Hollywood Screwballs: Five unmissable films


Hollywood Screwballs’ is a celebration of the screwball comedy genre. One of the great treasures of American cinema, screwball comedies are fast-talking farces that subvert the conventions of romantic comedies with acid-tongued wit and slapstick silliness.

This program presents a selection of works from the genre — including formative films, canonical classics and revisionist revitalisations — all of which will be screening from rare 35mm prints sourced from film archives around the world.

In a program overflowing with so many iconic classics and legendary stars, it can be hard to know where to begin, so here are five unmissable titles from ‘Hollywood Screwballs’ to get you started.

Trouble in Paradise 1932 Ages 12+

Before the screwball comedy formula had fully synthesised, there was Ernst Lubitsch. His exquisite pre-Code comedies laid the groundwork for the genre with their blend of urbane dialogue, unconventional romance and knowing innuendo.

In the scintillating, love triangle comedy Trouble in Paradise, master thief Gaston Monescu encounters pickpocket extraordinaire Lily while the two are both posing as royalty in Venice. They quickly fall in love and depart to Paris to combine their skills on the target of the lavishly wealthy Madame Mariette Colet. The ploy gets tangled when Gaston falls for Mariette and he must figure out where his heart truly lies.

Trouble in Paradise will screen from a restored 35mm print
1.00pm, Sunday 13 August
6.00pm, Wednesday 30 August

Production still from Trouble in Paradise 1932 / Director: Ernst Lubitsch / Image courtesy: Park Circus

His Girl Friday 1940 PG

Arguably the quintessential screwball comedy, His Girl Friday is a non-stop barrage of quips and devastating repartee delivered at lightning speed. Set amidst the typewriter clatter of The Morning Post newspaper office, the film finds the paper’s editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) aggrieved to hear that his ex-wife and former reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is about to remarry and leave the world of journalism. Roping her in for one final scoop, Walter conspires to win back Hildy and keep her from the impending doldrums of her dreary new life.

His Girl Friday will screen from an imported 35mm print.
3.00pm, Saturday 29 July
3.15pm, Sunday 3 September

Production still from His Girl Friday 1940 / Director: Howard Hawks / Image courtesy: Park Circus

The Lady Eve 1941 PG

One of the great screwball comedies from a master of the genre, Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve is a sizzling tale of romance and deception. Barbara Stanwyck plays Jean Harrington, a beautiful and cunning con artist out to swindle Charles Pike (Henry Fonda), the timorous heir to a brewery fortune. Her scheme hits a hurdle when she begins to fall for the bumbling, snake-obsessed Charles and she must turn her ruse into reality.

The Lady Eve will screen from an imported 35mm print.
1.00pm, Sunday 6 August
6.00pm, Friday 25 August

Production still from The Lady Eve 1941 / Director: Preston Sturges / Image courtesy: Universal Pictures Australia

A New Leaf 1971 Ages 12+

Described by the New Yorker’s Richard Brody as “one of the best romantic comedies ever made”, this pitch-black screwball classic is a comedy of marriage, murder and megalomania. Walter Matthau stars as Henry Graham, a formerly affluent playboy whose hard-partying antics have drained his vast fortune and left him on the precipice of financial ruin. Deciding he must marry into money to arrest his downfall, he sets his sights on the meek botany professor Henrietta Lowell (played by the film’s writer-director Elaine May), whose family riches have left her fabulously wealthy.

A New Leaf will screen from an imported 35mm print.
6.00pm, Wednesday 2 August
6.00pm, Friday 18 August

Production still from A New Leaf 1971 / Director: Elaine May / Image courtesy: Paramount Pictures Australia

Raising Arizona 1987 M

The first comedy from the now-legendary Coen Brothers, Raising Arizona is a careening, absurdist adventure with a screwball sensibility and a big heart. The film stars a wild-eyed Nicolas Cage as petty crook “Hi” McDunnough, who falls for police officer “Ed” (Holly Hunter). They soon marry but discover they cannot have children of their own. Hearing that a local furniture magnate has just had quintuplets, they decide to kidnap one of the babies for themselves.

Raising Arizona will screen from an archival 35mm print.
8.15pm, Friday 4 August
6.00pm, Friday 1 September

Production still from Raising Arizona 1987 / Director: Joel Coen / Image courtesy: The Walt Disney Company (Australia)

Robert Hughes is Assistant Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA

Featured image: Production still from The Lady Eve 1941 / Director: Preston Sturges / Image courtesy: Universal Pictures Australia

The Australian Cinémathèque
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) is the only Australian art gallery with purpose-built facilities dedicated to film and the moving image. The Australian Cinémathèque at GOMA provides an ongoing program of film and video that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere, offering a rich and diverse experience of the moving image, showcasing the work of influential filmmakers and international cinema, rare 35mm prints, recent restorations and silent films with live musical accompaniment by local musicians or on the Gallery’s Wurlitzer organ originally installed in Brisbane’s Regent Theatre in November 1929.