Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: Screwball Comedy in American Film

Instructor: Paula Haller

Carole Lombard on magazine coverDitzy dames, glamorous penthouses, glittering evening gowns, perplexed suitors: Screwball Comedies of the 1930s produced some of Hollywood's most luminous stars and romantic adventures. Male and female actors were on equal footing. Fast-talking dames, such as Carole Lombard and Rosalind Russell, held their own with the handsome Cary Grants and James Stewarts. Long before Barbara Stanwyck created her film noir femme fatale in Double Indemnity (1944), she was outwitting a confused Henry Fonda in the zany classic The Lady Eve (1941).

Movie sets were lavish, sparkling, and luxurious--a temporary, lively escape for audiences during The Great Depression. In terms of film history, what is fascinating is that the screwball genre achieved its merriment at a time when censorship was more rigid than ever before. Since sex could not even be implied (with hysterical consequences in Frank Capra's 1934 gem, It Happened One Night with Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable), it was sublimated into the furor of one-on-one verbal combat, assault and insult battery, with women the aggressors as often as men. The battle of the sexes was on.

Course Requirements: two short papers and one research paper.

Primary Text (to be announced)

Other required texts:

Fast Talking Dames, by Maria DiBattista (Yale University Press paperback, 2001)
Critical Approaches to Writing About Film, by John E. Moscowitz (Prentice Hall paperback, 2000).

There will also be class handouts of critical articles about Screwball Comedy.

Note: Image courtesy of (1934 Photoplay magazine cover featuring Carole Lombard)

Last Update: October 19, 2005