Classic comedies are the best kind of classics you can watch on a quiet night in. A lot of the classic comedies do much more than just entertain, they share important messages about life, politics and the world, through their films. This list looks at a set of classic comedies, which are a must see for any film buff.
1. The Great Dictator
Classic comedies and the name Charlie Chaplin seem to go hand in hand. This particular example is probably most famous for Charlie Chaplin’s speech as the dictator, which has gone viral on several occasions.
The film tells the story of dictator Adenoid Hynkel (that look eerily like Adolph Hitler, with much intension), who tries to expand his empire. It’s a parody tragicomedy of dictatorship, fascism, antisemitism and Nazis.
Directed by: Charles Chaplin
Written by: Charles Chaplin
Starring: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jackie Oakie
2. Arsenic And Old Lace
Based on a play by Joseph Kesselring, Arsenic and Old Lace is hilarious film… play… dark comedy about two old ladies who… I actually don’t want to spoil the plot of this film at all. It’s a very funny story, with lots of reveals and unexpected turns. It’s one of the must see classic comedies.
Directed by: Frank Capra
Written by: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein
Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey
3. Mrs Doubtfire
Might not be Robin Williams’s best performance (everyone has different opinions on that matter). It certainly is his most iconic role, aside from the genie in Aladin, of course.
One of Williams’ most iconic performances. He plays Daniel Hillard, a voice actor, whom his wife Miranda (Sally Field) views as unreliable, and she sues for divorce and gets custody of their kids. In order to get to see them, he disguises himself as Mrs. Doubtfire and presents herself as a housekeeper whom Miranda hires. For his performance as Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams won his fourth Golden Globe Award.
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: Anne Fine (novel), Randi Mayem Singer, Leslie Dixon
Starring: Robin William, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan
4. The Icicle Thief
The name and the film have intentional resemblance to The Bicycle Thief by Italian neorealist film director Vittorio De Sica. The film challenges the sort of cult to Italian neorealism, which suffocated young filmmakers as nothing they made could ever live up to the idealised Golden Age in Italian cinema. It also comments in a hilarious manner on the way watching films has changed since they entered into the homes via TV, as well as how consumerism (or advertisements during films on TV) is destructive towards art.
Directed by: Maurizio Nichetti
Written by: Maurizio Nichetti, Mauro Monti
Starring: Maurizio Nichetti, Caterina Silos Labini, Federico Rizzo
5. Shaun of the Dead
Have you ever wondered which film popularised the idea of pretending to be a zombie, so you don’t get eaten? Shaun of the Dead uses pretty much every zombie trope in the book, but in a surprisingly tasteful way. It is a hilarious and successful zombie spoof, which takes places in London. That latter part makes it even funnier, as the main characters don’t initially notice anything is wrong. This is of the contemporary classic comedies, which is especially relevant now as the zombie genre has been quite popular in recent years.
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield
6. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
This movie is full of great comic actors, an all-star cast, a pileup of slapstick and hilarious one-liners. It revolves around a treasure hunt and it seems the pure reason it was created was so that it could be among the comedy classics. A must see film!
Directed by: Stanley Kramer
Written by: William Rose, Tania Rose
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman and many others.
Endearing and funny, this is among the more modern classic comedies. It tells the story of Josh, a 13-year-old who wants nothing than to be “big”. His wish comes true as he wakes up the next day as a full grown adult, played by Tom Hanks. Basically, you get to watch Tom Hanks act like a 13-year-old for most of the film.
Directed by: Penny Marshal
Written by: Anne Spielberg, Gary Ross
Starring: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins
8. Young Frankenstein
Unlike some of the older classic comedies on the list, Young Frankenstein was made in black and white by choice. The director, Mel Brooks wanted to replicate as much as possible the feeling of Universal’s classic Frankenstein. Aside form being really funny (especially for its corniness) Young Frankenstein is considered Mel Brooks’s most disciplined and visually inventive film.
This is the only film Brooks did not give himself a part in. It is not uncommon for a director to give himself a little cameo in their film. Lot’s of directors from all backgrounds have done them for different reasons and Brooks was known for appearing regularly in his films, breaking the forth wall, etc. This didn’t exactly work with the tone of Young Frankenstein, so the Brooks, urged by his star and co-writer Gene Wilder, decided to only appear as nothing more than a howl.
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks
Starring: Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman
9. Duck Soup
Classic comedies which deal with political satire are always great. And when it’s satire of tinpot nationalism and political pomposity in 1930s Europe, it’s also a sort of reflection of its times. Though a comic reflection.
The film is centred around the new leader of imaginary country Freedonia and his ambition to save Freedonia from bankruptcy. The absurd attempts at leadership fail most miserably as he gets in a pointless argument with the neighbouring ambassador from Sylvania.
Directed by: Leo McCarey
Written by: Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby
Starring: The Marx Brothers
10. This is Spinal tap
Did you know that some people thought this mocumentary was an actual documentary. Yup, lots of people thought that it was an actual band. This may be part of the reason why it wasn’t a massive hit. It actually became popular once it was released on home video and it’s since acquired quite a bit of critical acclaim. Many musicians have claimed that they the film hits close to home, so that’s even more reason to see it.
There are many versions of the film, mostly due to the fact that there was a lot of footage. Over 100 hours to be more precise. The original theatrical release was 82 minutes, there’s a Criterion Collection release that included another hour (or a bit more) of additional footage, MGM’s DVD has 70 additional minutes and the longest one is 4 and a half hours bootleg edition.
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Written by: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner
Starring: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, June Chadwick, Tony Hendra, Bruno Kirby
What are your favourite classic comedies? Share in the comments.
Featured image source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032553/mediaviewer/rm2247275008
Currently going into her final year of English and Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. Gery has been writing in a personal blog since 2014 and has been published in publications StudentVoices and FictionHub on Medium. She debuted her first play 'Liminality' at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and is already planning her next project.