Two seemingly routine films of 1934 revolutionized film comedy in the Thirties. The first was a purported murder mystery, the second, one of a short-lived cycle of pictures about bus travel. But both The Thin Man and It Happened One Night featured something new to the movies--the private fun a man and a woman could have in a private world of their own making.

A new image of courtship and marriage began to appear, with man and wife no longer expecting ecstatic bliss, but treating the daily experience of living as a crazy adventure sufficient to itself. And if what went on in these private worlds was mostly nonsense, what sense could be found in the great world outside, where economic crisis and the threat of approaching war barred all the conventional roads to achievement and happiness?

It is hard to describe today what these films meant to a depression-bred generation, and it is not surprising that the "screwball comedies," as they came to be called, usually ended in slapstick or violence. They mirrored a world of frustration. In this context William Powell's suave irony found ideal expression. So did Claudette Colbert's tongue-in-cheek manner and Carole Lombard's air of honest-to-goodness exasperation, while Myna Loy's calm acceptance of the inevitable in her spouse made her suddenly, after ten years of playing "inscrutable" Oriental sirens, everybody's ideal wife. The brilliant dialogue and violent clowning of these Alice-in-Wonderland comedies held the screen until the onset of war, when the frustrations of the Thirties were replaced by an entirely new set.

Myrna Loy and William Powell - The Thin Man


Pass your mouse over the pictures to see the captions
Rosalind Russell and Brian Aherne - Hired Wife
Hepburn and Grant - Bringing Up Baby
Irene Dunne/Doug Fairbanks Jr. - Joy of Living
Colbert/Gable - It Happened One Night
My Man Godfrey
Lombard/March - Nothing Sacred
Powell & Loy - After The Thin Man

Stewart/Jean Arthur - You Can't Take It With You


The text and pictures on this page were scanned from "The Movies" by Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer, Simon & Schuster, 1957.
(Murphy Collection)

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