Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#51 Post by TMDaines » Sat Jan 26, 2019 2:45 pm

I watched, loved and having been meaning to post about Camerini and De Sica’s Il signor Max, which for me immeadiately resonated as a screwball. It’s a romantic comedy where De Sica’s character is passing himself of as an aristocrat, pursuing the affections of a madame, whilst shunning those of her handmaiden. The film is full of class conflicts and snowballing events. Anyone who wants something different should try this one. It will be on my 30s list for sure.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#52 Post by Jonathan S » Mon Jan 28, 2019 5:48 am

I LOVE YOU AGAIN (1940) is, according to the Radio Times Film Guide, an "ingeniously written, absolutely hysterical MGM screwball comedy" but it doesn't live up to this description. Perhaps imitating the amnesia/double identity theme of Laurel & Hardy's A Chump at Oxford (released earlier in 1940) it begins with William Powell as a milquetoast who, only a few minutes into the film, gets clonked on the head and reverts to being the slicker/conman he was nine years earlier. As he and we are gradually introduced to various facets of the milquetoast's life - including bored wife Myrna Loy - we're as bewildered as he is and the script is more intriguing than witty, putting us in subjective suspense like all those noir melodramas in which protagonists impersonate someone and we're rooting for them to get away with it. Perhaps because we've seen so little of the milquetoast - the "Ralph Bellamy role" - there's another in the form of Loy's suitor, but he's mostly an irrelevance.

The set-up really isn't plausible or consistent even by screwball standards. The milquetoast appears to have been an efficient factory manager and skilled outdoorsman, while the supposed "slicker" seems too easily fazed and embarrassed by the various challenges thrown at him. Of course, he has to be because that's how the alleged comedy arises. There's a long slapstick sequence with a group of boy rangers that feels like a two-reel comedy of its own, but generally the humour is more sophisticated, like Powell dancing in a nightclub with an imaginary partner.

The most interesting aspect is the romantic one - a variation of the sub-genre Stanley Cavell called "the comedy of remarriage" - where Loy (who'd been about to divorce Powell) gradually learns to love her husband again and he must win her back. But Loy isn't the typically aggressive female screwball lead. She mostly just does her quietly assertive and sardonic routine and though she threatens to "chase" Powell in the final reel the film doesn't give her time to get around to it. Sure, she heaps a plate of eggs over Powell's head but that hardly matches the erotically sadistic inventiveness of Lupe Velez using the same weapon on Laurel & Hardy in Hollywood Party!

It's not a bad film and the charming final moments compensate, also subverting MGM ideology in suggesting it's much better to be married to a conman (albeit an apparently reformed one) than a pillar of the community. But the script and direction lack wit and pace; like most 1940s MGM movies, it's overlong. The Powell-Loy follow-up Love Crazy (1941) is, I recall, much more screwball. Incidentally, anyone planning to watch I Love You Again in the Powell-Loy DVD collection should first check all the chapter stops as it's one of the most widely reported titles for Warner DVD rot. I had to resort to backchannels for the middle of the movie; so much for the security of physical media.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#53 Post by domino harvey » Mon Jan 28, 2019 12:15 pm

I think all of the Powell/Loy movies in the TCM set are lousy-- I've long since sold that one off, so now the dead discs are someone else's burden

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#54 Post by zedz » Mon Jan 28, 2019 11:35 pm

I've just submitted a fairly ordinary list, and also had a go at the latter-day sub-list, which hasn't got much discussion here yet. I could think of a number of films that seemed to me to be beholden to certain aspects of screwball comedy, mostly the tone, but they're often not (or not primarily) romantic comedies, like After Hours, State and Main or The Trouble with Harry.

On the other hand, there are a bunch of Hong Sang-Soo films that tick a lot of screwball comedy boxes, but which didn't have that kind of tone at all (even when they were extremely funny), which for me was a big deal-breaker.

