BRINGING UP BABY (Howard Hawks, USA 1938, 1. & 22.1.) The paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) leads a regulated existence. For years, he has been reconstructing the skeleton of a giant brontosaurus in a museum. He only needs one last small bone to complete his project. The day before he is due to marry his loyal assistant, he meets a wealthy eccentric heiress (Katharine Hepburn). The encounter changes his life in a flash. A plot that could not have more twists and a pace that could not be faster characterize this classic that is arguably the most famous screwball comedy.
BACHELOR MOTHER (Garson Kanin, USA 1939, 2.1.) Polly Parrish (Ginger Rogers) is employed over the Christmas period as a temporary sales assistant in the toy department of Merlin’s Department Store. On the way home, she stops an infant left in front of an orphanage from falling down the steps and is from then on seen as its mother whether she likes it or not. In order to avoid any bad publicity relating to firing a single mother at Christmas, the son of the company owner David Merlin (David Niven) arranges for Polly to keep her job. This leads in turn senior boss J.B. Merlin (Charles Coburn) to assume that his son is the child's biological father. Garson Kanin's "interest in socially provocative questions is impossible to overlook and extends from the big theme (a working mother) all the way to successful details such as the disappointment at winning the first prize in a dance competition because the second prize would have been money. Above all though, Kanin gave his actors a huge amount of freedom: Ginger Rogers is a brilliant comedian, David Niven an excellent foil and Charles Coburn is delightful as his odd father." (Christoph Huber)
VIVACIOUS LADY (George Stevens, USA 1938, 2. & 6.1.) Peter Morgan Jr. (James Stewart), a shy botany professor in the small town of Old Sharon, lives his life in the shadow of his strict father (Charles Coburn). When he is sent to New York to fetch his fun-loving cousin Keith, he discovers the freedom of the big city. He falls in love with the nightclub singer Francey (Ginger Rogers) and after a whirlwind wedding brings her home. However, he lacks the courage to present her to his dominant father and tell the truth about her profession. Francey is passed off as a botany student. But then, Peter's mother, who has a habit of pretending to have heart problems each time her husband gets angry, gives her backing to the couple.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (Howard Hawks, USA 1940, 3.1.) Walter Burns (Cary Grant), editor of a daily newspaper and journalist with heart and soul, cannot accept that his ex-wife, reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), is willing to give up her career in order to life a placid life in the provinces with an insurance representative (Ralph Bellamy). He uses all the means at his disposal to prevent both Hildy from leaving for Albany and the imminent wedding from taking place. He convinces her to carry out one last interview with a sentenced murderer due to hang in order that the sheriff and the mayor can win the next election. HIS GIRL FRIDAY is one of the examples of a remake that is clearly superior to the original – in this case Lewis Milestone's "The Front Page" (1930). In his most political film and one most critical of both society and the media, Hawks replaces the second leading man with a leading woman and thus created one of the best, most fast-paced screwball comedies.
THE TALK OF THE TOWN (George Stevens, USA 1942, 4. & 7.1.) The local black sheep Leopold Dilg (Cary Grant) is accused of burning down a mill and murdering a foreman. He escapes a vigilante mob with a foot injury and finds refuge in the holiday home of teacher Nora Shelly (Jean Arthur). She is preparing the space for another new tenant, the prim and proper law professor Michael Lightcap, who at first feels disturbed by his landlady and her alleged gardener but warms up the more time he spends with them debating the humane application of legislation. "The turbulent joke in THE TALK OF THE TOWN has a double nature. The film's targets are standardized lifestyles and the belief that there can be an "unpolitical" teaching of law and order (Cary Grant represents both the bow and arrow at once), but its substratum is the learning process in an erotic triangle." (Harry Tomicek)
THE MAD MISS MANTON (Leigh Jason, USA 1938, 11. & 16.1.) Melsa Manton (Barbara Stanwyck) is an eccentric heiress in high society New York who is notorious for her antics and extravagance. That's why the police does not believe her when she tells them she found a dead body in an empty house as she was returning home from a fancy dress party. When the journalist Peter Ames (Henry Fonda) disparages her as a "prankster" in an editorial, Miss Manton decides to conduct her own investigation with her clique of friends. This is a parody of film noir from before the time when film noir had established itself as a genre. The first encounter between Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, with eerie shadows created by the camera specialist Nick Musuraca, is a completely mad mix of screwball comedy and murder mystery with a non-transparent, plot full of twists, and absurd, sometimes childish, humor. Ignition misfire is mistaken for shots, upper-class ladies wearing high heels, fur coats and extravagant hats go on a manhunt, bodies are hidden in refrigerators or police car trunks and scenes of Henry Fonda being maltreated by a fork or tied up and gagged lodge themselves in the mind.
