Day films of its ilk. And don’t know why. Doris Day is terrific in Calamity Jane and The Man Who Knew Too Much.
    And she later got much better material than Pillow Talk in The Glass Bottom Boat (Tashlin).

  • Jakob

    Alex,
    ‘La Tendre Ennemie’ (1936), one of Max Ophüls’ 30s movies, where romantic rhymes with heartbroken. Ghosts interfering in a wedding.

  • Alex,
    Thanks for reminding me of “Down with Love”, which I thought was a delightful throwback to the Hudson/Day comedies, even though it tried a bit too hard. But re: non-English language, off the top of my head the ones that come up are mostly all American. Most of the standard-issue romantic comedies from France or Italy that I remember seeing in theatres in the 1970s were nowhere near as sophisticated and witty as the heyday of Richard Quine, for instance (even though “Paris When It Sizzles”, for one, was a remake of “La Fête à Henriette”).

  • Romantic comedy has a long and distinguished tradition in many countries, in France (Jacques Becker, François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer), Italy (Luigi Comencini, Renato Castellani, Ettore Scola), Russia (Boris Barnet, Georgi Daneliya), Finland (Valentin Vaala)… the Hugh Grant movies in Britain… We have just screened an early American masterpiece, True Heart Susie, Lillian Gish / D.W. Griffith, in our “I Love You, I Film You” series. Woody Allen keeps reinventing the form (Midnight in Paris).

  • jbryant

    I so wanted to like DOWN WITH LOVE. I should have been the perfect audience for it — I like Doris Day, enjoy genre tweaking and love a good romantic comedy. But I found it hard watching a story in which every moment was in quotation marks, so to speak. Why spoof something that was borderline spoofery to begin with? The Day/Hudson movies are dated in a fun way, and you bring your own sense of irony to them. The double entendres were risqué for their time, but are so mild now that they’re funny on a different level. DOWN WITH LOVE is Day/Hudson with dirtier jokes; I guess I didn’t get the point of that.

    I’ve liked most of Peyton Reed’s other films though.

  • On the subject of romantic comedies, I think that the Apatow Comedy Co. might be the modern equivalent of the old screwball genre. As Harvey describes in his great book “Romantic Comedy”, what was great about films like IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT or BRINGING UP BABY was that these films were both creating and capturing a fun mood, a first and distinct period in American culture and cinema, which would not last long. The Apatow films, which he directs and produced, whether it is 5 YEAR ENGAGEMENT, WANDERLUST or GIRLS, give these great actor/actresses/comedians some creative freedom (which is one reason a lot of them have gone on to directing/writing, i.e. Jason Segel, Lena Dunham), along with a process that tries to capture a serious aspect of their inner life, which they try to reflect on screen, i.e. the moving darkened-room break-up scene in this weeks episode of GIRLS.

    I look forward to discovering PILLOW TALK.

  • Antti, point taken, but somehow I don’t see many of the films by the directors you quote as being “romantic comedy”, at least in the American sense. Scola, for instance: “Una Giornata Particolare” with Loren & Mastroianni is hardly a romantic comedy, seeing as the weight of history hanging over the characters’ heads gives it an added dimension. And nearly all of Rohmer’s films could be construed as romantic comedies – but they’re too ethereal and programmatic for that.

    David D., interesting take on Apatow; but I think that in what regards him and his team, that particular distinct period may already be ending, since other than “Bridesmaids” none of their movies have really captured the zeitgeist.

  • Jorge, you are absolutely right. Usually romantic comedy in each country is a genre which does not travel, but even top directors have made fine movies in it, although they have of course done much more, too. During the belle époque romantic comedy was already flourishing in films by Léonce Perret, for instance. In Italy a delightful early entry was Mario Caserini’s Santarellina (1912). René Clair belongs to the masters, as well.

  • As Antti pointed out, in Italy we always had romantic comedy as well, but I would say the most important director was Mario Camerini (not to be confused with the already mentioned Mario Caserini). In his 30s early talkies he re-invented this genre, focusing attention on low class characters and on-location shooting, and still today many Italian films rely on his conception of comedy. He also launched Vittorio De Sica as cinema actor and Cesare Zavattini as screen-writer, and if you look at their early works you will occasionally find some Camerini-sque touchs. Most important comedies (all subsequently remade by other directors): Gli uomini, che mascalzoni… (1932, remade in 1953), Darò un milione (1935, remade in US as I’ll Give a Million), Il signor Max (1937, remade in 1957 and 1991), Grandi magazzini (1939). He also made beautiful melodramas, for example T’amerò sempre (1933) and, later on, adventure and peplum films, including Ulysses (1954), with Kirk Douglas, but also an Italian variation on Fritz Lang’s Indian saga, Vengeance of Kali (1963).

    As concern Renato Castellani and Luigi Comencini, they worked in the so-called “neorealismo rosa” (pink neorealism): postwar romantic comedies set in neorelistic contest, but with a certain optimism. Castellani shot Due soldi di speranza (1950) and Comencini Bread, Love and Dreams (1953), both still pretty popular on Italian TV.

