With the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code in 1934, movie studios were restricted in their depicting of certain “unacceptable” activities on screen. Prior to the code, the studios produced a string of that, for the time, were quite sexually explicit.
Once the self-censorship began, the major studios had to come up with clever ways to entertain audiences without going outside the boundaries of the code. Out of these new constraints came the screwball comedy. The use of snappy dialogue filled with double entendres substituted for more straightforward “sex talk,” with the female lead becoming the dominant sex talker if you will. Professor and film historian, Maria DiBattista calls these women “fast-talking dames.”
This fast-talking by the female protagonist is used not only to get laughs, which it most certainly does, but also to transform the male into a new man of her own creation. This reverse Pygmalion scenario, as noted by DiBattista and others, is at the heart of the screwball comedy and places women in the primary role. This genre produced many of the our most noted and familiar female screen icons, including Irene Dunne, Katherine Hepburn, Carole Lombard, and . This class will examine the screwball comedy, in the context of the female protagonist and her very important place in the canon of American cinema.
Films screened and discussed:
My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava, 1936); Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938); Midnight (Mitchell Leisen, 1939); His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940); My Favorite Wife (Garson Kanin, 1940); and The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941).