THE LADY EVE (Preston Sturges, USA 1941, 16. & 20.1.) Charles Pike, (Henry Fonda) the heir of a brewery empire and snake expert, is returning from a one-year expedition in the Amazon on a luxury liner when he meets the attractive con artist Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) and her father "Colonel" Harrington (Charles Coburn). The two attempt to fleece him at cards until his valet tells him what is going on. When Pike rejects Jean, she is furious at being scorned and tries to get her own back by disguising herself as the English niece of Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith, Lady Eve Sidwich. Despite the striking similarities and manifold warnings, the naive Charles cannot imagine that a woman could be so brazen. Preston Sturges' film is an enchanting comic masterpiece and Charles Pike the most ridiculous male character of screwball comedy ever created. Henry Fonda stumbles and fumbles so wonderfully cluelessly through the film that we are tempted to tap on his forehead and ask what is going on inside...
I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE (Howard Hawks, USA 1949, 22. & 30.1.) In this classic set in occupied post-war Germany and filmed on location in Heidelberg, Mannheim, Frankfurt and Schwetzingen, French Army Capt. Henri Rochard (Cary Grant) is assigned to US Army Lieutenant Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan) as a translator. Gates is not impressed by Rochard's male and arrogant authority. She drives the motorcycle because he does not have a US driving license while he has to ride in the sidecar as they chase black marketeers. Of course, the two get closer and when Gates is ordered back to the US, they are confronted with US military bureaucracy: There are no set rules for bringing back a "male bride". Howard Hawks' tumultuous comedy is one of the genre's later highlights.
YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (Frank Capra, USA 1938, 24.1.) The title of the play of the same name by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman is equally the leitmotif of Frank Capra's adaptation: you can't take it with you. The film sings the praises of the present moment and how precious life is, extolling the virtues of playfulness, non-conformism, and the freedom to do whatever you feel like, far away from the need for profitability or the coercions of work. Frank Capra retrospectively dubbed YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU the first ever hippie movie, which shows a unusually light touch in articulating a critique against a capitalist system in which people are usually not much more than cogs in the machine and allows a utopia to come into focus as a unique blend of warm-heartedness, wit, and social commitment. Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) turns around on the way to work one day and decides to leave the daily rat race behind him, decided only to apply himself to things that seem to carry meaning and fun. He encourages family and friends to do the same. In this way, people paint, dance, make music, and handle explosives in the big open house. Things become more complicated, however, once Vanderhof's granddaughter Alice (Jean Arthur) falls in love with Tony (James Stewart), the son of Wall Street magnate A.P. Kirby (Edward Arnold). He is in the middle of implementing his plans for a huge arms monopoly, but needs the Vanderhof's property in order to do so...
UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (Preston Sturges, USA 1948, 27. & 30.1.) The conductor Sir Alfred De Carter (Rex Harrison) is as famous as he is self-centered. Suspecting his wife (Linda Darnell) of having an affair with his younger secretary Tony, he has a detective shadow her. He directs three pieces of music at a concert but in his imagination he plots possible revenge scenarios, one of which features the murder of his wife and the framing of his rival. When he tries to put his plan in action, it descends into a slapstick fiasco after the wrong speed is chosen during the recording of a record. Quentin Tarantino included the film in his list of top ten all time movies, alongside the only other comedy HIS GIRL FRIDAY. (hjf/mf)