Punch Drunk Love was the contemporary American film that seemed to me most like a genuine twisted Screwball - one could certainly a Preston Sturges character trying out that pudding scam and having a showdown with somebody called 'The Mattress Man' - but the best contemporary example I can think of is Edward Yang's A Confucian Confusion, which is a screwball comedy on steroids, half a dozen plots stacked on top of one another, complete with random shuffling, destroying, and reconstituting of a bunch of relationships, as choreographed by Tati.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#55 Post by DarkImbecile » Tue Jan 29, 2019 12:36 pm

Speaking of Powell, I saw My Man Godfrey for the first time last night, and it was mostly delightful; Lombard and Powell are charming as hell, and the dash of social commentary helps give some heft to this film where so many others in the genre feel forgettable, lacking in any real consequences or significance to the characters of the feather-light frivolity. Beyond the central (extremely one-sided) romance and the class conflict comedy, the film actually bothers to more than sketch in some of the supporting cast, particularly Gail Patrick, who gives the best performance in the film as Lombard's icy older sister. The subplot with Carlo, the layabout protege/parasite, was actually entertaining in a way many screwball subplots with foreigners as comic relief aren't (see below); one actually sympathizes with the Bullock patriarch's long-simmering disdain for his guest's constant devouring of every hors d'oeuvres and entree in sight, total lack of musical production, and hysterics at any mention of "Money! The Frankenstein monster that destroys souls!" Not to mention the implication that Carlo keeps his wife entertained more than just musically. Also, couldn't help but think of the centerpiece scene from Ruben Östlund's The Square when Carlo is ordered to act like a gorilla to amuse the hysterical Lombard, and anything that makes me think of The Square earns an extra couple of points.

Also re-watched Sullivan's Travels after nearly twenty years, and was mildly disappointed that it didn't quite hold up to my memories of it. The balance between comedy and messaging that works so well in the La Cava film felt off here, and the film's concluding moral feels more trite and unearned than I'd remembered. That said, it remains a well-done film, with McRea and Lake delivering comedic timing and chemistry (despite Lake's character never even getting a name, which I hadn't noticed before) and some handsome cinematography.

That Sturges classic will likely still make my list, which is not something I can say for the vehicle of his that I hadn't seen before, The Palm Beach Story, which just did not work for me at all. It's certainly notable in its sexual frankness for the period (the banter about Colbert's initial interaction with the wiener magnate and the film's use of porcelain trinket placement as a signal for infidelity reminded me of the Seinfeld episode "The Contest" in attempting to talk around more explicit sexual content), and again the two leads are good with what they're given, but the plot and humor didn't connect for me at all, some of the editing seemed oddly sloppy (especially after the far more smoothly constructed Sullivan's Travels), and none of the supporting characters felt like more than cardboard plot devices (like the uselessly one-joke Toto). I couldn't help but feel like the audience was stiffed in that the elliptical minute or so devoted to how our protagonists were first married would have been a far more interesting feature than the narrative we spend the next 87 minutes on.

So far, my reactions to screwballs have ranged from pleasantly mild enjoyment to bemused irritation, and I've yet to see one that I'd put among my favorites from the era. This genre and I just don't seem to be connecting, but I'm hopeful that some of the Lubitsch features I have yet to get to will change that.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#56 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Feb 03, 2019 1:27 am

Merrily We Live (McLeod 1938). MGM does Godfrey, minus the Art Deco: a zany upper-middle class family where the mother helps out tramps by making them butlers. This film seems to be generally well-liked but I couldn’t get on the bandwagon. It’s not bad per se but you can often feel it trying too hard, it’s not particularly funny, and Constance Bennett is extremely bland - certainly no Carole Lombard!

