The screwball comedy era was in the middle 1930s up to the early 1940s. At this time, romantic comedies- that were named screwball comedies for their improbable happenings and wacky behavior-were at the height of their popularity. Catherine Hepburn was one of the popular actresses in these comedies with the example of Bringing up Baby (Hawks, 1938) that achieved success after some time. In this period, Americans were beginning to question older accepted cultural observances such as marriage (DiBattista, 2003). As such, comedies that had a blurry line concerning marriage and romantic relationships were useful mirrors for society they could be used to examine these questions in a comic atmosphere while at the same time representing the changes that were occurring in communities at the time.
Another important reason may be the adoption of production code that dictated what could be shown and what could not be shown in cinema (Rickman, 2005). The code was considered stiff by most of the film producers and hence the screwball comedies can be taken as a reaction to the code’s introduction. This is because before the code was introduced, subjects such as adultery, prostitution, and homosexuality could be discussed in film openly but after its introduction, what could be shown was greatly reduced.
The screwball comedy is relatively rare these days because ratings took the place of the production code (Gehring, 2002). These ratings allow adult material to be shown to adult audiences and hence mainstream films began to carry significant amounts of adult content. Additionally, the moral code that held people at the time has been significantly relaxed in society and hence what could not be allowed at the time is easily allowed at this time. This is owed to the greater exposure people have to new media that contains strong material such as the internet. The media lowers people’s standards of what should not be shown thereby bringing about greater freedom in other older media such as films. The need to show controversial material covertly is therefore reduced and difficult subjects are tackled directly.
DiBattista, M. (2003). Fast-Talking Dames. United States, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Gehring, W. D. (2002). Romantic versus Screwball Comedy. United States, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Hawks, H. (Director) (1938). Bringing Up Baby [Film]. Los Angeles. RKO Radio Pictures.
Rickman, G. (2005). Screwball Comedy. Retrieved on March 21, 2010 from: http://www.greencine.com/static/primers/screwball.jsp