Funny Movies for the Win
Wherefore Art the StorytellerFor endless centuries, most people have delighted in hearing funny stories about other people. Before written language and durable records even existed, bards with good memories told and retold tales of memorable events that cast an amusing light on the human condition. As might be expected, many of these tales stretched the truth or departed altogether from truth into sheer fantasy. Many listeners may have suspected such liberties, but they rarely minded. A ripping good yarn from a talented storyteller held its own merits. The best stories touched the souls of listeners with deep insights that left them thinking even as they laughed at the foolishness of others.
The Rise of Comedic MoviesWhen the idea of showing the antics of others in motion pictures skidded on a banana peel into the public realm more than a hundred years ago, farsighted storytellers instantly recognized the potential to enrich their stories with carefully chosen images and sequences that transcended the imaginations of most listeners. Instead of merely hearing the tale, they could be right there to witness for themselves all the sights and sounds of other people being dryly ironic, bumblingly foolish or hysterically funny. Watching a movie was almost like being personally present, and movie watchers grinned and laughed with the knowledge that they were completely safe themselves from any danger of direct embarrassment or injury.
The Rush to Frantic SlapstickMany of the earliest movie producers thought outrageous physical humor was the best approach to making audiences laugh. Indeed, a good number of great movies emerged from this age. Buster Keaton, a vaudeville actor who was one of the first to make the move from the stage to motion pictures, was known for frequently risking his own life by performing dangerous stunts in popular silent productions such as 1925's "Seven Chances," 1926's "The General," 1928's "The Cameraman" and 1928's "Steamboat Bill, Jr.," the latter of which showcased an exceedingly dangerous "falling wall" stunt. Many moviegoers gasped at the audacity of the stunts while laughing themselves silly at the absurd plots.
Overlapping the same time period, audiences flocked to theaters to laugh uproariously at the highly physical performances of famed actor, director and writer Charlie Chaplin as he repeatedly filled his favored role as a rather pathetic but otherwise charming, lovelorn tramp in classics such as 1925's silent "The Gold Rush," 1928's silent "The Circus," 1931's silent "City Lights" and 1936's "Modern Times." During the war years, he combined patriotic fervor with classic slapstick humor in his 1940 production of "The Great Dictator."
While appearing in many smaller parts during the same era as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the more subdued but still notably physical antics of W.C. Fields arguably reached their zenith with such productions as 1934's "It's a Gift," 1940's "The Bank Dick" and 1941's "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break."
The Shift to Balanced AmusementBy the late 1930s and early 1940s, many movie producers recognized the value of a more balanced approach to humor. Many movie fans consider this era to be the "golden age" of comedies, producing such wonderful movies as 1938's "Bringing Up Baby," which highlighted the remarkable energy of superstars Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, and 1944's "Arsenic and Old Lace," which allowed Cary Grant to truly shine at his signature slapstick humor while also bringing a more subtle wit to bear. Straddling the transition between old-style slapstick and more modern sensibilities, the vaudeville comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello brought audiences to tears with their silly routines in films such as 1941's "Buck Privates" and "In the Navy" from the same year, both of which also featured performances by the popular Andrews Sisters singers.
Also worthy of mention is a series of productions that brought singer Bing Crosby and actor Bob Hope together for lighthearted, comedic portrayals of romantic love, witty banter and hit songs from Bing Crosby in 1940's "Road to Singapore," 1941's "Road to Zanzibar" and others.