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Comedy In Film : Where’s all the Comedies Gone?

(Part One of Two)

Image: ©MGM

Well it’s been a long, long while since movies such as Home Alone , The Hangover , Ted and Bridesmaids … but the latter few have something in common . There are less and less comedy films being made today that make it to the big screen!

That is, less films coming out together and less frequently in sequence, the comedy film genre today has become a narrow, less travelled lane in which studios seem to drive down.

If they do however , it seems to bypass the big screen and now goes straight to streaming platforms. So is the genre in crisis or are studios just not interested anymore? …Or is it the audience?

Comedy in film as a genre has risen as highly paced as it is to understand that people want to laugh! … a famous comedy… person with… legs used… to say (I think… …don’t quote me on that!) with various degrees of success with the public. Comedy movies found great success with the silent film era with spoof , slapstick, sketch-esque story telling which delighted the viewing audience and saw some of the greatest comic actors through the 30’s and 40’s in stars such as Charlie Chaplin , The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, the three stooges and Buster Keaton. These star’s films received high box office receipts at the time for their popularity and were considered national treasures. With their stars rising , they would quickly find new challenges with the film age of ‘the talkies’ era finally taking hold of a new generation, with some struggling to adapt to it as easily as they’d prefer . The talkies did effectively replace the silent films in the 1930’s but many of the comedy stars and studios struggled to conceptualise this fully until the early 1940’s with such pieces as Charlie Chaplin starring in the ‘The Great Dictator’ , which although popular amongst the mainstream American public, some felt was controversial at the time. In what would surely be a recurring theme with some audiences, possibly growing by the decade. The film, heavily implied to be parodying Hitler, with the film bringing questions over Chaplin and his political and national allegiance to the West and the United States and also highlighting Chaplin’s political left leaning views. Comedy in Cinema would provide hit and miss movies , sometimes too tame , sometimes too slapstick for the next decade.

Image: ©Paramount Pictures

The 60’s were however by reflection a transformative decade for cinema. Reflecting changes in the culture as a whole, movies became more cynical and in turn more realistic. At the time Alfred Hitchcock had begun the cinematic craze of a truly new type of horror in the groundbreaking ‘Psycho’ , offering many developing levels or the bizarre and creepy in his accentuated character Norman Bates . Westerns such as ‘The Good , The Bad, and The Ugly’, dominated the scene with movie stars such as Clint Eastwood becoming an ever increasing popular movie star (in fact Western’s having mostly a strong decade in general). With these cynical, reality inducing stories , comedies would follow this trend in more structured-subtle comedy dramas such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the blistering satire of Dr Strangelove .

Image: ©Paramount Pictures

With independent filmmakers making their mark on the scene and more challenges for visual entertainment via television and mostly foreign films , came other top family, more sensible or musical comedies such as Disney’s Mary Poppins , One, Two, Three and The Apartment by Billy Wilder , Charade with Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn, The Graduate (which put Dustin Hoffman on the map) with the highly memorable Simon and Garfunkel hit and foreign film comedy classics such as La Dolce Vita , Divorce Italian Style , and Cleo from 5 to 7 . Comedy Movies in the 1960’s seemed to take a more cultured, sophisticated route during this transcendent decade . As did all Cinema , with French and European cinema becoming a huge hit with Western audiences . Storytelling had become a movie stars equal in the reason why audiences would flock to the cinema. Awaiting critique reviews in the national papers , the critics had a lot of power to get bums in seats at the local amphitheatres.

Image: ©Columbia Pictures

As the 70’s took hold, Comedy Movies hit a high point in cinema with many other popular rise’s in film genre , but none more so than comedies . Audiences opened their arms wide to the moviegoing scene , it was a time of relatable persuasion and variation of the entertainment scene, and the public were all for it! The Genre exploded! With several critical and financial hits of varying styles such as Large-Scale Films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory entering the imaginations of engrossed audiences and other smaller intimate pieces such as Annie Hall being successful .

With so many comedies to choose from this decade , many filmlovers come back to this decade countless times again to see such hilarity from Mel Brooks ‘Young Frankenstein’ , to Tim Curry’s magnificent performance in the musical comedy horror film, ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ .

Comedy would ultimately follow the diverse nature of the decade in such films like Harold and Maude; an unconventional comedy about a disillusioned 20 year old who befriends and falls in love with a 79 year old woman who shares his outlook on life … exactly – 70’s! Monty Python’s Life of Brian found huge controversy and laughter in it’s very surreal and absurdist outlook on the Messiah? No, he’s not the Messiah?! He’s a very naughty boy!!! Or even their hilarious Monty Python and the Holy Grail which quite frankly is comedy gold!

Image: ©EMI Films

Woody Allen would become prevalent with Annie Hall and Manhattan but making up the American comedy movie scene for many film lovers and filmmakers sweeping the decade with other films like Bananas , Everything you Always Wanted to know about Sex (but were afraid to ask) , Sleeper , Love and Death , and Interiors. Allen stapled his movie making star to the wall during this decade for sure.

Not forgetting by no means other classics of the time such as Grease which seems to never leave the annual holiday film tv schedule , with permanent hits and unfortunately it’s dance moves! And let us not forget the movie based on the stage musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is loved by audiences the world over and is considered to be the longest-running release in film history as there are still midnight showings occurring to this day. With Curry’s performance making such a lasting impact on audiences – the film is referenced all through tv comedy satire, still .

Image: ©20th Century Studios

This was also the decade when popular comedy sketch show comedians and actors started to leave for the big screen. Chevvy Chase was at a popular high during this decade onwards leaving SNL for tinseltown , starring in Foul play in 78 would see a popular decade ahead for the comic actor. Bill Murray also started his first movie with Ivan Reitman, setting up a successful sought after acting career. John Belushi found himself in National Lampoon’s Animal House. Steve Martin (writing like crazy may we add) starred in his first notable film – The Jerk! With the hilarious Martin Short’ and lovable John Candy’s star also rising .

Well you may think! THANKS FOR THAT! ALT THERE , we really appreciate you just rambling on about film comedy … but these films were so long ago now! This doesn’t concern us … right?!? … WRONG! … Well right a little! Let us explain .

Comedy has gone through many twists and turns depending on the evolution or sometimes even movie revolution of the decade . In some ways the 60’s were so devastating but yet reformative because the status quo of film had become essentially comedy by committee institutionalised by the studios . The 60’s unintentionally became the start of many films and wannabe filmmakers becoming free of the studios, learning to make more amateur or even auteur film inspired pieces by the French film revolution and other European film . Film became unshackled from the studios , with the studios believing at first that lower cost independent type films were most assured, that these were the way to bolster profits (and they were! depending on there reception and content). Filmmakers became increasingly more jaded by the conformity of the studio managed film productions and disbanded to create film unions and groups, some even forming independent studio ventures which could be either connected to the big studios or even braving the elements completely and going alone!

With this independence came difficulty for filmmaking and studio management and for a time, struggled with the concept of these alternative European film styles , believing the foundation laid through the 30’s and 40’s to be the best route for success with the movie going audience . Some were right and some got it oh so wrong!

What we can attain to comedy movies and their evolution and resurgence over the 70’s and 80’s and beyond , effectively shapes a large part of comedy to this very day . And this leads us very excitedly into the 1980’s!

(See part Two of two…)

Image: ©EMI Films

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