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#57 Post by Cameron Swift » Tue Feb 05, 2019 2:12 pm

I've seen pitiful few screwball comedies so won't be making a list, but I watched Woman Chases Man based on the recommendations here. Miriam Hopkins was great here, both visually appealing and goofily hilarious. The 'talking out of both sides of her mouth' scene was superb, and actually I was pleasantly surprised at just how many laugh out loud moments there were here for me. Unfortunately, despite its short and breezy 70 min runtime, it didn't keep up the early promise once the romance angle kicked in. Still, I'd have it up there with the few films of the genre I have seen.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#58 Post by ynwa » Sat Feb 09, 2019 5:01 pm

I would recommend The Moon's Our Home (1936) and It's Love I'm After (1937)
I am glad to read that some love Bachelor Mother, a much better film than Fifth Avenue Girl. Vivacious Lady is also more enjoyable than that
I will try to do a list

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#59 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Feb 09, 2019 9:20 pm

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Hands Across the Table (Leisen 1935). Lombard is a working girl trying to land a rich husband and sets her sights on MacMurray only to discover he’s a loafer working towards the same ends as her. Domino wrote this up in the Lombard thread and I definitely like it more than he does! I thought there was something endearing in the way they interact and play around in that huge middle chunk of the movie where it’s basically just the two of them in that little domestic apartment scene – there’s something of that adults-acting-like-children playfulness that you get in other screwballs like Holiday and Bringing Up Baby. MacMurray is uneven but Lombard makes it up, while the film is fairly stylish and looks good too. Bellamy plays the unfortunate second banana again but his scenes with Lombard also have charm to them. Not as good as Easy Living or even Midnight, but it’s another winner in the genre from Leisen for me.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#60 Post by domino harvey » Tue Feb 12, 2019 1:54 am

Lists are due Sunday, FYI, which means Monday US time when I wake up. Zero extensions this time, everyone already got an extra week so as to not rub up against the 30s List submissions

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#61 Post by swo17 » Fri Feb 15, 2019 4:36 pm

Just to be clear, the handful of '50s films included in the Screwball guide (such as Hawks' Monkey Business) are ineligible for the primary list, right?

Also, I didn't see any mention of them in the guide, but Hartman and Maté's It Had to Be You and Minnelli's I Dood It feel like screwballs to me. Has anyone else here considered these two?

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#62 Post by domino harvey » Fri Feb 15, 2019 4:40 pm

I’m voting for It Had to Be You— I didn’t realize it wasn’t in the other thread somewhere! And yes, the main list is 30s and 40s titles only, which is cleaner than my personal definition, which would be anything pre-Pillow Talk, as it ushered in the wave of Sex Comedies that are the heir to Screwball

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#63 Post by swo17 » Fri Feb 15, 2019 5:21 pm

Looking through more modern candidates, I thought I'd run these ideas by others as well, since otherwise it may be difficult to come to a consensus. I'm mentioning these here because they generally strike me as having something of a zany romantic element, snappy dialogue, and/or a nostalgic cinematic spirit about them, though obviously I won't be able to include them all on my list:

Monkey Business (Howard Hawks, 1952)
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Frank Tashlin, 1957)
Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
Ask Any Girl (Charles Walters, 1959)
One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder, 1961)
Paris When It Sizzles (Richard Quine, 1964)
Lord Love a Duck (George Axelrod, 1966)
Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)
A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971)
What's Up, Doc? (Peter Bogdanovich, 1972)
Love and Death (Woody Allen, 1975)
Starting Over (Alan Pakula, 1979)
They All Laughed (Peter Bogdanovich, 1981)
Pee-wee's Big Adventure (Tim Burton, 1985)
Raising Arizona (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1987)
A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988)
Joe Versus the Volcano (John Patrick Shanley, 1990)
The Hudsucker Proxy (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1994)
NewsRadio (Paul Simms, 1995-1999)
Mr. Jealousy (Noah Baumbach, 1997)
Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998)
Punch-Drunk Love (P.T. Anderson, 2002)
I ❤ Huckabees (David O. Russell, 2004)
The Baxter (Michael Showalter, 2005)
Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster, 2006)
Ceremony (Max Winkler, 2010)
Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Lorene Scafaria, 2012)
Mistress America (Noah Baumbach, 2015)

Thoughts?

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#64 Post by domino harvey » Fri Feb 15, 2019 7:39 pm

Some good choices. Tashlin seems so much his own thing, but Susan Slept Here is prob worth considering, especially if you're going to go after a (very good) Tashlin imitation like Paris-- When It Sizzles.

