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Screwball Comedies Provided Escape During The Great Depression And Make Good Viewing Now

The Nitrate Diva suggests some escapist fare

Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Carole Lombard is a dizzy rich girl and William Powell is a "forgotten man" she saves in "My Man Godfrey."

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If you are sheltering in home and looking for something to watch then consider some screwball comedies.

Aired: April 3, 2020 | Transcript

If you are sheltering in home and looking for something to watch then consider some screwball comedies.

During the Great Depression, America escaped through the movies. Even though money was tight many people chose to spend hard-earned cash at the cinema and one genre that provided breezy escape was screwball comedies. But during the Depression people could actually go out to a cinema and join with a community of other people to enjoy the films and laughter together. During the coronavirus pandemic, many people are home alone unable to share films in a cinema. But people are being creative and doing Netflix Watch Parties and Zoom meetings to share a little escape.

Screwball comedies provide perfect relief for stress and anxiety. These films are marked by breakneck speed, sparkling dialogue exchanges, dizzy heiresses, a rich cast of character actors, sexy innuendo and effervescent wit that flowed as freely as the bubbly. Times were hard and people wanted to see gorgeous women in beautiful clothes running around mansions where money was never a problem. They had their roots in the sex comedies of the pre-Code era (1927-1934) and emerged full-blown with films such as "Bombshell" (1933) and "It Happened One Night" (1934).

Nora Fiore, author of the blog The Nitrate Diva, is a millennial who fell in love with screwball comedies as well as other films from the 1930s and '40s. I am doing a podcast with her later this month about the best screwball to watch while sheltering at home. So I'm teasing her choices here.

Fiore said screwball comedies are ideal escapist fare because "the sheer speed and amount of wit and joy in these films can really take a load off your mind. They're so fast-paced and they're so beautiful to look at. They're so well-acted and they're so well directed in most cases that you kind of can't take your eyes off them. You can't take your mind off them. So they really do pull you out of reality for that span of time and plunge you into this other world, and yet it's not brain candy. It's not just totally numbing you out or taking you out.

I mean, in many ways, I find that these films are like exercise for the mind because as I said, I've watched a bunch of them many times and I still feel like I notice new details and new lines and new nuances to the characters. So I feel like they're kind of keeping you alert and keeping you engaged with human emotions both high and low emotions, even while they are delighting you with this make-believe world that Hollywood created so exquisitely all those years ago."

The two choices that I will reveal to start you off are, "It Happened One Night," the Frank Capra film starring Claudette Colbert as an heiress on the run and Clark Gable as the out of work newspaperman who smells a good story, and "My Man Godfrey," starring Carole Lombard and William Powell as a rich girl who brings a bum home to be the family butler.

"It Happened One Night" is available on Amazon and other streaming services, while "My Man Godfrey" can be found on YouTube (not the best quality but free) or on streaming services such as Amazon and Google Play.

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Beth Accomando
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opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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