Ever since the Battelle Film Club’s showing of Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story, I’ve been on a screwball kick. Screenplays, biographies, non-fiction, what-have-you about that lunatic genre of film greatly interest me. This book by Kendall isn’t solely about screwball, but rather an overview of the larger film genre that it falls under, the romantic comedy. Sturges is only the last chapter here. The majority of director coverage goes to Frank Capra and Leo McCarey, and the book goes even more into the lives of the major actresses of the period, Barbara Stanwyck, Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and Claudette Colbert, who the author asserts were co-creaters of the classic romantic comedy films. The argument goes like this: due to the depression and the unusual success of particular directors (men, and I use the term correctly in this case, who were able to fulfill the cathartic needs of the public going through this rough period), these directors were given extremely free reign. They used it to explore collaborations with their favorite subjects, these independent women. Movies before and after delegated women more to the supporting roles (with notable exceptions, but only as exceptions), but in these romantic comedies of the 30s the women were the lead and often the most sympathetic and fleshed-out characters.
While the descriptions of the making of the movies was quite interesting, it is the concise biographies of the people involved–directors, actors, actresses, and writers–that help you understand this moment in cinema history. An excellent book on its subject.
[Finished July 1995]