Thomas Edison made probably the first comedy film when he recorded his assistant in "Record of a Sneeze". During the silent period of film the most popular comic actors were Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. The comedy is one of the oldest film genres and has it's beginnings in the silent era. Early vaudeville stars made their way from the theaters to the movies sets because of their popularity. These silent films were usually sketch comedy that relied on physical acting, slapstick humor and sight gags. Some of the early giants of the American film comedy genre were Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. The work of later comic film artists stands on the shoulders of these Olympian figures of the laugh.There was also the development of animated cartoons such as Fritz the Kat and Betty Boop.
The 1930s Comedy Films
When the microphone was introduced to the silent film set, radical changes occurred to movie production. With the introduction of the soundtrack sight gags and physical humor gave way to verbal banter and spoken jokes. In a sense, the technological change was not necessarily an improvement as the physical comedy of the silent actors lent itself to the visual medium of film. Improvised universal comedy communicated through the physical world was supplanted with written dialogue. The comedian was no longer the sole inventor and interpreter of the comic situation. Comedy was now scripted by writers who often were not the comedian himself. This is the era that brought the prominence of WC Field, The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy and Abbot and Costello. Chaplin continued to be among the silent comedians who continued to make comedies in the sound era.
Some Key Comedy Directors
Some of the key directors of the 1930s comedy were Gregory LaCava, Howard Hawks, Leo McCarey, Garson Kanin, William Wellman and W.S. Van Dyke. Among the comedy films of the 1930's, one of the most popular types was the screwball comedy. These movies often contained the crazy antics of wealthy characters. One classic screwball comedy was "It Happened One Night" (1934), directed by Frank Capra, and starred Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Another good example is "Bringing Up Baby" (1938), directed by Howard Hawks, and starred Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Among the screwball comedy directors, Frank Capra's place is preeminent. Such film as "It Happened One Night", "Platinum Blonde", "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "Meet John Doe".
The Lubitsch Touch
The other leading comic director was the sophisticated Ernst Lubitsch. Lubitsch was already internationally famous in the 1920s with historical epics and comedy of manners with such films as "Madame Dubarry", "The Oyster Princess" and "Romeo and Juliet in the Snow". Brought to Hollywood in 1923 to direct Mary Pickford in the critically and commercially successful drama "Rosita", Lubitsch went on to make series of comedies that had a sophisticate view of adult sexuality and social critique in such films as "Trouble in Paradise", "Design for Living" and "Angel". His directorial style and ear for urbane dialogue inspired the phrase "the Lubitsch touch" about his films. He was admired greatly by his fellow directors. Lubitsch worked with fellow German and director Billy Wilder as co-screenwriters, for his film Ninotchka starting Greta Garbo in a spoof of both capitalism and communism.
The comedy disciple of Lubitsch, director Billy Wilder, said to the director William Wylier at Lubitsch's funeral, "No more Lubitsch." to which Wyler replied. "Worse than that. No more Lubitsch pictures."
Top Comedy Films
Some of the top films of the period where "Modern Times", "Top Hat", "Bringing Up Baby", "Holiday", "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", "Duck Soup". "The Awful Truth", "Bachelor Mother" "Twentieth Century", "Horse Feathers" "It Happened One Night", "Ninotchka" "Trouble in Paradise", "City Lights", "It's a Gift" "Dinner at Eight", You Can't Take It With You", "The Rage of Paris", "Nothing Sacred", "Mad Miss Manton"
During the 1940s some of the standout directors included Charlie Chaplin, Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Ernst Lubitsch, Frank Capra and Edward F. Cline. Chapin made his anti-Nazi comedy about Hitler called "The Great Dictator" and black comedy "Monsieur Verdoux". That decade Capra made "Meet John Doe" and "Arsenic and Old Lace". Preston Sturges made "The Great McGinty", "The Lady Eve", "The Palm Beach Story", "Hail the Conquering Hero" and "The Sin of Harold Diddlebock" staring Harold Lloyd. Ernst Lubitsch continued to be active and contributed "The Shop Around the Corner", "To Be or Not to Be" and "Heaven Can Wait". George Cukor also contributed to the genre with "The Philadelphia Story" and "Adam's Rib". The cross genre master Howard Hawks made "His Girl Friday" and "Ball of Fire". Comedian WC Fields was directed in "The Bank Dick" and "My Little Chickadee" by Edward F. Cline.
