Year after year, since the beginning of time, people’s tastes have changed as far as what they define as “comedy”.
Way back, I am sure that the heathens in Rome got a real kick out of a Christian getting their butt kicked by a hungry lion.
As the years progressed, people unleashed a hearty guffaw at everything from political satire to naughty limericks. Even disabled children in a sideshow were considered comedy. Nothing was sacred.
Comedy Movies in the 1920s and 30s
In the 1920s, physical comedy on film was king. The biggest stars of the day were Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. All of which used their bodies and facial expressions in one way or another, often in death-defying sight gags.
And when I say “death-defying”, I mean it. Buster Keaton famously broke his neck during the filming of a scene in Sherlock, Jr, but he got up, and continued working. He did not find out that he had broken anything until many years later when he went to the doctor complaining of headaches.
This short clip shows the exact moment he broke his neck. Notice how he just gets up and runs off as if nothing had happened:
In the 1930s, the screwball comedy, often involving humorous situations in romantic relationships, gave people a way to escape the harsh reality of the Great Depression.
In Germany, the so-called “dream team” of Willy Fritsch and Horse Face…errr, I mean Lilian Harvey packed theaters with their antics onscreen.
Now some of you may already know that I adore Willy Fritsch, but I am not a huge fan of Lilian Harvey. I think a lot of their fluff was boring and disposable. However, there are some shining moments in the long string of films they did together.
One of those moments is Glückskinder (Children of Fortune). In it, Harvey plays a character named Ann who is threatened with jail time and Fritsch plays Gil, who tries to save her by pretending they are married. The whole thing is in German, but we are to presume that the characters are wise-cracking New Yorkers.
And of course you can’t have a proper 1930s escape film without an upbeat musical number or two. Here they sing about how they wish they were chickens:
The comedies of early film are still extremely popular in the 21st century. Film enthusiasts everywhere document their impact on show business in books and documentaries, and painstakingly restore deteriorating film, preserving it for future generations to enjoy.
The “Comedy” of the 21st Century
While old comedies are still popular today, the generations coming of age in the 21st century have generally moved away from the old-fashioned and “wholesome” to the perverted. Sexual innuendo has been in comedy (and film in general) from the start. But now it has moved on from innuendo to in-your-face and obvious.
Sex sells. And comedy movies these days are using sex and perversion in heavy doses.
But is it funny? Is it something that will last for decades, even centuries? There are reasons why some films have remained classics for generations. They are funny. They give you hope for the human race.
Can the same be said for a two-hour movie that people only remember for all the swear words and adult situations?
What do you think? Let me know by leaving a comment below.