"The love impulse in men very frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict."

--Susan Vance, Bringing Up Baby

Frank Capra Howard Hawks The screwball, a pitch perfected by Carl Hubble in 1934, is designed to confuse the batter. Screwballs are like curveballs, but with a reverse wrist action that gives them a spin. Screwball comedy as a genre is just as confusing and unexpected as its namesake. First appearing on the scene in the 1930s, these movies explore the confusions of modern life in America through gender and class role reversals, rapid fire dialogue, and sheer breakneck speed. In the end, we find the triumph of love and the comforting truth that we're all only human-- rich, poor, male, female. This uniquely American form takes sexual tension and sublimates it into a slapstick comedy of antagonism between a man and a woman who cannot admit their feelings for each other--until they are forced to by circumstances and general zaniness. In other cultures, this would be a tragedy, but not here.

Directors like Howard Hawks (lower left), Gregory La Cava, and Frank Capra (upper left) made this genre what it was. Hawks specialized in rapid fire dialogue and even directed his actors to talk over each other, as in His Girl Friday.

The genre pretty much died out after the Depression. World War II brought with it a general loss of innocence and the form began to go out of vogue or take on a more violent form. We can still see aspects of this form in modern romantic comedies such as You've Got Mail (1998) and Forces of Nature (1999)

This web page is devoted to the study of screwball comedy as a cultural force, particularly in consideration of class and gender. The films on this page do not encapsulate every screwball film, but they do provide a taste of true screwball comedy.

Works Cited

This page created by Lisa Jensen, Katie Hamlin, and Dave Henning, Fall 2001.
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