The post war decade of the 1950s was the period of the comedy comic duo of Abbot and Costello directed by Charles Lamont in such pictures as "Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion", and "Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man", "Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd" and "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy". Some of the studio directors such as George Cukor made "Born Yesterday", Howard Hawks "Monkey Business", William Wyler "Roman Holiday", Billy Wilder "Sabrina" and "The Seven Year Itch". There were new directors in the comedy field now with Stanley Donan and Gene Kelly directing "Singin' in the Rain" and Donen also directing "Funny Face". Frank Tashlin made "Son of Pale Face" and "Will Success Spoil Rocker Hunter?" This was also the period of the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy films.
Billy Wilder continued to be a comedy film master in the 1960s by directed "The Apartment", "One,Two, Three", "Kiss Me Stupid" and "The Fortune Cookie". The other comedy film master continuing to make films were Frank Capra's "A Pocketful of Miracles", Frank Tashlin's "Cinderfeller" and "The Disorderly Orderly" starring Jerry Lewis, George Cukor's "My Fair Lady" and William Wyler's "Funny Girl". There was new comedy directing talent emerging during this period as well. Comedian Jerry Lewis directed himself in "The Bellboy", "The Errand Boy", and his masterpiece "The Nutty Professor". Edward Bernds brought the anarchy of The Three Stooges to the screen in "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules" and "The Three Stooges in Orbit". Stanley Kramer made "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner". Blake Edwards worked with comedic sensation Peter Sellers in "The Pink Panther" and "The Party". Towards the end of the decade there was the loony comedy of Mel Brook's "The Producers" and Woody Allen emerged as a major comedy talent as both an actor and director with "What's Up Tiger Lily?", "Don't Drink the Water" and "Take the Money and Run". Other directors to emerge with notable comedy films were Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove", Norman Jewison's "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming", Mike Nichol's "The Graduate", Brian DePalma's "Greetings" and Paul Mazursky's "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice".
Woody Allen dominated this decade with his string of highly personal and hilarious comedies with "Bananas", "Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex", "Sleeper", "Love and Death", "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan". Mel Brooks rivaled Woody Allen quantity if not quality with "Blazing Saddles", "Young Frankenstein", "Silent Movie", and "High Anxiety". Mike Nichols continued to make comedies with "Catch-22", "Carnal Knowledge" and "The Fortune". One of the leading comedy directors to emerge in this period was Hal Ashby who made "Harold and Maude", "The Last Detail, "Shampoo" and "Being There". Other new directors to come into prominence during the 1970s were Arthur Hiller with "The Hospital" and "The In Laws". Herbert Ross became a directorial name with "Play It Again Sam", "The Sunshine Boys" and "California Suite". Other comedy directors to make notable films were Elaine May for "The Heartbreak Kid", Paul Mazursky for "Harry and Tonto", Michael Ritchie for "The Bad News Bears", Carl Reiner for "The Jerk" and Albert Brooks for "Real Life". Older directors who still working were Blake Edwards with"10" and Billy Wilder with "Avanti!".
