Christopher Beach’s Class, Language, and American Film Comedy examines the changes that occurred in American film comedy through the portrayal of social class as well as linguistic development. Chapter 2 entitled “Working Ladies and Forgotten Men: Class Divisions in Romantic Comedy, 1934-1937” charts the change from openly satirical screwball comedies originating in the early 1930s to those of the latter part of the decade. It is these comedies that Beach describes as “equal in its subversive potential…yet ends with an unexpected and rather sudden reversal of its underlying social critique.”
The chapter begins with a plot summary and assessment of My Man Godfrey. Beach describes la Cava’s satire as being continuously directed towards the “screwball antics of the conspicuously pampered upper classes.” The sensitivity or lack thereof, is witnesses and is done so often. Beach then describes what he perceives as a “radical reversal” of the sociopolitical message of the film as its ending praises the “utopian celebration of private enterprise during the Depression” rather than a more leftist approach stemming from the New Deal. This is seen as Godfrey saves the Bullocks as well as his homeless friends through two different private investments. Beach does state that La Cava still used the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty to create a spectacle for the film audience that was typical of screwball comedies at the time.
Beach then argues that romantic comedies of the mid-1930s to early 1940s were less open in their subversion; they were still highly ambivalent in “their exploration of social class, social conformism, and the establishment of social order.” These films adopted a conservative cinematic style (including La Cava) to defuse hostility towards screwball comedy’s “potential subversive form.” It is argued that any type of naively positive portrayal of the wealthy during this time period would have been rejected by a large portion of the filmgoing audience.
Beach further continues to discuss the ideological contradictions in 1930s films. He believes that they are indicative of the contradiction in American society, where there was a growth in “consumer ethos” and a heavy reliance upon it despite the increase in poverty. Furthermore, this disparity in wealth and class and the emergence of consumer culture that created the premise of “cross-class interaction.” Thus, the bread-and-butter premise of screwballs—the involvement of one wealthy character seducing one from a lower class—can be explained. Much of this desire and demand for this framework is credited to individual writers and directors of such films.
Beach then explains the role and involvement of language to depict the differences in societal classes. It is through linguistic differences that best engage the audience in a more subtle analysis of class relations. The Production Code is credited for screwball comedy’s clever composition of language to further disguise the topic of sex.
The rest of the chapter is devoted to the analysis of two films: The Girl from Missouri and Easy Living.
tagged Depression_films Gregory_La_Cava class_differences_in_film film_linguistics movie_comedy my_man_godfrey screwball screwball_comedy by lande ...on 29-NOV-05