David R. Shumway’s article in the 1991 summer issue of Cinema Journal discusses how screwball comedies provide a skewed concept of marriage. It is his argument that the screwball genre is the “affirmation of marriage in the face of the threat of a growing divorce rate and liberalized divorce laws.” Shumway then presents the historical trend towards an increasing population in the United States with a disproportionately high increase in divorces by the end of the 1920s. Hollywood is argued to be partly responsible as movies started to portray the home not as an institution of self-sacrifice and communality but rather “geared” towards self-containment and personal satisfaction. From this argument, Shumway continues to construct that screwball comedy depicts that one can have “complete desire and complete satisfaction” and that such attainment is named “marriage.”
Shumway also discusses the triadic pattern seen in many screwballs, where the significance lies in “its figuring of the structure of desire.” Furthermore, the subject of the film is heterosexual, but not necessarily male in gender. Screwball comedy presents women as the desiring subject and not simply an object between two males. This positioning parallels the increasing atmosphere of feminism and independence found in the screwball comedy era (1930s). Shumway also discusses that casting serves to reaffirm and heighten “desire” created by the triadic pattern found in screwball films.
Shumway then presents his view of the depiction of the upper-classes in screwball not as a way to depict overcoming class differences, but rather to further enhance eroticism. He believes that luxury is concurrent with erotica. Moreover, he argues that “prosocial thematics” of reconciliation never occur at the expense of the “power and privilege of the rich.” My Man Godfrey is used as an example as Godfrey is only fit to marriage the heiress Irene until his true, blue-blooded, identity is revealed.
Shumway then goes back to discuss the depiction of women in screwball comedies. It is argued that there is a couple of “reversals” that serve to affirm marriage while considering the social changes occurring. He mentions that the heroine is a strong pursuer while the man is seen as “bumbling.” While not provided in the article, we can see this at the end of Godfrey where Irene provides a priest and pseudo-forces Godfrey into marriage in his office, irregardless of his confused demeanor. Another reversal is the heightened possibility of life and sex outside of marriage. While screwball sets to affirm marriage, it does so by providing an alternative to it.