Too Funny for Words

A Contrarian History of American Screen Comedy from Silent Slapstick to Screwball


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About the Book

American silent film comedies were dominated by sight gags, stunts and comic violence. With the advent of sound, comedies in the 1930s were a riot of runaway heiresses and fast-talking screwballs. It was more than a technological pivot—the first feature-length sound film, The Jazz Singer (1927), changed Hollywood.
Lost in the discussion of that transition is the overlap between the two genres. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd kept slapstick alive well into the sound era. Screwball directors like Leo McCarey, Frank Capra and Ernst Lubitsch got their starts in silent comedy.
From Chaplin’s tramp to the witty repartee of His Girl Friday (1940), this book chronicles the rise of silent comedy and its evolution into screwball—two flavors of the same genre—through the works of Mack Sennett, Roscoe Arbuckle, Harry Langdon and others.

About the Author(s)

David Kalat is a film historian and a forensic technologist. He has contributed audio commentaries to the home video editions of numerous classic movies, written extensively for Turner Classic Movies and other publications. He lives in La Grange Park, Illinois.

Bibliographic Details

David Kalat
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 260
Bibliographic Info: 56 photos, filmography, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2019
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7856-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3652-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Introduction: The History of the History of Silent Comedy 1
Hey, Down in Front! 13
Mack Daddy, Daddy Mack 16
Irony and the Fat Man 20
First Things First, but Not Necessarily in That Order 24
Slapstick While Black 27
@RealCharlieChaplin 35
Cruel and Unusual 43
Life, Police and Trouble 46
Mutual Appreciation Society 48
Serious Business 51
The Other Chaplin 54
Buster Keaton vs. the History of Comedy 60
Out the Window Backwards 63
Eureka 69
What, What No Beer? 76
Keaton International 80
Fake News 84
Why Don’t You Say Something to Help Me? 89
Harold Lloyd 101 93
Mustache, Glasses and Suit 98
The Sin of Harold Lloyd 101
When Harold Met Lucy 107
Lucy vs. Lucille Ball 112
Artists and Models 114
Duck Soup 118
Eat Your Apple After Now 121
The Back of Joan Crawford’s Head 126
Downton Valley, or Ruggles Conquers the West 130
The $30,000 Question 132
F. W. Murnau’s Comedy Masterpiece 135
Jean, Clara, Bombshell and It 139
Miscasting for Fun and Profit 142
Girls! Girls! Girls! 146
I Won’t Back Down 149
The Unexpected Comedy Stylings of Alfred Hitchcock 156
Mr. and Mrs. Smith 159
Divorce American Style 163
Magic Pixie Dream Grampa 169
Ernst Lubitsch Forgives Himself 171
Sturges Before Sturges 173
The Trouble with Mitchell 175
Ginger Rogers, Sad Saks of Fifth Ave. 178
The Careless Cinderella 181
Katharine Hepburn vs. Herself 182
Me vs. Capra 185
Preston Sturges Origin Story 189
The Love Song of Captain McGloo 193
Sturges After Sturges (or, the Keystone Pipeline) 198
Meet Charley Chase 201
Modern Love 206
Meet Cary Grant 208
The Worst People in the World 213
Slut Fabulous 217
Filmography 227
Notes 245
Bibliography 247
Index 249

Book Reviews & Awards

“In this spirited discussion, Kalat examines the transition from silent slapstick comedies to the screwball comedies of the sound era. … The book opens with an overview of the history of silent comedy with nearly as many laughs as some of the films it surveys. … Kalat’s knowledgeable and conversational style makes the work accessible to all readers not just the cineastes among us. Film fans, students, and researchers will applaud this lively and impassioned look at a turning point in American film history.”—Booklist