  • Simone, I quite agree with you about the importance of Camerini, and it’s a real shame that so few (if any) of his films have been subtitled. All of the 30s titles you mention are available, if I remember correctly, in an Italian box set with Italian subtitles for the hard-of-hearing; I’ve found that with my knowledge of French I’m able to use them to follow the Italian dialogue, if not to appreciate its nuances.

    Another great maker (and star) of romantic comedies, though more in the Eastern European bittersweet tradition, is the Austrian actor-director Willy Forst, whose “Bel Ami” (1939) is a genuine masterpiece. I can also recommend his “Burgtheater, “Mazurka” and “Maskerade” (the latter starring Anton Walbrook), and his personality dominates Geza von Bolvary’s wonderful 1931 German film “The Theft of the Mona Lisa,” in which he stars. A touring show is long overdue — perhaps from our friends at the Austrian Film Museum, who for the moment seem oddly preoccupied with Olivier Assayas.

  • About Camerini’s influece, there is a very interesting film by Vittorio Cottafavi, I nostri sogni (Our Dreams, 1943), starring Vittorio De Sica and written by Zavattini. This was Cottafavi’s first film, and not only bears clear references to Camerini (especially Il signor Max and Grandi magazzini), it also can be read as a meditation on Italian romantic comedy: De Sica plays a small time crook and he pretends to be a rich millionaire but, having never seen a real tycoon, he simply acts as tycoons seen on the screen. Both funny and bitter, in fact during shooting Cottafavi used to rename it “Our Nightmares”. The Italian disc features French subtitles.

    For Matarazzo enthusiastics, there is also another French subtitled comedy starring De Sica, L’avventuriera del piano di sopra (1941). Not as good as Cottafavi’s film, but surely has its interest, and had a considerable influence on subsequent films. Written, edited and produced by Riccardo Freda, better known for his later thrillers and peplums.

  • pat graham

    can’t speak to more than i’ve seen, but camerini’s FIGARO’S GREAT DAY had to have been subtitled when i saw it many years ago …

  • …and on-line you can also find English “fan subs” for Il signor Max and Gli uomini, che mascalzoni…

  • Alex

    David D.

    Your description of U.S. “Romantic Comedy” as comedy “both creating and capturing a fun mood” (a ROMANTIC fun mood, I’D add) gets at just what I think of as “Romantic Comedy”–to the point of tending not to grant films that don’t achieve that mood the status of “Romantic Comedy.” That said, I don’t see the Apatow Comedy Co. as producing material remotely close to “Romantic Comedy.” Too much “gross out” and “dum guy” comedy and pretty banal takes on “the serious aspect of … inner life.”

    “Girls” is good, despite its excessive amplification of the better modulated sexual physicaliyty of Dunham’s terrific “Tiny Furniture” — but hardly, I think, “Romantic Comedy.” More like upper middle/lower upper class slacker social realism enriched my Lena Dunham’s striking literary voice.

    Great to hear about Comencini, though access to some of his work would be nice.

    Thanks, Johan, for word of Stiller’s EROTIKON, which I take to be a sort of crossover from continental theatical farce. Stikes me that the Continental Operetta (e.g., “The Merry Widow” may an influence on “Romantic Comedy” to rival the rolmatically inclined farce (though von Stoheim makes something even graver
    of “The Merry Widow” than Lubitch did of “Lady Windermere’s Fan.)

  • “Nineteen thirty-four was the turning point, the year when it first began to seem as if the Hollywood movie had invented the romantic comedy. Suddenly in The Thin Man and It Happened One Night and The Gay Divorcee, in actors like Dunne and Lombard and Grant, Powell and Loy and Astaire – all the familiar, borrowed elements came together in combinations so new and fresh, so eclectic, and so intrinsically movielike that familiarity became revelation.” – James Harvey

    Alex, Though I would agree that the Apatow films don’t fit the old model of “romantic comedy”, they do seem to be trying to say something relevant about today, like what it means to young and then how its like growing up. It is this “familiarity [which] became revelation” (Harvey), that I was trying to highlight in terms of what Apatow is doing. Though they aren’t all the greatest of films (i.e. 5 YEAR ENGAGEMENT ends with a lot of the couples issues going unresolved), in the years FREAKS & GEEKS the “Apatow film” has been very influential and has suddenly become a norm, just look at what happened to David Gordon Green. And personally, I can’t wait for THIS IS FORTY.

  • Barry Putterman

    Significantly, 1934 is also the year that the Production Code began to be enforced. It could be argued that the “romantic comedy” as we imagine it in this country is a product of the Code. A way of indicating all of the sexual longings that are part of the overall emotional attraction in indirect and metaphorical ways.

    It would then follow that the series of Universal comedies, which could be said to begin with PILLOW TALK, seemed hollow and outdated almost immediately after their release specifically because the assumptions surrounding the audience’s basic acceptance of the Prodution Code world was quickly disintegrating.