Besides NewsRadio, Moonlighting is the obvious other TV example to me. The DVDs are long OOP but here's a good representative episode someone uploaded to YouTube

EDIT: Rewatching a bit of this episode now and this exchange alone merits the entire series making it onto the list:
SpoilerShow
"It's Saturday night, I have plans."
"Haven't you heard of midnight mass?"

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#65 Post by swo17 » Fri Feb 15, 2019 7:48 pm

I really should get around to watching Moonlighting one of these days--and hey, my local library still has the DVDs!

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#66 Post by domino harvey » Fri Feb 15, 2019 7:53 pm

Like any TV show there's some unevenness, but when it's good, it's so good you can't even believe it. Before Sorkin and his notorious late scripts and over-writing, there was this crew. I think every season has a completely random number of episodes because they were continuously late to air due to last-minute handing-off of lengthy, wordy scripts that often are almost breathlessly clever, and consciously in the studio era mode of dialogue delivery and character interaction

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#67 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Feb 15, 2019 8:21 pm

I haven't watched it since it aired, but that was by far my favorite TV show back then (before Northern Exposure). I'm kind of scared I'd be disappointed if I watched it again now.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#68 Post by domino harvey » Fri Feb 15, 2019 9:16 pm

I just looked at my list I compiled back when this started and I can't believe I forgot to mention Ed, which thanks to idiotic music rights hangups still languishes in obscurity despite almost the entire cast going on to more visible projects after the series ended. There's more to the show than mere Screwball antics, but the core interplay between the characters are right out of this tradition. It's been one of my favorite series since it aired and it's well worth tracking down via iOffer/torrents &c.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#69 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Feb 16, 2019 12:19 am

A few rewatches:

The Philadelphia Story (Cukor 1940). I didn’t intend to write this up, having seen it again about a year ago but needing to watch it again to rank it here (and for the upcoming 40s list). But I was compelled to just write how, irrespective of how much it strikes your fancy or not, it’s hard to argue that it’s such an impeccably intelligent and accomplished film. The writing, especially, is so impressive – every line of dialogue is bright -, and the acting often formidable, even young Virginia Wiedler as Dinah. Stewart really gets right the funny drunk scene with Grant.


His Girl Friday (Hawks 1940). It had been a decade but my appreciation didn’t change significantly after seeing it again. It’s a likeable film, the direction is flawless, and the most fun is to be had with the dialogue, especially between the leads of course, and in that sense the beginning and ending parts are the best. Story-wise is where this isn’t as enthralling for me as it could be, and the long middle stretch where Grant is absent, and the story concerns the escape of the prisoner and Russell’s hiding him, and all the busy stuff with the sheriff and the mayor, I find takes a bit of a dip. Obviously a classic, just not a top personal favorite.


The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Sturges 1944). The fact that the plotline is so risqué and outrageous is part of the appeal here, for me anyway. I don’t mind the lack of subtlety and hysterics mainly because of Hutton and Bracken’s performances and the charm of the set-up, and there are three or four truly laugh out loud moments for me (always with Bracken involved). When the film starts descending into complete chaos, in typical Sturgean fashion, with all of the town involved, after the marriage, is when the comedy starts working a little less, especially around that overlong jailbreak scene, but it’s not enough to erase the effect of the brilliant first half, and the more successful ending also helps.


Image
I Was a Male War Bride (Hawks 1949). An imperfect film narrative drive-wise as it’s cut in two between a first half that is, quintessentially for the genre, about a couple at odds coming together, which, stretched out more, could have been the film itself, and the second that’s basically about a man not being allowed to sleep! This isn’t the side-splitting type comedy, but I find it witty and fun from beginning to end, with the added, special cachet of all those exterior scenes and the travel through post-war Germany.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#70 Post by dustybooks » Sat Feb 16, 2019 12:56 am

Just want to say I 100% agree that Moonlighting is wonderful and a real treat for cinephiles; everyone here would likely appreciate “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice” even if you don’t have the time or inclination for the rest of the series, and not just because of Welles’ opening cameo. Also the Stanley Donen-directed sequence in “Big Man on Mulberry Street” is incredibly striking by the standards of that period of network TV. I’m grateful to my sister for introducing me to the show via her old VHS tapes when I was a teenager.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#71 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Sat Feb 16, 2019 1:24 am

What do people think about Cluny Brown as a screwball?