Still active in the 1980s were Woody Allen who still making his kind of comedies with "Stardust Memories", "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Radio Days". Mel Brooks was still working and make "History of the World Part 1" and "Spaceballs". Mike Nichols made "Working Girl" and John Huston made "Prizzi's Honor". Carl Reiner knocked out " Dead Man Don't Were Plaid" and "The Man With Two Brains. David Zucker directed "Airplane!" and "Top Secret. John Landis put out "The Blue Brothers" and "Tradiing Places". John Hughes turned out to be the teen comedy auteur with "Weird Science" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Ron Howard moved from acting into directing with "Night Shift","Gung Ho" and "Big". Interesting comedies films of this period were Sydney Poiter's "Stir Crazy", Steven Gordon's "Arthur", Amy Heckerling's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", Richard Benjamin's "My Favorite Year", Stan Dragoti's "Mr. Mom", Paul Brickman's "Risky Business", Arthur Hiller's "The Lonely Guy", Alex Cox's "Repo Man", Jeff Kanew's "Revenge of the Nerds", Rob Reiner's "This Is Spinal Tap", Robert Zemeckis's "Back to the Future", Steven Holland's "Better Off Dead", John Carpenter's "Big Trouble in Little China", Paul Mazursky's "Down and Out in Beverly Hills", Norman Jewison's "Moonstruck", Tim Rbbins "Beetlejuice" and the Coen Brothers' "Raizing Arizona". The most infamous comedy of the decade for it's bloated budget sinking and studio was Elaine May's "Ishtar".
During the 1990s there were a variety of new directors working and some of the older ones still making comedies. Albert Brooks made "Defending Your Life" while Mel Brooks directed "Life Stinks" , "Love Stinks" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights". The new independent style directors came out of the wood works with John Patrick Shanley's "Joe Versus the Volcano", Ivan Reitman's "Kindergarten Cop", Andrew Bergman's "Honeymoon in Vegas", Johnathan Lynn's "My Cousin Vinnie", Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused", Harold Ramis' "Groundhog Day", Tom Shadyac's "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective", Kevin Smith's "Clerks", the Farrelly Brothers' "Dumb and Dumber", Ben Stiller's "Reality Bites", Amy Heckerling's "Clueless", David O Russell's "Flirting With Disaster", Tom DiCilo's "The Real Blonde" The Coen Brothers "The Big Lebowski", Wes Anderson's "Rushmore", Alexander Payne's "Election", Mike Judge's "Office Space" and Trey Parker's "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut". The most prolific Hollywood comedy director of this period were Tim Robbins with "Edward Scissorhands" and "Ed Wood" and "Mars Attacks!" while Kevin Smith led the independent directors with his "Clerks", "Mall Rats", "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma". Other comedy films of the period include Brian DePalma's "Bonfire of the Vanities", Mike Nichol's "The Birdcage", James L. Brooks' "As Good as It Gets", George Armitage's "Grosse Pointe Blank", Barry Levinson's "Wag the Dog", Warren Beatty's "Bullworth, "Wood Allen's "Celebrity", Chris Weitz' "American Pie", Harold Ramis "Analyze This" and Milos Forman's "Man on the Moon".
The leading figures of the present period include the Coen Brothers who have made "The Lady Killers" and "Burn After Reading". Another sibling team to direct top comedies have been the Farrelly Brothers who have put out "Shallow Hal"and "Fever Pitch", "Stuck On You" and "There Is Something About Mary". A top comedy writer to have his work produced has been the work of Charlies Kaufman who's screenplays "Human Nature" and "Adaptation" have been directed by music video directors Michel Gondry and Spize Jonze. Judd Apatow has defined the current comedy genre with "The 40 Year Old Virgin" amnd "Knocked Up" which have inspired smilar type of film such as "Superbad"by Greg Mottola and "Pineapple Express" by David Gordon Green. Mike Judge puts out his own brand of comedy with "Idiocracy as well as Jim Jarmusch directed the off beat "Broken Flowers". Comedian Ben Stiller continues to direct films such as "Zoolander" and "Tropic Thunder". Among the leading figure of the frat boy comedies is Todd Phillips who has made "Road Trip", "Old School", Starsky & Hutch: A Last Look", "School for Scoundrels" and "The Hangover". Other off beat films include "I Heart Huckabees" by David O Russel, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" by Wes Anderson, "A Dirty Shame" by John Waters. Among the comedy's made by seasoned directors are "Vicki Christina Barcelona" by Woody Allen,"Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" by Tim Burton and "Catch Me If you can"