Film Clowns of the Depression

Twelve Defining Comic Performances


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About the Book

The 1930s are routinely considered sound film’s greatest comedy era. Though this golden age encompassed various genres of laughter, clown comedy is the most basic type. This work examines the Depression decade’s most popular type of comedy—the clown, or personality comedian. Focusing upon the Depression era, the study filters its analysis through twelve memorable pictures. Each merits an individual chapter, in which it is critiqued. The films are deemed microcosmic representatives of the comic world and discussed in this context.

While some of the comedians in this text have generated a great deal of previous analysis, funnymen like Joe E. Brown and Eddie Cantor are all but forgotten. Nevertheless, they were comedy legends in their time, and their legacy, as showcased in these movies, merits rediscovery by today’s connoisseur of comedy. Even this book’s more familiar figures, such as Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, are often simply relegated to being recognizable pop culture icons whose work has been neglected in recent years. This book attempts to address these oversights and to re-expose the brilliance and ingenuity with which the screen clowns contributed a comic resiliency that was desperately needed during the Depression and can still be greatly appreciated today. The films discussed are City Lights (1931, Chaplin), The Kid From Spain (1932, Cantor), She Done Him Wrong (1933, Mae West), Duck Soup (1933, Marx Brothers), Sons of the Desert (1933, Laurel and Hardy), Judge Priest (1934, Will Rogers), It’s a Gift (1934, W.C. Fields), Alibi Ike (1935, Brown), A Night at the Opera (1935, Marx Brothers), Modern Times (1936, Chaplin), Way Out West (1937, Laurel and Hardy), and The Cat and the Canary (1939, Bob Hope).

About the Author(s)

Wes D. Gehring is a distinguished professor of film at Ball State University and associate media editor for USA Today magazine, for which he also writes the column “Reel World.” He is the author of 40 film books, including biographies of James Dean, Carole Lombard, Steve McQueen, Robert Wise, Red Skelton and Charlie Chaplin.

Bibliographic Details

Wes D. Gehring

Foreword by Ray E. Boomhower

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 208
Bibliographic Info: 40 photos, filmography, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2007
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2892-2
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8352-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Foreword by Ray E. Boomhower      1
Preface      3
Introduction      7

1. Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights (1931)      11
2. Eddie Cantor’s The Kid from Spain (1932)      27
3. Mae West’s She Done Him Wrong (1933)      38
4. The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933)      51
5. Laurel and Hardy’s Sons of the Desert (1933)      67
6. Will Rogers’ Judge Priest (1934)      80
7. W.C. Fields’ It’s a Gift (1934)      96
8. Joe E. Brown’s Alibi Ike (1935)      110
9. The Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera (1935)      126
10. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936)      140
11. Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West (1937)      152
12. Bob Hope’s The Cat and the Canary (1939)      164

Epilogue      176
Filmography      181
Chapter Notes      183
Bibliography      195
Index      205

Book Reviews & Awards

“Gehring remains supreme in film comedy scholarship”—Choice.