Sunday, February 15, 2009

Depression-Era Comedies -- Time for Another Run?

Channel flipping of late, I've caught parts of a number of depression-era comedies -- something to do with "Oscar" season. But at the rate we're going with this Great Recession and the suffocating debt we've now been signed up for, we may be in for another round of production. No way, though, that any new films could top the masterpieces of the past -- back then, writers really wrote. The old films helped people get through the last time, why not again?

Though often cartoonish in plot and characterizations, they're some of the funiest movies ever made. The super-rich figure prominently, of course, and the common character, the leitmotif in the genre, is the bad businessman. As left-wing as Hollywood seems today, it may not be much different from the 30s -- the big difference is the old movies are actually funny.

Businessmen are aloof and insensitive (Holiday), aloof and vindictive (The Devil and Miss Jones), rapacious and overstressed (You Can't Take It With You), or repressed and long-suffering (My Man Godfey). They have ulcers (The Devil and Miss Jones; You Can't Take It With You) and are often nincompoops (Topper; Top Hat). But there's hope -- they often see the light and realize the errors of their businessman ways.

The heroes are care-free, though often independently wealthy -- so who couldn't be care-free if filthy rich (The Philadelphia story; Topper)? The films are full of some of the very best comedic actors of all time, with leads like Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, and Katherine Hepburn, and marvelous supporting actors such as Edward Everett Horton, Alan Mowbray, and Alice Brady.

Today evil bankers are back in vogue, if they ever left. I've recently seen previews for a new film, a thriller, with Clive Owen featuring evil masterminds that must be defeated surely to save Western civilization, or at least our banking system. Who are they? -- Muslims? Russians? Chinese? Nope -- bankers. White male bankers no doubt -- the ultimate in evil. Same as before in Hollywood, only then the movies were funny.

R. Balsamo