    And that the Apatow films, which certainly conform to the general principles of “romantic comedy’ (the trials and tribulations of young singles during the mating process leading to marriage) represent the current audience assumptions as regards to realistic depictions of the characters.

  • The flaw in Harvey’s argument, as I remember the book, is that he doesn’t take into account the Broadway plays his favorite romantic comedies were based on. Remember that Philip Barry’s 1928 “Holiday” was first filmed in 1930, and that the McCarey “Awful Truth” is the third film based on a 1923 play by Arthur Richman (a silent version, directed by Paul Powell, survives). The genre was born in New York and later emigrated to Hollywood, along with most of its leading practitioners — though there may be earlier precedents with Molnar and those other Hungarians whom Lubitsch and Wilder were always adapting. Preston Sturges’s “Strictly Dishonorable” was a huge hit on Broadway before Universal bought it; the 1931 John Stahl adaptation would seem to have most of the characteristics of romantic comedy, even if Paul Lukas is no Cary Grant.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Harvey’s argument reads well, but if you watch sufficient numbers of precode films, you can definitely see them as at least antecedents of the classic screwball. This is certainly true of Stahl’s STRICTLY DISHONORABLE, as Dave suggests. To offer another example, recently viewed, a good deal of Cukor’s ROCKABYE (1932) is overtly slangy and zany — a pie fight in a kitchen, taking nocturnal rides with colorful cabbies and the like. (A good deal of the remainder is maudlin mother love melodrama). I’d be interested in Brian’s opinion of this film, which anticipates some of the best later Cukor in some ways (some of the improvised-seeming Constance Bennett- Joel McCrea scenes look forward to THE MARRYING KIND) while it is also full of the arch theatricality of others of his films of that time. There’s a comic old battleaxe (a character Cukor showcases in many films) and even a “serious” scene where McCrea’s old ma asks Bennett to drop him, anticipating Lionel Barrymore’s big scene in CAMILLE.

    More than anything else, though, ROCKABYE reminded me of the generic pastiche 1930s escapist film Allen parodies in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO; I kept expecting Bennett to call what she and McCrea are on a “madcap Manhattan adventure.” I was also strongly reminded of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY as Bennett’s diva sets her sights on earnest, naive playwright McCrea. Where was the scene where she slaps her hand over McCrea’s mouth and says “Don’t speak! Don’t speak!” ?

  • Barry Putterman

    I haven’t read the Harvey book, so I don’t know whether he was foolish enough to claim that the films he talks about are without antecedents. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and the other films he mentioned in the passage David quoted didn’t invent anything. You can easily spot just about all of the elements of what we call romantic comedy in “Much Ado About Nothing.”

    However, that passage does mention all of the familiar, borrowed elements coming together in fresh ways in those films. so I suspect that he is at least somewhat aware that history didn’t begin in 1934. And one lesson one can learn from the 1930 version of HOLIDAY is that it takes more than strong source material to make a good romantic comedy. Another is that Robert Ames isn’t Cary Grant either,

  • Patrick Henry

    Sam Wood’s STAMBOUL QUEST (1934), loosely based on the exploits of the German spy known as “Fraulein Doktor,” is arguably a romantic comedy. George Brent is no Cary Grant but he and Myrna Loy look like they’re having a good time and not taking it seriously. And Myrna’s vamping (in a dignified, ladylike way) of the fierce-looking C. Henry Gordon is hilarious.

  • Alex

    It doesn’t seem to me that Harvey not taking “it account the Broadway plays his favorite romantic comedies were based on,” or other precedents (e.g., pre-Code fils like Stahl’s STRICTLY DISHONORABLE) is very big flaw in Harvey’s book which scenters on the films themselves, not their etiologies (relevant and interesting as these are).

    Further, the birth of film genre may be read,as Harvey Does, not as the appearance of its first instance (EROTIKON, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING) but when the genre as an inspired STREAM of films takes off –like “romantic comedy” in 1934 with the roaring commercial and critical success of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (or noir in 1940-41 with the comparably all around success of “The Maltese Falcon”).

    Moreover, though just such “trials and tribulations of young singles” may serve as sufficient for “romantic comedyconditions,” they’ll hardly serve as necessary conditions as many of the classic romantic comedies are about married couples beleagued by threats of break up though love is still strong (e.g., THE AWEFUL TRUTH, MR. AND MRS. SMITH, MY FAVORITE WIFE, PHILADELPIA STORY, PALM BEACH STORY) or having fun amidst criminal tribulations (the Thin Man films), not to speak of unhappily married folk grasping for fresh starts (e.g., “Theodora Goes Wild”)combinations oF some of these elements (UNFAITHFULLY YOURS). And the “trials and tribulations of young singles” is a broad definition, as well as a leaky one, one I’ll gladly substitute with the impeccable comedic taste, as well as writing style, of Harvey’s “Romantic Comdey” (or such baggage as Apatow’s slacker realism).