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Screwball!

July 5 - August 1

From July 5 to August 1, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents Screwball!, a series of eight key films in the Hollywood comedy genre that subverted conventional notions of screen romance for the sake of wringing laughs out of the breakdown of gender and class divisions.

Setting itself apart from the traditional romantic comedy, the screwball comedy came to be defined not only by its lightning-fast pacing and often ludicrous narrative exaggerations but also by its dedication to conflict, featuring romantic relationships sparked by adversarial gibing and combative flirting. Within these pairings, female characters were usually granted a degree of agency not afforded to their male counterparts, acting as pursuers of hapless men who are given no choice but to submit to their paramours' unusual charms. In the utopia of screwball, the quickest route to gender parity and conflict resolution is simply to fall in love.

Beginning roughly in 1934, just before enforcement of the Hays Code would begin to restrict screen content, and tapering off once the United States became involved in World War II, screwball comedy stands alongside film noir as one of the preeminent genres native to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Building on Frank Capra's critical and commercial hit IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, Hollywood quickly saw the innate potential of the screwball formula, roping in some of the surest studio hands to direct dialogue dripping with innuendo, often penned by the best comedy writers swiped from Broadway but also frequently improvised on set by a game cast of charismatic contract performers.

While the results didn’t always connect with the public (BRINGING UP BABY earned star Katharine Hepburn the label “box-office poison”), the genre remained a popular mainstay on American screens throughout the Great Depression, often engaging with class in a way that would become increasingly rare in postwar comedies. Despite their often outrageous plot machinations, films like MY MAN GODFREY, EASY LIVING, and THE PALM BEACH STORY were grounded in very real considerations about the strain that money placed on relationships. Screwball audiences were just as likely to see a romance enacted in a hobo encampment or the back of a Greyhound bus as they were in the drawing rooms of high society.

This series showcases the work of major screwball figures like performers Cary Grant, Claudette Colbert, and Carole Lombard; writer Preston Sturges (who penned three of the films in the series, two of which he directed); and directors Gregory La Cava, Leo McCarey, and Mitchell Leisen. We end with the series with two films directed by Howard Hawks, one of the genre’s indisputable masters, including his unjustly overlooked neo-screwball MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT?, which falls outside the genre's classic time-frame but shines a light on its myriad subversive pleasures.

—Cameron Worden, Assistant to Programming

SATURDAY DOUBLE-BILL DISCOUNT! Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first Screwball! film on any Saturday in July, and get a ticket for the second Screwball! film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second feature only. Discount available in person at the box office only.)

PREVIOUSLY

It Happened One Night

1934, Frank Capra, USA, 105 min.
With Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert

Showtimes:

  • Fri, Jul 5th 4:00pm
  • Sat, Jul 6th 2:30pm
  • Thu, Jul 11th 6:00pm

My Man Godfrey

1936, Gregory La Cava, USA, 96 min.
With William Powell, Carole Lombard

Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jul 6th 4:30pm
  • Tue, Jul 9th 6:00pm

The Awful Truth

1937, Leo McCarey, USA, 91 min.
With Cary Grant, Irene Dunne

Showtimes:

  • Fri, Jul 12th 4:00pm
  • Sat, Jul 13th 3:00pm
  • Thu, Jul 18th 6:00pm

Easy Living

1937, Mitchell Leisen, USA, 89 min.
With Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland

Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jul 13th 5:00pm
  • Tue, Jul 16th 6:00pm

The Lady Eve

1941, Preston Sturges, USA, 94 min.
With Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda

Showtimes:

  • Fri, Jul 19th 4:15pm
  • Sat, Jul 20th 3:15pm
  • Thu, Jul 25th 6:00pm

The Palm Beach Story

1942, Preston Sturges, USA, 88 min.
With Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert, Rudy Vallée

Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jul 20th 5:15pm
  • Tue, Jul 23rd 6:00pm

Bringing Up Baby

1938, Howard Hawks, USA, 102 min.
With Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn

Showtimes:

  • Fri, Jul 26th 4:30pm
  • Sat, Jul 27th 3:00pm
  • Thu, Aug 1st 6:00pm

Man's Favorite Sport?

1964, Howard Hawks, USA, 121 min.
With Rock Hudson, Paula Prentiss

Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jul 27th 5:00pm
  • Tue, Jul 30th 6:00pm