Black and White Wit: Some of the Best Comedic Movie Classics of Hollywood's Golden Era

June Bride

Isn't it a shame that some of the best have been forgotten? First on the list, we bring you June Bride, which is not the cliched, trite sort of story that the title might convey. Would Bette Davis, the acknowledged First Lady of Hollywood, have stooped to something like that? This one has lots of snap and fire, with Bette as Linda Gilman, a hard working career woman who is head editor of a women's magazine. Suddenly in walks Cary Jackson (played by the very funny Robert Montgomery), the new writer for her magazine and a former love interest. She'll hire him, but with conditions. The relationship is to be strictly business, and he must treat it as such, forgetting that she is a woman in order to show her the proper respect.

Then they traipse off to Indiana to do a wedding feature for their June issue, with the oldest daughter of the Brinker family being the one in the midst of the knot-tying. The course of true doesn't run smooth of course, no matter which twosome you're talking about in this film, and all the bumps and twists are made funny by great dialogue, good acting, and some very snappy delivery. A supporting cast that is dry, slap-stick, or just plain hilarious keeps things even livelier, and help make this a movie worth re-watching.

Favorite Quote:
Cary, to Linda: I don't see why you don't want me around. After all, I'm gay, I'm lovable, and I've got nice teeth. (Curls lips)

Cary Grand and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday
Cary Grand and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday

The world lost a large dose of hilarity when Archibald Alexander Leach (more commonly known as Cary Grant) passed away. His acerbic wit and style of humor were unique and quick, and His Girl Friday shows off some of his finest moments with the character Walter Burns. Rosalind Russell is paired with him as Hildy Johnson for this fast-moving comedy about a newspaper man who is trying to win back his former wife and star reporter. One minor detail he has to work around; she's getting married again, and to someone who is definitely not the right man. So on the eve of her next wedding, Grant must set about righting wrongs, or wronging rights, or whichever it is. Of course all's fair in love and war, and by the end both have ensued for the greater good of the public's news and his own love life.

This is a quick-paced comedy that's so full of one-liners and witty retorts that you'll never possibly remember them all. The film clocks in at ninety-two minutes, including credits. The original script was 180 pages, working out to two pages of script per minute, not a shabby pace by any standard. But Grant, the dear old boy, couldn't leave it at that, throwing in so many unscripted lines that Russell hired a writer to help her invent clever comebacks so she wouldn't be left speechless so often. So if you prefer the idyllic, gentle style of comedy, this may not be for you. But if you like razor sharp minds talking at a mile a minute, you've come home. Pull up a chair and grab the popcorn.

Favorite Quote:
Walter Burns
: We've been in worse jams than this, haven't we, Hildy?
Hildy Johnson: Nope.

Roman Holiday

This movie was Audrey Hepburn's film debut, winning her immediate stardom and an Academy Award. She stars as Princess Ann, a travelling royal who get bored and frustrated with life while on a diplomatic journey to Rome. So in the manner of all yawning princesses, Ann runs away from the palace and ends up on the streets, where she meets reporter Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck. Joe is a rather nice fellow, if perhaps a bit gruff, who is short on money and tired of his job that isn't in America. With no options but leaving a sleepy girl on the street or taking her home, he picks the latter and without even realizing who it is he has flung over his shoulder.

The next morning, after a sleepless night on the couch, he awakens to hear that the princess has suddenly been taken very ill and realizes that she's not sick at all, but rather fast asleep in his rather untidy little apartment. After a quick conference with his boss, Joe agrees to get an amazing interview with the princess in exchange for a transfer back to New York, and proceeds to spend the day doing whatever she likes along with his friend Irving, a newspaper photographer. A haircut, champagne at a sidewalk cafe, and wreaking havoc on a motorbike through the streets of Rome are all in order, and by the end a little romance has blossomed. But as Irving sarcastically remarks to Joe "it's always open season on princesses!", so Ann goes back to her duties in the palace and Joe stays in Rome, refusing to turn in the gossip interview and losing his job in New York.

It's a rare comedy that can pull of a bittersweet ending, but this one manages. Along with the fun scenery (it was all shot on location), this is one rollicking holiday through the streets of Rome. With Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck as your companions, it's a delightful way to spend it.

Favorite Quote:
Newspaper Boss:
And just how do you intend to get this interview?
Joe: I plan to enter her sick room, disguised as a thermometer!