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#72 Post by dustybooks » Sat Feb 16, 2019 5:12 pm

HinkyDinkyTruesmith wrote:
Sat Feb 16, 2019 1:24 am
What do people think about Cluny Brown as a screwball?
I just saw Cluny a few months back and loved it. It has a certain warmth and sweetness that I don't personally associate quite as much with the genre... but then again, so does Holiday, which is pretty much a canon selection. It's certainly earthier than most of Lubitsch's early '30s comedies, though. Since I'm having trouble defining why exactly it's not screwball, I may have just talked myself out of my own opinion on the matter...

While we're at it, since swo brought up Love and Death, how do we feel about Bullets Over Broadway? It's one of the first things that comes to mind for me as a latter-day screwball invocation.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#73 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Feb 16, 2019 5:18 pm

I said it before but my own opinion out of the Lubitsch films is that only Bluebeard's Eighth Wife is a screwball, but then I have a stricter definition than some - maybe also To Be or Not To Be, which I would have added in my list if I had counted it as such.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#74 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Sat Feb 16, 2019 5:30 pm

dustybooks wrote:
Sat Feb 16, 2019 5:12 pm
I just saw Cluny a few months back and loved it.
It's an all-time top favorite for me, is why I asked, and would easily decimate the rest of the competition for me if it's agreed upon as a screwball. I think you're right in identifying its warmth and sweetness as giving one pause for considering it outright, but, its depiction of individuals' screwiness (Cluny's penchant for plumbing; the insane formality of the upper classes and even moreso their servants; Andrew's political naiveté) as the basis for larger class critiques strike me as keeping in the tradition of works like It Happened One Night, where Ellie's lack of real-world knowledge is both a source of jokes throughout as well as a demarcator of class division.

I guess, looking at Domino's post of "common features", Cluny Brown fits the bolded ones:
+ Tied strongly with the New Deal era in which the core films were released and initially consumed
+ Combine "slapstick with sophistication"
+ Central narrative is one of a love story
+ Center on an aggressive female lead, frequently in pursuit of a pliable male lead (maybe? a little bit)
+ Much of humor is derived from embarrassment
+ Snowballing improbable events and narrative complications to which the final coupling is seen as the only logical way to find respite from the chaos (a little around the edges)
+ "Rules, customs, family obligations, [and] romantic rivals" stand in way of eccentric lovers' coupling
+ Subversion of "historic and contemporary class conflicts"
+ Happy ending of coupling of different classes transmits "unifying illusion" to audiences in time of social division
+ Overall attitude that life should be like a child's playtime, with characters driven by "defiant determination" to have fun / a good time regardless of societal or monetary cost
+ Individual self-assertion prized

I suppose it's really Lubitsch's voice that makes it feel cleaner than most other screwball comedies, which tend to heighten these contrasts. Where Cary Grant is clearly eccentric compared to his fiancé and her father in Holiday, in Cluny Brown, Cluny's eccentricities appear striking in the eyes of her employers/her own fiancé, but to us, only seem like a different variation of eccentric that all the characters in the film have in some way or other (edit:) which is all generally muted by the vague pastoral quality that affects much of the film's run-time.

Edit: I would still like other people's thoughts, either in favor or against. Screwball is like noir, I think many of us would agree, in that its relationship to other genres is so muddled that it becomes difficult at times to say what is and what isn't. And it's perhaps less helpful to look at something like Holiday, which clearly is a screwball, than at something like Cluny Brown, which is less clear.

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Re: Screwball Comedies of the 30s & 40s Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#75 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Feb 16, 2019 11:52 pm

Bringing Up Baby actually has a lot of warmth and sweetness (especially for Hawks) -- and so do a fair number of other routinely-categorized-as-screwball films. Alas, I've never seen Cluny Brown...

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