Carole Lombard and the Screwball Comedy

In the 1930s, movies were a favorite escape from life's trials and tribulations. At the top of the public's to-watch list were screwball comedies, and one of the queens of the genre was Carole Lombard, born 105 years ago today.

Lombard was one of the top movie stars of her era, acting in her first silent film when she was just 12 years old. As talkies took over, Lombard's fame grew, and she played opposite stage legend John Barrymore in her first big hit, Twentieth Century. Released in 1934, the movie is considered a prototypical screwball comedy – one of the first and best. All the classic elements of the screwball comedy were there – rapid-fire dialogue, a charming hero and a lovely heroine (both of whom suffer from a bit of goofiness from time to time), slapstick humor, and situations that played the different social classes off each other. It set the stage for a decade of imitators.

During the Great Depression, issues of money and class were at the forefront of the American consciousness. Screwball comedies played with class differences – bringing the poor up and the rich down and letting them mix in ways they rarely did in reality. 1935's Hands Across the Table gave a poor manicurist, played by Lombard, a shot at marrying for money. Quite a bit of slapstick and witty repartee later, she married for love instead.

In 1936, Lombard earned an Academy Award nomination for her role in My Man Godfrey. In a reversal from Hands Across the Table, Lombard played an upper-class woman who fell in love with a butler. Of course, there was a twist amongst the fast talking and goofy humor – in the end, the butler turned out to be richer than the family he served. It was just the sort of thing audiences loved in those money-strained days, and the film was a runaway hit.

Lombard acted in dramatic films as well, but it's for screwball comedies that we remember her best. And we feel confident she would have had even more funny roles if not for her tragic death at age 33 in a plane crash. The proof is in her last film, To Be or Not to Be, released two months after her untimely death in 1942. It is, like so many of her other movies, perfectly funny.

Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.