The Shop Around the Corner

If you've seen the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks film You've Got Mail, this is the original version of that story, set in a little Budapest shop. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan play Alfred and Klara, to co-workers who can't stand each other in the shop, bickering and quarreling constantly. But they both harbor the same secret-- they've each been corresponding with a stranger whom they've never even seen before, both falling madly in love with the wonderful person they've found through letters, comparing each other to their literary paramour, and waiting for the day that they meet said person.

Alfred learns the truth first, that Klara is his perpetual headache by day, and the writer of beautiful letters full of tenderness and care by night. He doesn't tell her of his discovery though. Instead he secretly sets out to know the real girl, and when she turns out to really the one who writes him all those lovely words that he looks forward to reading every day, he determines to win her heart secretly. It works, and by the time Klara learns that Alfred is her knight in shining armor, she's more than happy to fall into his arms and live happily ever after.

This isn't a fast-paced, witty comedy so much as it is sweet and ironically funny. Jimmy Stewart plays his usual "aw, shucks" character to perfection in Alfred, being both cranky and cute by turns, and Margaret Sullavan is vulnerable and delightful as Klara.

Favorite Quote:
Psychologically, I feel confused. But personally, I feel just wonderful.

Arsenic and Old Lace

It's Cary Grant again. Did I mention that he's funny? Arsenic and Old Lace is an example of that now extinct breed of comedy, the screwball. In this genre, take the most outlandish situations possible and imagine being in them, while still very firmly rooted in reality. Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster is a drama critic, who has also never had anything very nice to say about marriage. So when he ties the knot at the beginning of the film, his elderly maiden aunts are quite delighted, especially with his choice of their neighbor, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane). It's the afternoon after his wedding, and Mortimer is at his aunt's house frantically searching for all of his writings against marriage to destroy them before they are found by his bride. They're not in the bookcase, they're not in the desk, and they aren't in the window seat with the body either.

If you did a double take, don't worry. So did he. And then he had to ask Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha what a dead man was doing in their window seat. He had some wine with poison in it, they tell him. After digging deeper, Mortimer learns that this is only the latest in their collection of gentlemen, all dozen of whom have been buried in their cellar. Even further questioning reveals that all of these were lonely old men, and hence poisoning them is one of the dear old ladies' charities.

Thus begins a frantic attempt on Mortimer's part to figure out how to get his aunts committed (along with his brother who think's he's Teddy Roosevelt) without anyone knowing of their collection of callers in the basement. There are a couple of intense and slightly spooky moments, but overall, it's a dizzying story that won't even make complete sense to you until the last five minutes of the movie. And then you should watch it again, because the second time it will be even funnier, more bizarre, and you'll have a better chance to memorize all of the snappy comebacks.

Favorite Quote: (there are really too many to pick just one)
Abby Brewster: Oh, Mortimer, don't be so inquisitive. The gentleman died because he drank some wine with poison in it.
Mortimer Brewster: How did the poison get in the wine?
Martha Brewster: Well, we put it in wine, because it's less noticeable. When it's in tea, it has a distinct odor.

Comments 7 comments

Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

I like your suggestions. My biggest problem with Black and White films is the fact that the humor is different so I find myself having to work harder at finding the joke. I really enjoyed watching His Girl Friday simply because of Cary Grant's iconic playfulness and wit. Great hub!

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 4 years ago Author

Thanks Alecia! Sometimes watching those old movies can be like reading Shakespeare-- you have to get into the lingo, and after that it's enjoyable. I'm glad you enjoyed His Girl Friday, and I think you would probably enjoy the others.

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 4 years ago Author

I love some of the old movies so much better than what Hollywood puts out today. More class, more style, and lots cleaner. I'm glad you enjoyed it, thanks for stopping by! I'll have to check yours out when I have a minute. :)

hballard profile image

hballard 4 years ago from Arizona

Great hub. I'm a pretty big fan of old black and white films. I actually like that most of the humor actually makes you pay attention and think a little bit. (Heaven forbid that we actually have to use our brains when we're being entertained.) People back then seemed to have a little more class then in many of the movies of today, and it showed in their humor. Many people can't stand them cause they're "old fashioned" but the way I see it, "Fine wine just gets better with time" even if there was a little poison put in it. haha

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 4 years ago Author

Very witty of you, hballard. You're right about keeping your brain involved-- intelligent humor is so much more satisfying when you get it. Thanks for stopping by!

MichaelStonehill profile image

MichaelStonehill 3 years ago

A nice and diverse list of classic comedy movies.

collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 3 years ago Author

Thanks Michael!

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